After each of his fights against Anderson Silva during 2013, Chris Weidman was rightfully announced as the undisputed UFC middleweight champion.
Maybe now people will finally stop disputing it.
Weidman answered his many critics Saturday at UFC 175, earning his stripes as 185-pound kingpin with a unanimous-decision victory over Lyoto Machida in a bout that will no doubt wind up on many Fight of the Year ballots.
In the process, Weidman proved that his previous two victories over Silva were no flukes, that he deserves his place among the very best fighters at any weight and—perhaps most importantly—that he can take a hard shot and keep his torrid pace over five full rounds.
All of these things were still up for debate for some fans leading up to the event, though Weidman entered carrying both UFC gold and an unblemished 11-0 record. In certain circles, his back-to-back wins over Silva were discounted due to freakish endings in both fights.
People openly questioned whether he deserved to have the hardware:
I hope Chris Weidman gets slaughtered by lyoto machida! His whole championship is a fluke😤
— Jacob Brown (@jacobbrown4real) June 29, 2014
That line of inquiry is no longer valid. Weidman rendered it moot with a convincing all-around performance against the former light heavyweight champion, earning the nod from all three judges, 49-45, 48-47, 49-46.
He shut down Machida’s elusive, counterstrike-oriented offense with a game plan that looked similar to the ones he used against Silva. Weidman quashed the 36-year-old karate master’s unorthodox style with straight-ahead pressure, beating Machida to the punch more often than not and mixing in the occasional takedowns against the fence.
By the end of the third round, Machida was cut over the right eye and appeared to be fading. He was down 30-27 on most observers’ scorecards and near the end of the stanza had fallen victim to an impressive, high-octane throw from Weidman.
The champion’s corner was jubilant, and it seemed as though Weidman might be heading for a clean sweep on the scorecards.
To his credit, Machida rebounded during the final two rounds. His best offense throughout the fight had been shots to the body, and they may have caught up with Weidman down the stretch. Machida began to land hard counters, and on a couple of occasions hurt the champion, who sported a nasty purple bruise on the right side of his rib cage.
Weidman battled back, though, and snuffed out any hope of a late comeback when he took Machida down with under two minutes to go and worked his way to back mount. Machida regained his feet and ended the fight with a flurry of strikes, but Weidman seemed to get the best of the last five minutes. As the final horn sounded, he was waving Machida forward, having taken his best shots.
"He was as good as I thought," Weidman told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan in the cage when it was over. "He’s quick. When you think he’s going to do something, he does the opposite, so he’s really tricky in there. He’s a great fighter. Tough as nails."
The victory might quell many of the doubts about him, but the road ahead doesn’t appear to get any easier for Weidman. The middleweight division is rife with potential challengers, including another former light heavyweight titlist in Vitor Belfort, as well as former Strikeforce champs Jacare Souza and Luke Rockhold.
Belfort—who was slated to fight for the title at UFC 173 before he was forced to pull out—took to social media to reissue his challenge before Weidman even left the cage Saturday. Belfort still has some licensing issues to work out with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, though, and the UFC had previously said it won’t give him a fight until he takes care of it.
For Machida, the loss at least temporarily short-circuits his career reboot at middleweight. After cutting from 205 pounds last year, he’d been impressive in consecutive victories over Mark Munoz and Gegard Mousasi. On this night, he was not quite good enough to jump-start his second UFC title reign, though he probably still has some legs at 185 pounds.
Machida had been complimentary of Weidman throughout the lead-up to the fight and, in the end, summed up what many spectators were thinking during his in-cage interview.
"He’s the true champion," Machida told Rogan. "He deserves the title."