Shocking the mixed martial arts world by knocking out the seemingly invincible Anderson Silva never was going to be enough to establish Chris Weidman as the new undisputed king of the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division.
The Long Island, N.Y., native always knew he would have to do the unthinkable twice if he wanted to begin to establish that sort of credibility.
Weidman and Silva were in Las Vegas on Tuesday to promote the Dec. 28 rematch of their July 6 bout, which ended when Weidman knocked out Silva and ended the longest title reign in UFC history.
UFC president Dana White said he expects the card, which also features women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey defending her belt against rival Miesha Tate, to be the biggest event in the organization’s history.
While Weidman’s crushing left hook left Silva in a heap on the MGM Grand Garden canvas and erased any room for debate about the outcome of the first meeting, plenty of detractors remain.
For much of the fight, Silva dropped his hands and appeared to toy with the challenger. Just before the decisive blow, Silva even pretended that a grazing shot from Weidman hurt him.
Then came the punch that changed the course of the division. The debate over whether Weidman won or Silva clowned his way to a loss began almost immediately, and the champion said he sees the vitriol of those who believe his victory is tainted every time he sends out a tweet and checks his responses.
“I didn’t mind it,” Weidman said. “He deserves that kind of respect. He’s the greatest of all time, and people can’t fathom that he lost. I knew going into that fight that we were going to have to have a rematch. I was going to have to prove people wrong again. Even after this next fight, when I win, there’s still going to be doubters out there. No matter what, there’s always going to be excuses out there for why you got the ‘W.’ That’s just part of the sport.”
The unbeaten 29-year-old can go a long way toward eliminating most of those doubts by repeating that result when he makes his first title defense against Silva in the main event of UFC 168 at the MGM Grand Garden.
He knows it won’t be easy. Weidman was impressed with Silva despite the knockout.
“He’s as good as everybody thinks he is,” Weidman said. “He’s known as the greatest of all time for a reason; it’s no fluke. I expected him to be awesome, and he is.”
If Silva is to be taken at his word, Weidman should be anticipating a similar game plan in the rematch.
Silva made his career frustrating opponents by using vastly superior speed and footwork, combined with devastatingly accurate and powerful striking to taunt and play mind games in the cage, and insists he has no regrets even after the style seemed to cost him the belt.
“This is my style,” he said through a translator. “I worked hard for a long time in the UFC, and I’ve had some great fights (utilizing) the same style. I’m not changing anything.
“I committed an error, which was I stopped with my feet parallel, and that’s being addressed.”
Silva said the loss, the only one of his UFC career and first of any kind since a disqualification in 2006, renewed his desire to hold the belt that was his for almost seven years.
If he needed further motivation, he got it a few moments later as he was doing a promotional face-off with Weidman and had to look at the belt draped across his opponent’s shoulder.
Despite possessing the belt, Weidman still gets to maintain his role of underdog going into the rematch.
“I’m kinda still flying under the radar,” he said. “People think he was playing around last time, and now he’s not going to play around and I’m in trouble. I have a lot of motivation just stemming from myself and family and different things like that, but the doubters definitely motivate me.
“I like proving people wrong. I love that feeling where people think I’m going to lose and I prove them wrong.”
Should he defeat Silva again, Weidman won’t get to enjoy that underdog status any longer.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.