Rated Next: Wide Open Opportunity for Middleweight Chris Weidman

Chris Weidman

Rising middleweight prospect continues streak

Sometimes you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

Over the last five years, Anderson Silva has laid waste to the UFC middleweight division, vanquishing every challenger placed before him. As the elite of the division hit their prime and reached their peak abilities, more often than naught, Silva has made them look like mere mortals.

In that same period, there haven’t really been any prospects to emerge and announce themselves as the future of the division. We’ve seen numerous new faces on either side of the 185-pound limit, with welterweight and light heavyweight becoming stocked with prospects poised to make a name for themselves.

But middleweight remains barren, save for one athlete. Though he’s a ways off from being considered a contender, the potential is there. All he has to do now is build upon his strong foundation.

Rated Next: Chris Weidman (6-0)

Of all the fighters who will be profiled in this series, Weidman is the furthest away from wearing championship gold. He’s also the least experienced of the group, which kind of helps explain the first part.

A student of Matt Serra and Ray Longo, the 26-year-old Weidman entered the sport with the ideal base, a decorated career as an All-American Division-I wrestler. Regardless of how some people view wrestling, there is no denying that collegiate wrestling remains the best building block for success in the sport today.

Weidman has added a solid jiu jitsu game to his repertoire since transitioning to mixed martial arts, as you would expect from anyone who trains under the Renzo Gracie black belt Serra. The native New Yorker advanced to the second round in the Under 88kg category at the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship, losing to eventual runner-up and multiple time world champion Andre Galvao.

While it’s true that Weidman in part earns his place in the Rated Next series because of a lack of young talent in the UFC middleweight division, he also showed in his first two UFC bouts why so many pundits have high expectations for him in the future.

Most prospects are going to be protective of their records, building incrementally, raising their level of competition fight after fight. They’ll wait for the right opportunity to make the move into the big leagues, and put in a full training camp in hopes of making their debut a successful one.

Weidman isn’t most prospects.

When Rafael Natal withdrew from his bout with Alessio Sakara at UFC Live 3, Weidman accepted the offer to make his UFC debut on two weeks’ notice against the powerful Italian striker.

After a relatively even opening frame, Weidman turned to his ground game, bringing Sakara to the ground numerous times over the final two rounds, working for better positions and bloodying his opponent with ground and pound. It was an impressive showing that earned the Hofstra grad a unanimous decision victory.

Just this past weekend, Weidman ran his UFC record to 2-0 with a first round submission win over Jesse Bongfeldt at UFC 131. Once again, Weidman stuck to the basics, bringing Bongfeldt to the canvas and dominating him there until the late stages of the opening round. As the clock ticked towards zero, Bongfeldt left his neck unprotected, and Weidman secured a standing guillotine that forced the Canadian to tap. The win earned Weidman Submission of the Night honors.

As encouraging as those two performances were, there is still room for growth.

Like many fighters with a wrestling background, Weidman’s striking has yet to reach the level of his grappling. While he showed adequate hands against Sakara, it will take more than adequate hands to climb to the top of the 185-pound ladder in the future.

There is reason to be optimistic about the future of his hands though, as Weidman knocked out noted striker and fellow prospect Uriah Hall back in September 2010 to claim the Ring of Combat middleweight title. Just like you can’t teach height in the NBA, you can’t teach power in MMA. If you could, someone would have taught it to Clay Guida a long time ago.

The biggest question mark I have with Weidman is whether he’ll be allowed to develop properly. With the lack of depth in the middleweight division, the possibility exists that he gets put on the fast track and thrown in with the wolves earlier than you would like to see.

If he continues to take the proper steps, Weidman has the potential to develop into a star, like a middleweight Matt Hughes with better athleticism. But the division is full of dangerous veterans who will be gunning for the youngster, and one loss, one wrong decision, can set him back.

This will be one fighter whose development I really look forward to watching.