There was a time when Vitor Belfort was considered a new breed. A Jiu Jitsu man who could box! It was a revelation. I hate the word “phenom”, but the feeling of optimism for the future of the sport that Belfort inspired in many in 1997 is what fills me each time I see Chris Weidman in action.
Mixed martial arts, for a long time, was a game of checking boxes. You had a sheet with just two criteria: 'Striking' and 'Grappling'. Anyone who checked both was something special. Then it was 'Striking', 'Wrestling', and 'Grappling'. Then it became about levels: “so-and-so's striking is great, but his opponent's is just on another level”. Now we are entering an era where most of the fighters in the top five of any given division can stop a takedown, strike competently, and defend themselves from submissions even against the elite. Sure, the pre-fight graphic still says something like:
⁃Third Most Right Handed Strikes Landed in Second Rounds in UFC History
⁃Will to Win / Wants It
But the game is at a point where it's considerably deeper. Fans don't just have to worry about “can x fighter stop a double leg?” so much nowadays. They are free to study a fighter's individual tendencies—their preferred methods and set ups. And that is what excites me about Chris Weidman, he has his habits and his favourites, but he crafts his fights to make them work against very different opponents. Furthermore, he offers very specific answers to the A games of exceptional fighters.
It's a little late in the week to be writing a detailed analysis of Chris Weidman versus Vitor Belfort, but it is always worth a look at a few of technical and tactical decisions which make Weidman so special.
You could pick any random handful of my articles and there's a good chance I would be complaining about ringcraft in at least one of them. The corners of the cage are half as severe as those in the ring, but cutting off the cage is at least ten times more difficult against a competent opponent. Machida is more than competent, yet Weidman got him to the fence repeatedly throughout their bout.
Reading any MMA forum, you will see dozens upon dozens of posts about how slow Weidman is and how folks just can't believe he keeps winning. Weidman is far from slow, when he rattled Alessio Sakara and Anderson Silva with right hand leads, he seemed wickedly fast. It is his measure movement and slow, methodical jabbing which seems to have thrown fans off.
There is a saying “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” which some trainers use when teaching head movement. Smooth is exactly how I would describe Weidman's ring cutting against Machida. Machida found himself along the fence early and often, and would do exactly what a fighter should to get off of it—feint and rapidly change direction.
Except every time this happened (and it happened a lot) Machida used a ton of energy and effort, while “slow” Chris Weidman was cool as could be.
Weidman used two excellent methods of directing Machida to the fence from the centre of the cage—the first was feinting kicks. He would step up and raise the knee, only to step in afterwards.
The other method was the double right hand, which I'm sure you will all remember from his bout with Alessio Sakara and more infamously from his knockout of Anderson Silva.
The double right hand forces movement and, once the cage is reached, forces the opponent to cover—exposing his hips.
I can't imagine that Weidman had any idea that he'd have such success against Anderson Silva, but against Machida it perfectly filled the role it always has in southpaw versus orthodox engagements, serving to force movement as the double jab does, but with greater power. In Vitor Belfort, Weidman meets his third southpaw opponent in a row, so expect to see it in his efforts to push Belfort to the cage.
A fight which I recently wrote about, and is well worth looking into if you want to see the double right straight at its absolute best, is Julio Cesar Chavez's one-sided beating of Hector Camacho.
Refusing to Lunge
Discipline is consistently what carries Weidman to victory over his opponents. Not only is he strong, athletic, and well conditioned, he does what he's told extremely well and that is the best thing a coach can hope for. Anderson Silva had made a career of forcing opponents to lunge at him and countering as their attack fell short but they kept moving.
Looking back, it's a pretty simplistic methodology, and explains why most of Silva's best knockouts came against more aggressive, wild strikers. Certainly, you aren't going to catch too many top notch boxers or kickboxers running in behind their punches. But then, fear adds to that. So many of Silva's opponents had the idea that they should be miles away, or fully committed to attacking. In actuality, the opposite is true. Against a great counter striker, a fighter should be throwing out non-commital strikes all the time, putting static out into the airwaves.
Against Silva, 'The Chris' threw out jab after jab, staying firmly on top of his feet, and across both fights he seemed untouchable to Silva. The glaring errors Silva loves weren't there. So he went to his antics, begging Weidman to swing a right hand at him—and all that happened was that he ate more jabs and failed to counter.
Every time Silva thought he could come back, Weidman's balance was perfect and his anticipation was on point. He never forgot that there was always going to be something coming back.
Modern Wrestling Tactics
Weidman's striking has become more and more enjoyable to watch, but it is how his new striking game has come to compliment his grappling chops which really pleases the eye. Against Mark Munoz, a tremendously accomplished wrestler, Weidman quickly got the fight to the floor. He shouldn't have been able to, Munoz was deep in his stance and ready when the fight began. But a few high kicks quickly straightened Munoz up, and suddenly Weidman was in on his hips.
Weidman used his striking to make Munoz forget about the wrestling, but against Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, he ensured that his wrestling was always in mind. Similar to Stipe Miocic's half effort ducks to grab Mark Hunt's legs the other weekend, Weidman would look to grab one of Machida's legs at every opportunity just to keep Hunt honest.
And that's not even to mention Weidman's simple passing game and how it feeds so brilliantly into his excellent D'arce choke. He memorably caught Tom Lawlor with this, but with a single year of formal submissions training, Weidman had the great Andre Galvao fighting off D'arce attempts in the ADCC semi-finals. A grappling match which is certainly worth a watch if you don't understand what all this Weidman fuss is about.
At UFC 187, Chris Weidman defends his middleweight title for the third time against Vitor Belfort. All kinds of question marks hang over the match, due to Belfort's long history of performance enhancing drug abuse and suspicious testosterone levels, but drugs or no drugs, Weidman is a nightmare match up for the Brazilian banger. Belfort has always had trouble with the gruelling bouts and the strongest wrestlers, and Weidman will oblige him in both of those regards. A victory for Belfort will show that he has truly come to terms with the aspects of the game which have previously caused him to mentally fold against men like Couture, Jones, Sakuraba and Overeem.
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