Weidman takes to big stage to continue UFC ascension

CHICAGO — Before he could worry about the challenge of preparing to fight dangerous submission artist Demian Maia on 10 days’ notice, Chris Weidman had a more daunting task in front of him.

Weidman had to turn down the Sloppy Joes his wife was preparing.

The 27-year-old Long Islander, widely considered one of the best prospects in mixed martial arts, was about to sit down to dinner on Jan. 17 when he found out Maia was in need of an opponent for Saturday night’s UFC on Fox 2 card at the United Center. Maia’s original opponent, Michael Bisping, was moved into the co-main event to face Chael Sonnen in place of an injured Mark Munoz.

Weidman had been training but wasn’t preparing for a fight, and his first concern was making the middleweight limit of 185 pounds. On that night, he was 217 pounds.

He agreed to accept the fight, mostly because it provided a chance to test himself against one of the division’s top fighters on network television. Weidman knew with so little time to prepare he would have to get to work immediately.

“I just headed to the gym and ate a spoonful of peanut butter, and that was it,” he said.

A win over Maia would move Weidman from prospect to contender and cap a wild 10 months. When the former All-America wrestler at Hofstra signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and made his organizational debut in March, he was living with his wife and young daughter in the basement of his parents’ house.

“I don’t know the square footage, but it wasn’t that big,” he said. “I’ll just say that I couldn’t bend over in the shower.”

Weidman already has won three times in his brief time in the UFC, including first-round submissions in his past two fights.

Weidman and his wife, Marivi, since have purchased a home not far from where they were staying in the basement, and they have a son on the way to join Cassidy, who turns 2 in February.

“It’s been a crazy ride,” he said. “I really haven’t sat back and thought about that 10-month period and what I’ve accomplished.”

Weidman has a chance to do even more with a win over Maia on Saturday. It would be easy to view the fight as a no-lose situation for Weidman because even if he should falter, the short notice against such a high-caliber opponent would be an easy excuse.

Weidman, however, insists he feels like he’s in a must-win position even against a former title challenger in Maia.

One of his trainers, jiujitsu expert John Danaher, says the only way to know if Weidman is ready for this step up in competition is to watch the fight.

“That’s a fascinating question, and the truth is nobody, including myself, knows the answer or will know the answer until Saturday night,” Danaher said. “I will say he has an extraordinary level of talent, which I’ve seen on very, very few occasions.

“People misunderstand Chris Weidman’s talent. They think it’s just some God-given thing. The talent you observe comes from hard work, and he has done so his whole life.”

Weidman said the magnitude of fighting on Fox hit him when he was watching his beloved New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday and saw several in-game promotions featuring him.

He plans to win the title and make one more dream come true — fighting in the world’s most famous arena even though MMA still is banned in his home state.

“If I win this fight, it puts me on a list of contenders,” he said. “My main goal is to get the belt but not only get the belt but fight at Madison Square Garden in New York. That would be a dream come true.”

He has a more attainable goal in front of him once he gets this fight out of the way.

Weidman said he finally will get to eat Sloppy Joes on Sunday to celebrate his victory.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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