The UFC’s middleweight division has seen a changing of the guard over the past 12 months, and former champion Chris Weidman found himself on the wrong end of it.
Can he get himself on the right side of the changes that are happening at light heavyweight?
That’s the biggest question going into Friday’s UFC Fight Night main event between Weidman (14-4) and undefeated 205-pound contender Dominick Reyes (11-0) inside Boston’s TD Garden.
Four years ago, Weidman was the UFC’s 185-pound champion and an emerging commercial star. But a 1-4 record in his past five appearances has him seeking a fresh start in the 205-pound division.
Weidman, 35, isn’t the only middleweight mainstay who has moved up. Former UFC champion Luke Rockhold and former Strikeforce titleholder Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza also have recently left the division on the heels of a wave of new talent in the division.
Weidman’s path to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones could be a short one — it could be just this one fight, actually — but it isn’t an easy path. The division is similar to middleweight in that it has witnessed a burst of new contenders. Those contenders include young talent such as Reyes, Aleksandar Rakic, Johnny Walker and Corey Anderson.
Reyes is 5-0 in the UFC and No. 7 in the ESPN light heavyweight rankings, and a win over a former middleweight champ would greatly lift his profile. Weidman already has the reputation, recognition and resume to add value to a fight against Jones, and he might only need to prove he can beat one of this division’s fastest-rising contenders to get his shot at UFC gold. High stakes for both.
By the numbers
37: Takedowns in the UFC by Weidman, tying him with Thales Leites for the most all time by a middleweight. Of course, Weidman’s fight on Friday is at light heavyweight, where four fighters have had more takedowns (Corey Anderson, 52; Rashad Evans, 50; Ryan Bader, 46; and Jon Jones, 40).
2.78: Strikes landed by Reyes in the UFC for every one absorbed, No. 1 among active light heavyweights and second all time, behind Alessio Sakara‘s 3.24. Reyes also is No. 2 among active 205-pounders in strikes landed per minute (5.05 to Ion Cutelaba‘s 5.27).
3: Successful title defenses at middleweight by Weidman.
29:16: Total fight time for Reyes in his first nine career outings. In his past two bouts, he has gone the distance — a total of 30 minutes in the cage.
0: Stoppage wins for Reyes, among his six knockouts and two submissions, that have lasted beyond the first round.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information research
A look back
Five vs. five
Dominick Reyes’ most recent results
Win: Volkan Oezdemir (SD, March 16, 2019)
Win: Ovince Saint Preux (UD, Oct. 6, 2018)
Win: Jared Cannonier (TKO1, May 19, 2018)
Win: Jeremy Kimball (SUB1, Dec. 2, 2017)
Win: Joachim Christensen (TKO1, June 25, 2017)
Chris Weidman’s most recent results
Loss: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (KO3, Nov. 3, 2018)
Win: Kelvin Gastelum (SUB3, July 22, 2017)
Loss: Gegard Mousasi (TKO2, April 8, 2017)
Loss: Yoel Romero (KO3, Nov. 12, 2016)
Loss: Luke Rockhold (TKO4, Dec. 12, 2015)
“I don’t need him to have any respect for me. This is a fight. I’m expecting he’s going to come out there and do everything he possibly can to take me out. And I wouldn’t want anything different. So I’m not expecting any respect.”
–Weidman, speaking to ESPN about Reyes
Weidman at his best:
Before Chris Weidman makes his debut at light heavyweight this Friday, look back at his best fights at 185 pounds. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Brett Okamoto’s prediction
Reyes is the betting favorite for good reason. This is his weight class, and the onus to adjust and find a level of comfort in it is on Weidman. Despite all of the success (and highlights) Weidman has had on his feet, his surest path to victory has always been his grappling — and how that will translate to this weight class is a big question. The popular pick here most likely will be Reyes, but I’m going to lean with the experience of Weidman in what could be the first five-round fight of Reyes’ career. Weidman by decision.
Waiting in the wings
Jon Jones? Could it be? Would a 12-0 Reyes fresh off a win over a struggling ex-middleweight champion be ready for a shot at the champ? Would Weidman, with just one 205-pound win, be deserving? Stay tuned.
What else to look for … beyond the main event
The rest of the card, co-main event down:
ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET
Men’s featherweight: Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens
Heavyweight: Greg Hardy vs. Ben Sosoli
Lightweight: Joe Lauzon vs. Jonathan Pearce
Women’s flyweight: Maycee Barber vs. Gillian Robertson
Middleweight: Deron Winn vs. Darren Stewart
ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET
Men’s featherweight: Charles Rosa vs. Manny Bermudez
Women’s flyweight: Molly McCann vs. Diana Belbita
Men’s featherweight: Kyle Bochniak vs. Sean Woodson
Men’s bantamweight: Randy Costa vs. Boston Salmon
Welterweight: Court McGee vs. Sean Brady
Middleweight: Brendan Allen vs. Kevin Holland
Heavyweight: Daniel Spitz vs. Tanner Boser
Stephens vs. Rodriguez (II?): A rematch 15 seconds in the making
In case you blinked on Sept. 21 …
Go back to Sept. 21 in Mexico City when Jeremy Stephens vs. Yair Rodriguez was ruled a no contest due to an eye poke. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
One thing you should know about …
Yair Rodriguez: He’s tied for the latest finish in UFC history with his fifth-round knockout of Chan Sung Jung in November 2018.
What will we learn about Greg Hardy?
It seems that everyone has an unwavering opinion about Greg Hardy the man, but Greg Hardy the fighter remains a mystery. When the former Pro Bowl defensive end, whose NFL career ended four years ago following a domestic violence court case, steps in with Ben Sosoli on Friday, it will be his fourth UFC bout and his seventh pro fight overall. He has yet to face an opponent capable of shining a light on how good he can be.
Sosoli (7-2, 1 NC), an Australian who will be making his UFC debut, is an alum of Dana White’s Contender Series who has shown he can punch (6 KOs), but he’s also very hittable himself. That latter part is not a recipe for success against Hardy, who has scored first-round knockouts in all five of his victories.
Sosoli recognizes what he is up against. “He’s pretty athletic from what I’ve seen,” he told ESPN. “I know he hits super hard, so I have to keep my hands up and my head moving and be smart.”
It’s not unusual for a fight promotion to nurture the young career of a high-ceiling prospect, bring him or her along slowly, but with Hardy we’re creeping toward the crossroads. Consider the career of top heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou. By his second UFC fight, he was in with Curtis Blaydes. That was Ngannou’s seventh pro fight overall. Stipe Miocic‘s seventh pro fight was against dangerous veteran Joey Beltran.
Now, both Ngannou and Miocic were in combat sports before starting pro MMA, so their career arcs are not parallel to Hardy’s. But still, it’s fair to wonder: When is a career-defining challenge coming for Hardy?