MMA Origins: Chris Weidman
Join me as I profile Chris Weidman's rise to the top of the UFC Middleweight division.
Welcome to the first edition of another new series I’m going to be writing for Sportskeeda. This one is called MMA Origins and it’s all about looking at a successful fighter – how they began their career and how they’ve managed to rise to where they are today.
MMA is a pretty diverse sport in terms of the background of its fighters – in the past we’ve seen Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists, former college wrestling stars, Russian sambo champions and practitioners of traditional martial arts like tae-kwon-do and karate all have great success in the cage, and now we’re getting more and more fighters who actually began in MMA rather than a single discipline.
Sometimes it’s the unlikeliest of characters that rise to the top and other times it's recognised prospects that go all the way. Some come from abject poverty, others from privileged backgrounds or surprising side jobs.
This is my chance to tell their story.
I’m starting with one of the most popular fighters in the UFC today, a man who rose through the ranks to eventually dethrone arguably the greatest champion in UFC history. I’m talking of course about Chris Weidman.
The Blue Chipper
The term ‘blue chip’ is one that’s largely overused in modern sport, MMA included, but when it was used to describe Chris Weidman it wasn’t an exaggeration.
I first read about Weidman online in late 2010, not long after he won Ring of Combat’s Middleweight title. The article I read labelled him the best prospect in the world at 185lbs, and it seemed to be for good reason.
Ignoring his MMA accomplishments to that point, simply glancing at his background was jaw-dropping. Weidman was an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Hofstra University, but plenty of successful collegiate wrestlers come and go in MMA.
It was the fact that he’d beaten both Phil Davis and Ryan Bader – two hulking 205lbers who were recognised amongst the best wrestlers in the UFC – in collegiate competition that raised an eyebrow for me.
Like many collegiate wrestlers, Weidman had gotten a start in MMA due to being invited to a camp to help other fighters with their wrestling game. In Weidman’s case, it was the Serra Jiu-Jitsu team. Evidently, Weidman fit right in and showed a penchant for grappling that was quite unusual. After just three months of training, he was able to win the East Coast Grappler’s Quest Absolute division, an insane accomplishment when you consider how long it takes to master an art like jiu-jitsu.
From there Weidman made the call to abandon wrestling and step into the world of MMA full-time. Training under respected coaches Matt Serra and Ray Longo, he made his professional debut in early 2009 under the Ring of Combat banner, winning two fights – one by submission, one by TKO.
Later in 2009 came another surprising accomplishment. Weidman entered into the East Coast trials for the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club grappling tournament, set to take place that September in Barcelona. Weidman shocked the grappling community by tapping out respected veteran James Brasco, punching his ticket to Spain just EIGHT MONTHS after starting training.
Top MMA wrestlers had seen some success in ADCC before – Mark Kerr, for instance, had a phenomenal record there while both Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes had also competed. They were established UFC fighters, though, while Weidman was a complete unknown. Not that it mattered.
Weidman was able to overcome Spain’s own Daniel Tabera in the opening round before facing decorated grappler Andre Galvao. And somehow he hung with Galvao – as you can see from the video below – even trapping him in a couple of choke attempts, before losing on points. It was as big a moral victory as Weidman could’ve hoped for.
It would be around a year after his adventures in Barcelona that Weidman would compete in the ROC cage again. This time he was faced with fellow prospect – and future UFC star – Uriah Hall, with the promotion’s Middleweight title on the line. At the time fans would’ve been forgiven for expecting a striker vs. grappler match, but instead – in a move eerily reminiscent of a future fight of his – Weidman caught Hall leaning back with a left hook that knocked him silly.
It was not too long after this that I read the article I mentioned earlier, but to be frank, at this point everyone was talking about Weidman. Noted MMA blog Bloody Elbow, for instance, named him as the #2 prospect in the world at Middleweight (behind Papy Abedi, remember him?) and were full of praise. That article ended with a note that it wouldn’t be too long before a big promotion came knocking. And surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the UFC.