Chris Weidman had gone more than two full years without a victory, but the former UFC middleweight champion still insisted prior to his bout against Kelvin Gastelum on Saturday on Long Island that he was the best 185-pounder in the world.
He made a big statement on Saturday, dominating Gastelum and finishing him at 3:45 of the third round with an arm triangle.
Fighting in the arena where as a boy he once dreamed of skating for the New York Islanders, Weidman was patient, he survived a late first-round knockdown and did what he had to do to win for the first time since May 23, 2015.
On that night, he stopped Vitor Belfort at 2:53 of the first row to successfully defend his middleweight title for the third time, improve to 13-0 and look for all the world like one of the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the sports.
It was a torturous two-plus years for him after that, though. He lost his belt to Luke Rockhold, was knocked out with a vicious knee by Yoel Romero and lost a strange bout in April to Gegard Mousasi.
He had his moments in each, but in a performance business, he wasn’t delivering.
Deliver he did on Saturday, though, and in the exultation after the win, he even took a shot at middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
“Lastly, to that British bum who is crying at his fricking house right now, I’m back, baby!” Weidman said in the cage to Fox’s Brian Stann. “I’m back. I’m the champion and everyone knows it.”
He’ll have some more work to do, no doubt, before getting into the title picture, but beating Gastelum was significant nonetheless. Weidman’s five-inch height advantage and six-and-a-half-inch reach advantage were major factors for him in the fight, but the main thing was he didn’t allow himself to get out of control.
Despite the fact that his back was against the wall as a result of his lengthy losing skein and the pressures of fighting at home, he showed the cool, calm demeanor of a champion.
He got one lucky break when Gastelum’s hook that dropped him came late in the round, but other than that sequence, he was in control.
But when he went down near the end of the first, there was shock among the faithful.
“I give credit to Kelvin,” Weidman said. “You have to cut angles. He got me to stand in front of him for a second and made it work. But I think that was the first time I’ve actually been dropped. That was interesting, you know?”
It probably wasn’t all that interesting at the time to his large contingent of family and friends who were seated only a few feet and thought they might be seeing their worst fears come true again.
The bell saved Weidman, who was fully recovered by the start of the second round. He used his reach and his wrestling the rest of the way to control the fight.
The finish came after a takedown and Weidman scramble to get into finish for the arm triangle. Gastelum fought it gallantly, but it was tight and he was forced to tap.
It was one win, and one win only, but it was a massive one for Weidman’s psyche.
“Keep doubting me, people,” Weidman said. “I know Long Island didn’t doubt me, but these other dudes around the world, I dare you. Keep doubting me.”