Chris Weidman gets reality check against Mark Munoz in UFC televised main event
Unbeaten in eight professional fights, rising middleweight star Chris (The All-American) Weidman faces a reality check Wednesday in the form of Mark (The Filipino Wrecking Machine) Munoz.
Weidman, a former All-American wrestler at Hofstra, has already disposed of Alessio Sakara, Canadian Jesse Bongfeldt, Tom Lawlor and Demian Mia in the UFC.
And the 28-year-old from Baldwin, N.Y., has shown his mettle in taking fights on short notice. Last time out, against Maia, he took the challenge on 10 days notice and had to cut 32 pounds.
"Ridiculous," he says today.
But Munoz (12-2) is a step up in class.
A former NCAA champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, Munoz is 7-1 in the UFC as a middleweight. His lone loss at 185 pounds was a 2010 split decision to Yushin Okami and the 34-year-old Munoz has won four since.
Weidman and Munoz face off in the main event of a televised card at San Jose's HP Pavilion.
In addition to top-notch wrestling skills, Munoz's ground and pound is vicious. If he gets you on the ground in a dominant position, be prepared for some pain.
"Tough guy," says Weidman.
"Definitely it's going to a challenge," he added. "I look forward to meeting that challenge and trying to make a statement in this fight. If I truly believe I'm going to be a champion, this is the type of guy I'm going to have to be able to beat. I'm excited to see how I square up with him."
As a former wrestler, Weidman is no stranger to cutting weight. But he has a new respect for the process after having to shed so many pounds for the Maia fight.
"Not fun," he says.
"I'm not ever going to put myself in a position like that ever again," he added. "That was not good. And I did not feel like myself at all in the cage."
After one 15-minute stint in the sauna, he actually gained a tenth of a pound. And he was so dried out that static electricity was flowing off him.
He had to strip down for the weigh-in to make the 186-pound limit and when they tried to remove the modesty towel, it was "literally stuck to my body. They couldn't get it off me. It was really crazy."
Weidman shakes his head at the experience.
"I could have quit a million times. My team wanted me to quit but I didn't and I made the weight."
And he won, defeating one of MMA's top jiu-jitsu practioners in the process.
Weidman wrestled at 197 pounds in college — he has a B.A. in psychology and a master's in physical education — and can get as big as 220 between fights.
Weidman's personal life has become busier in recent weeks. His wife gave birth to a son on June 7, adding to a family that already includes a two-year-old daughter.
His wife has been looking after the little ones during training camp.
"So my wife's definitely doing to get a nice shout-out after I win. If I can remember it," he said with a laugh.
Weidman has relished having a proper training camp ahead of Munoz.
"It's real nice, man. It almost feels like too much time. The only fight I've really had a full camp for was against Tom Lawlor and that ended up being pretty good (a first-round submission) so I'm hoping to follow through in the same type of fashion."
Weidman has come a long way in a short time.
His first pro fight was in February 2010. He won the Ring of Combat title in his third bout (meaning he was wearing a championship belt after a grand total of seven minutes 19 seconds) and made his UFC debut in March 2011.
He comes from a quality camp with former UFC champion Matt Serra, striker coach Ray Longo and jiu-jitsu guru John Danaher in his corner.
"I'm definitely blessed. It's not like I had to move across the country to find them either. I graduated college and they were two minutes away, down the block," Weidman said of the Long Island-based Serra and Longo.
Danaher is a 30-minute train ride away in Manhattan.
Weidman is more than the product of good coaching, however. He made the transition from wrestling to jiu-jitsu with ease in the summer of 2008.
At the end of the summer, he took part in a grappling tournament and submitted all 13 opponents. It earned him a US$1,000 cheque and a huge boost in confidence.
And after an attempt to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in wrestling was frustrated by a rib injury, he eventually committed to MMA.
Growing up in New York state, Weidman was a huge hockey fan and once dreamed of playing in the NHL. A onetime sniper in roller hockey, he remains a devoted Islanders fan and lives 10 minutes away from their arena.
He supports all the New York teams, from Jets to Giants and Yankees to Mets — "whoever is doing good, I'm jumping on the wagon" — but he is a one-team NHL fan.
"I'll never root for any other team but the Islanders when it comes to hockey."
He is also a big booster of Vancouver, after fighting there at UFC 131 in June 2011. He ended up defeating Bongfeldt by standing guillotine in the first round, an early resolution that was welcome after his pre-fight activities on the West Coast
"I literally went bike riding around the whole city the four days before the fight. My legs were so sore, my calves were sore from walking around, just seeing the whole city. I couldn't help myself. My coaches were going nuts on me."
He won submission of the night, a $70,000 bonus that helped buy his current home.