As if two victories against Anderson Silva weren't enough, Chris Weidman sealed his status as a legitimate UFC champion with a unanimous-decision victory (49-45, 48-47, 49-46) over Lyoto Machida at UFC 175 in Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center Saturday.
The fact that Weidman had to "prove himself" at all in his second title defense was always a silly notion. The ending of his second bout with Silva may have ended on an unlikely injury, but he more than held his own before the finish and scored an emphatic knockout victory in their first encounter.
Now, the champion can add a former light heavyweight champion to his list of dispatched opponents. No, it wasn't easy. Beating a former champion is never an easy task. Weidman lost at least one round on each judge's scorecard, per Matt Erickson of MMA Junkie:
UFC 175 JUDGING: Chris Lee 49-45 (R1-3, 5 for CW with 10-8 R3), Marcos Rosales 48-47 (R1, 3, 5 CW), Glenn Trowbridge 49-46 (R1-3, 5 CW)— Matt Erickson (@MMAjunkieMatt) July 6, 2014
However, there was no fluke end to this one. There was no doubting that Machida took the champion serious and certainly no doubt that Machida put his all into besting Weidman.
As Damon Martin of Fox Sports intimated after the fight, there's no more questioning Weidman's skills:
Chris Weidman wins. Anybody that doubted his skills beating Anderson Silva twice should now be satisfied #UFC175— Damon Martin (@DamonMartin) July 6, 2014
What stood out in Weidman's title defense was not just that he won, but that he did so by turning in a performance that had a little bit of everything. Given the origin of Weidman's "All-American" moniker as a collegiate wrestler, the assumption is that he might be a one-trick pony.
As it turns out, that assumption couldn't be further from the truth.
By the first round it was clear wrestling isn't Weidman's only strong suit. With Machida looking to keep the fight standing, Weidman was willing to oblige for the entire opening frame. He chose to make an impact with kicks to the legs and body, as noted by Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports:
Great kick by Weidman. Sounded like a line drive to the gap— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) July 6, 2014
Of course that doesn't mean Weidman didn't showcase the wrestling. After all, you have to dance with the girl who brought you, and the champion isn't going to abandon what comes natural to him.
Machida possesses some of the best takedown defense in the sport but still couldn't stop Weidman from taking the fight where he wanted it. He took The Dragon down five times in the fight and did some of his best damage once he pinned his opponent to the ground.
But most of all, Weidman proved that he has the heart of a champion. Regardless of how good a champion is, there will come a time during his/her title reign when challenges will present themselves.
After very little resistance from Silva in Weidman's first two title fights, adversity came in the form of a Machida left hand that landed flush in the fourth round. Coming from a dangerous fighter like Machida, it turned the fight on its head and put into doubt whether Weidman could survive another round-and-a-half.
Once again, Weidman proved that he was capable of carrying the title of champion by rallying to take the fifth round on one score card and getting his hand raised.
What makes the performance even more impressive is the fact that Weidman might not have even been at the height of his powers. According to MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani, the champion faced more than one health concern in training for this fight:
Weidman intv coming. Said it was worst camp of his life. Sprained ligament in hand, couldn't punch last 2 weeks and banged up knees.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) July 6, 2014
To make matters worse, Joe Ferraro of Sportsnet reports that Weidman injured his foot early in the fight, limiting his repertoire:
Weidman hurt his foot in the first round and is the reason he didn’t kick much.— Joe Ferraro (@ShowdownJoe) July 6, 2014
Obviously small injuries are part of the sport, but a healthier Weidman could conceivably be even better next time out. Looking ahead, another former light heavyweight champion is looking to get the next crack at the 185-pound king:
Now I want what I deserve, MY TITIE SHOT!!! Don't run away!! No excuses!! Agora eu quero o q eu… http://t.co/wZYj8OBVAT— Vitor Belfort (@vitorbelfort) July 6, 2014
Vitor Belfort may want to be careful what he wishes for, though. If he's hoping that challenging Weidman will be an easy road to the title, he's got another thing coming.
The current king might not be around as long as the man he replaced, but he's proved he's here to stay.