During his rise through the ranks of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight division, Chris Weidman often dreamed of beating the seemingly invincible Anderson Silva.
Even in those visions, Weidman always knew doing it once wouldn’t be enough.
Weidman, who defeated Silva to end a seven-year title reign in July, will now have to repeat the feat Saturday night in the main event of UFC 168 at the MGM Grand Garden if he wants to solidify his grip on the belt.
“Anderson Silva is known as the greatest of all time. Going into the first fight, it was a dream come true to fight him and a fight I was dreaming about happening since I first got into the sport,” Weidman said. “I knew if I was going to beat him, we were going to have a rematch and here it is. So my dream’s not complete. I have to beat him again on Saturday.”
Even then, Weidman knows there will still be those who can’t let go of the thought of Silva not being the middleweight champion.
“Obviously I’ve got a lot of doubters out there. I’m never going to be done proving them wrong. They will always be there,” he said. “My goal is just to be the best me out there, go get a finish and do it in impressive fashion.
“I just want to shine and show this is my belt and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”
The group of those who question Weidman’s incredible talent has been shrinking every time he steps in the cage. The 29-year-old Hofstra grad is now 10-0 as a professional in mixed martial arts, his meteoric rise capped by a clean second-round knockout of Silva in July.
There was some question of his readiness to challenge Silva before that fight, but UFC president Dana White on Thursday recalled a conversation with Weidman at a fight in New Jersey last year where he was convinced Weidman was ready to go from star prospect to title challenger.
“Chris Weidman came up to me (and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta) and said, ‘I want this fight. I’m ready for this fight.’ He said, ‘I’m going to beat him in the first fight and I’ll give you an immediate rematch because people won’t believe it after I do it,’ ” White recounted. “Verbatim what he said to us. And that’s what he did.”
Now he must move on to the second part of the equation and beat Silva again. While it was his hands that earned him a victory in the first bout, Weidman’s true strength lies in the ground game.
He was a two-time all-American wrestler in college and immediately took to Brazilian jiujitsu after taking classes at the conclusion of his collegiate career.
A standing knockout against perhaps the greatest striker in UFC history was a shocking conclusion.
Among those who still question Weidman, a common criticism is that Silva just got caught clowning around. Silva often dances, gesticulates and taunts during fights to distract opponents, but Weidman was the first to take full advantage.
Weidman says he was prepared for Silva’s antics in the first meeting, though he’s not sure what Silva’s strategy will be after losing the belt.
“I have no idea how he’s going to be different and I don’t care to be honest,” Weidman said. “That’s up to him.”
Silva would only say he’s ready and that he changed up certain personnel in his camp.
Weidman plans to return to his roots regardless, calling wrestling and jiujitsu his “bread and butter.”
He does, however, feel like he will be a better version of himself this time. Weidman entered the fight in July having not competed in a year because of two surgeries. He also was still dealing with trying to get his home and neighborhood back in order after his area was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
There have been no such distractions this time.
“There’s always pressures in every camp, but for this one I feel like it’s actually been a lot less,” he said. “I just feel I have a lot less on my plate this time. A lot of things are going my way compared to the last one. The first fight I was coming off a year layoff, two surgeries, Hurricane Sandy. There were question marks in the back of my head. This time there’s zero question marks. Zero reasons why I will lose this fight. I don’t have to work about closing any doubts in my head because there is none.”
One group that still favors Silva is the oddsmakers, who have installed him as a minus-160 favorite in the rematch, down from about minus-220 in the first fight.
The champion isn’t surprised by the betting odds.
“I’m fighting Anderson Silva, you know? I wasn’t the favorite last time. I didn’t expect to be a favorite this time,” Weidman said. “He’s had I don’t know how more fights than me. So he’s just been around more. His face has been around. He had some great wins. So that’s fine. He deserves to be the favorite.”
The fight is part of a pay per view that also includes a women’s bantamweight title fight between Miesha Tate and champion Ronda Rousey.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.