How Champion Chris Weidman Matches Up with the Rest of the Middleweight Division

Mitchell Ciccarelli@@mitchciccarelliAnalyst IJanuary 4, 2014

How Champion Chris Weidman Matches Up with the Rest of the Middleweight Division

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    Photo by Ed Mulholland/ESPN

    As difficult as it may be for some to admit, Chris Weidman is the UFC middleweight champion. He beat Anderson Silva twice. Back-to-back.

    Silva, the consensus greatest fighter of all time. The man who was deemed unbeatable for the better part of six years by some of the sport’s most respected pundits. The indestructible dynamo that slaughtered some of the toughest men to ever step foot in the Octagon—including the likes of Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen.

    Weidman beat him. Twice.

    You can fabricate every excuse in the book, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a new king at 185 lbs, and from the looks of it, he’s holding onto that belt for a while.

    We know that Belfort is next in Weidman’s crosshairs, but can “The Phenom” do what Silva couldn’t? Or is Weidman destined to reign over the middleweight kingdom for years on end like his predecessor?

    Let’s take a look at how the UFC’s “All-American” champ matches up to the rest of the contenders at middleweight.

Vitor Belfort

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Following a November knockout over Dan Henderson in his native Brazil, Belfort sealed the deal for a future showdown with Weidman in his next outing. According to UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, that contest will be held in Las Vegas, sometime in either May or June of 2014.

    The 36-year-old Belfort has been knocking middleweights out, left from right, like he’s Jin Kazama from Tekken. He’s 5-1 in his last six bouts, but the lone defeat was to light heavyweight champ Jon Jones in the next division up.

    As a middleweight, Belfort hasn’t lost since Silva launched his foot up in his grille at UFC 126. Since that embarrassing night, he has turned into a man possessed, wrecking everyone in his path.

    Now, I’m not the biggest fan of this whole TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) thing, but Belfort isn’t doing anything illegal. You can’t call the man a cheater if the athletic commissions are cool with it. Plus, I doubt TRT can suddenly add a deadly spinning roundhouse kick to a fighter's arsenal either.

    Against Weidman, I can see Belfort posing some serious problems to the New Yorker. Belfort’s superhuman blend of speed and power is enough to give anyone a run for his money. He’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and a seasoned veteran in MMA.

    So I wouldn’t be shocked if Belfort pulled it off. But, I’m not counting on it either. In fact, I think that this will be the fight where everyone realizes just how dangerous Weidman is on the ground.

    We’ve seen glimpses of it, but I don’t think we’ve truly seen how talented the champion is on the floor. Look for Weidman to bring this one down and finish “The Phenom” with an arm-triangle choke in the second round.

    Prediction: Weidman by submission

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Jacare is a bad man. A very, very bad man. He potentially poses the biggest threat to the champion right now.

    The former Strikeforce middleweight champion is world-renowned for his grappling ability. I could literally write a book on how great Souza’s jiu-jitsu is, but I’ll sum it up with one name: Marcello Garcia.

    Garcia is like the Anderson Silva of the jiu-jitsu world. He's one of the pound-for-pound best players on the mat, and in 2005 Souza became the second man in history to submit him. Now if that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what does.

    However, as deadly as Jacare’s ground game is, we’re starting to realize that he can also knock fools senseless too.

    We saw a preview of Souza’s improved striking with his knockout victory over former title contender Yushin Okami in September.

    Nevertheless, we still haven’t seen Souza beat an elite middleweight in the UFC yet. The Okami fight was certainly an eye-opener, but Okami’s chin has been questionable for years.

    Souza faces Francis Carmont at UFC Fight Night 36 on the same night that Lyoto Machida takes on Gegard Mousasi. If Souza is victorious and Machida loses to Mousasi, I could see Souza being next in line for a title shot.

    I’d still have to favor Weidman, though. I believe he has better stand-up and is capable of hanging with Jacare on the ground. I won’t go as far to say that Weidman would dominate, but I think he’d do enough to edge out a decision win.

    Prediction: Weidman by decision

Lyoto Machida

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    With a first-round head-kick knockout over Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30, former light heavyweight champ Machida has found new life at 185 lbs.

    He was ranked in the Top Five at light heavyweight even before dropping down. The judges arguably screwed him against Phil Davis, but before that he was on a tear and inching closer to a rematch with Jon Jones.

    Should he defeat Mousasi in February, Machida will likely be next in line to challenge for the middleweight championship.

    To me, he is the most interesting opponent for Weidman right now. His unorthodox blend of Shotokan karate and sumo remains one of the most challenging styles for any fighter to prepare for.

    He also has some of the best takedown defense in the sport and punishing knockout power on his feet. This would be a dangerous fight for Weidman, but still a winnable one for sure.

    I can see Machida winning a round or two, but eventually Weidman will bring it to the floor and smash Machida with vicious elbows for the stoppage.

    Prediction: Weidman by knockout

Michael Bisping

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Out of action since a victory over Alan Belcher this past April, Bisping is gunning for a title shot in 2014. He probably won’t get it. But if “The Count” did somehow manage to earn a No. 1 contender's slot, he’d be easy pickings for the champion.

    Before I go any further, let me first say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bisping. He’s one of the toughest competitors in the entire division and is better than every fighter ranked below him. He just can’t win the big fights. It’s as simple as that.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will be the breakout year for the Brit. His next fight will probably be against Tim Kennedy, and if he wins that, he’ll be in a good position to move up the ladder.

    But even if he somehow finds himself across the cage from Weidman, his chances of winning are low. Weidman would cut through him like a knife and leave him looking up at the lights and thinking about a new career path.

    Prediction: Weidman by knockout

Luke Rockhold

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Rockhold had the unfortunate luck of being placed in front of a freight train in his Octagon debut. As the last reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion, the AKA product was immediately thrown to the wolves against Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8 last May. He was brutally knocked out in the first round.

    At 29 years old, Rockhold is still young enough to rebound and work his way back up the food chain. In two weeks, he meets No. 10-ranked Costas Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35. If he loses that fight, he’ll be out of the Top 10 and, despite his Strikeforce fame, one step closer to a pink slip.

    Fortunately for Rockhold, he should be able to win that fight and keep his spot in the rankings for the time being.

    He’d have a puncher's chance against Weidman, but that’s about it. Rockhold is a talented dude, but his skill set is nowhere near the champ’s right now.

    Prediction: Weidman by knockout

Mark Munoz

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    Photo by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    On July 11, 2012, Weidman destroyed Mark Munoz in one of the most devastating knockouts we’ve ever seen. That was the fight that earned Weidman the title shot against Silva and opened everyone’s eyes to his finishing power.

    A rematch wouldn’t go much differently. In fact, it would probably be a lot quicker this time. Munoz is a stud, but he hasn’t shown a ton of improvements since that loss. He was also just knocked out by Machida, so it’s going to be awhile before we mention Munoz’s  name in the title hunt again.

    Prediction: Weidman by knockout

Francis Carmont

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Perhaps the most underrated fighter in the middleweight division, Carmont has tremendous potential to become MMA’s next big superstar.

    The Tristar Gym product is undefeated in the UFC and already drawing comparisons to his training partner, former welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre. While that may be overrating him just a bit, he has proved himself to be a rising star with six consecutive wins in the Octagon.

    In February, he has the tall order of fighting Souza in Brazil. If he pulls off the upset, Carmont could solidify himself as one of the top contenders in the title hunt for 2014.

    From what I’ve seen of Carmont so far, I see a guy who exploits his opponent’s weaknesses to his advantage. He’s an intelligent fighter, and a lot of that has to do with the brilliance of his head coach Firas Zahabi.

    Unfortunately for Carmont, Weidman doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses. At least none that Carmont will be able to expose. Not yet anyway.

    Prediction: Weidman by submission

Tim Kennedy

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    If you’re an American and you don’t love Kennedy, there’s something wrong with you. I can go on and on about his military background and how he’s fought for our country, but that’s irrelevant to what we’re talking about here. I’ll save that for another time.

    Kennedy is fresh off a knockout victory over a tough Rafael Natal, and he desperately wants a big fight. He wants Michael Bisping, and I think that’s exactly who he’s going to get next.

    We’re not talking about how he matches up with Bisping, though. That’s an entirely different article. Right now, we’re analyzing his chances in a hypothetical fight against Weidman.

    Believe it or not, I don’t think it would be that one-sided. I wouldn’t pick Kennedy to win, but he’d make it a fight.

    Kennedy strives in fights where he’s able to outgrapple his opponent. His ground game is very solid and, at times, surprising. After all, I don’t think anyone expected him to get the better of Roger Gracie on the ground, but he did.

    With that said, I don’t see him being able to control Weidman. It’s an interesting matchup on the ground, but I see Weidman owning it in every aspect.

    Prediction: Weidman by submission

Costas Philippou

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    Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    As former Serra-Longo training partners, Weidman and Philippou will probably never cross paths.

    If they did, it would be the biggest squash match in UFC history. Remember the old WWF days when Hulk Hogan would pin a jobber in 10 seconds? Yeah, it would be kind of like that, except for real.

    No disrespect to Philippou, but a puncher's chance is about all he’d have. If that.

    Prediction: Weidman by submission

What Do the Fans Think?

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    We asked the fans on Twitter who they think has the best chance of defeating Weidman. Here were some of the top responses:

    @Bartolini69 said: "I think belfort, machida, and jacare are great challenges. I could see belfort getting a victory"

    @Pantse67 said: " I think Jacare is the one who has the best chance."

    @Sharkhead90 said: " potentially anyone I think. He seems more vulnerable than Silva which makes it far more exciting!"

    @ClayBaumung said: "    Maybe Souza"