Chris Weidman turned the MMA world upside-down in 2013.
The Serra-Longo product returned from a year on the sidelines recovering from injury to defeat the fighter widely regarded as the "greatest of all time" not once, but twice in one calendar year. The 29-year-old brought Anderson Silva's record-breaking run as the middleweight champion to an abrupt end with a left hook at UFC 162 back in July, then retained his title when "The Spider" suffered a gruesome injury in the second round of their rematch five months later.
Weidman emerged from his two victories over Silva with an elevated profile and a clear place atop the increasingly competitive middleweight division where a swarm of potential title contenders are waiting for their shot. One year ago, the 185-pound collective appeared to be essentially "cleared out" of potential title threats, but Weidman unseating Silva, as well as several other fighters making strong runs, has the division reinvigorated like never before.
Things are jumping in the middleweight division, and the undefeated Long Islander has a big target on his back as the champion.
While his win over Silva in their rematch at UFC 168 officially kicked off his reign as champion, the New York native will attempt to make his second successful title defense when he squares off with resurgent superstar Vitor Belfort at UFC 173 on May 24. "The Phenom" scored three impressive knockout victories over top-tier talent to earn his shot at Weidman's title, and they will step into the Octagon to handle business in Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend.
With his preparation for Belfort set to get underway, Weidman spoke to MMAJunkie about his upcoming showdown with the Brazilian knockout artist, in addition to several other topics including Silva's possible return. Despite the 38-year-old's future in MMA being uncertain following his broken leg back in December, Silva appears to be recovering quicker than his doctors had initially projected, and Weidman supported his return to the cage, but only if the former champion was fully healthy to do so.
If he comes back healthy and his mind’s in the right place, I’d love to see him come back. But if he comes back and he’s truly not healthy, if he’s not kicking with that leg like he used to, if he’s not mentally confident like he usually was—he had such a confidence about him—if he doesn’t have that anymore, then I hope he doesn’t come back. But if he comes back and he loves it and he’s truly confident and injury-free, I’d love for him to come back.
Another topic the middleweight champion addressed in the interview was a potential matchup with pound-for-pound great Jon Jones somewhere down the road. Weidman originally made a bid to face the light heavyweight champion back in September of 2012, after an injury forced Dan Henderson out of his bout with "Bones" and put the card for UFC 151 in jeopardy. The entire event was eventually cancelled, and Jones went on to face Belfort the later that month at UFC 152.
While Weidman suggested he would love to fight Jones, he acknowledged a stacked list of potential contenders in the mix of his own division and said the pairing wouldn't be a reality anytime soon. Nevertheless, he did share his belief that the 26-year-old 205-pound king is the best fighter on the planet right now and that he would welcome the chance to test his skills against the most dominant champion in the history of the UFC's light heavyweight division.
I tried to fight Jon Jones once before when Dan Henderson got injured and the card was at stake. To be honest, when I called him out it probably wasn't a realistic matchup at the time, but I was still open to doing it. I'm trying to test myself against the best guys in the world and I think he is the best guy. Those are the type of guys I want. Anderson Silva was the best guy and that's the guy I wanted to fight. I dreamed about fighting him. If the 185-pound division wasn't so exciting right now, and there weren't so many great matchups for me, I would have loved to call out Jon Jones after this last one. But it's not something that is in the cards right now. 185 is exciting and I have a lot of work to do there.
With a solid amount of potential contenders waiting in both the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, the possibility of a Jones vs. Weidman tilt doesn't seem to be a likely option or one the UFC will activate anytime in the near future. Yet, should both champions continue their winning ways and clean out their respective divisions, there could be a potential "super fight" in the making.
Granted, the term "super fight" has been attached to far more fantasy than reality when it has been thrown around the past few years, but Weidman's willingness to step in with the 205-pound phenom is certainly intriguing.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.