The future is bright for middleweight champion Chris Weidman after his first successful title defense against Anderson Silva at UFC 168—even if the win didn't come in the way that fans and analysts of the sport were expecting.
Weidman was named the winner by TKO after Silva fractured his leg going for an inside kick early in the second round. Silva screamed in agony as he lay on the mat of the Octagon while Weidman turned away with his arms in the air as champion.
The young fighter became the first in history to defeat Silva two times—both of which happened to come in title bouts.
It also marks the first time in Silva's career that he lost two fights in a row. At 38 years old, it will likely be difficult for him to return from the broken leg. A lengthy recovery awaits, and who knows what type of shape he'll be in by that time?
Regardless, Weidman is the new face of the middleweight division. He earned the middleweight title after defeating Silva the first time, but now earns this new title as the face of the division after defending it successfully.
At the press conference! Thanks for all the support! Prayers go out to Anderson and his family! Love u all! pic.twitter.com/kjTB5XFutN— Chris Weidman (@ChrisWeidmanUFC) December 29, 2013
When speaking with Matt Erickson of USA Today, however, Weidman showed nothing but respect for Silva:
No matter what happened in this fight, he's still the greatest of all time. I wish him the best, and God bless him. That was the No. 1 thing I got hit with the first fight. I worked a lot with guys with kicks. But it's still crazy how that happened. There was a point I was just thinking, "Ref, stop the fight." His eyes were in the back of his head for a lot of those punches.
Moving forward, expect fighters to line up to take a shot at Weidman. Now 11-0, the 29-year-old American has shown both poise and skill in his rise to the top of his class.
As for whom Weidman will fight next, Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports believes it'll be another Brazilian. "Someone from among the next three guys: Vitor Belfort, Jacare Souza or Lyoto Machida," he wrote.
Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com believes that Belfort is the next guy up for the challenge, which means that Weidman will need to begin preparations sooner rather than later.
Belfort has a UFC record of 12-6 (24-10 overall) and was previously the UFC light heavyweight champion. He didn't defend his title successfully, though.
Even though Belfort is past the prime of his career and would be going against a much younger, fresher fighter in Weidman, he still poses a threat. His recent career resurrection has been a result of deadly, quick hands, powerful strikes and his ability to grapple down on the mat.
Belfort trumps Weidman in experience and striking accuracy, but the biggest advantage for the Brazilian comes on defense. He has a strong chin that allows him to handle some blows, while Weidman is prone to taking a few too many hits.
With Belfort's ability to land swarms of punches with regularity, Weidman will need to buckle down and work on his blocking in the months leading up to this potential title defense.
Will Weidman defend his title successfully a second time in his next fight?
Defeating Silva was a big step for Weidman's career. His rise through the UFC was already historic. After all, he was the middleweight champion after just 10 professional fights. Winning a second time against the greatest fighter in the sport's history puts a huge target on his head for the future, though.
Weidman told Okamoto that he realizes people are still getting familiar with him.
Who knows? I'm so new in this sport. I'm 11-0 now and people can't fathom the fact I came in and beat Anderson Silva. I can understand where people are coming from but slowly and surely people will believe in me.
Weidman's career is just kicking off, and he's right—people will begin to believe in him. After his title defense against Silva, it'd be hard not to.