Weidman's on UFC's fast track

Chris Weidman (top) fights Jesse Bongfeldt in a middleweight bout during UFC 131 at Rogers Arena in...

Chris Weidman (top) fights Jesse Bongfeldt in a middleweight bout during UFC 131 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC., last June. (QMI Agency)

NEIL SPRINGER, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

Chris Weidman could go from undefeated prospect to top 10 middleweight in one night — and he gets to do it on the biggest stage possible.

The former NCAA Division I wrestler was brought in as a late replacement to face Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist Demian Maia at UFC on FOX 2 in Chicago Saturday. Not only is Weidman facing a former middleweight title challenger, the last FOX card peaked at 8.8 million viewers.

Maia was originally scheduled to face Michael Bisping, but the British striker was bumped up to a No. 1 contender bout with Chael Sonnen after an undisclosed injury forced Mark Munoz off the card.

Despite the short notice, Weidman said he couldn’t afford to pass on the fight.

“When I got the phone call from my manager, I just thought it was such a huge opportunity,” Weidman said on a recent UFC conference call. “At first, he told me that I was going to be fighting in March or April, that (Maia) wasn’t going to fight on this next card and get pulled off. I was, like, ‘Absolutely.’ I told my coaches and they were on board for the fight and the jump up in competition.

“Then (the UFC) called back and said Maia really wants to fight on this FOX card. In the half-hour between the two phone calls, I became so pumped up to fight Demian Maia that I didn’t care when it was. So when they told me I was going to fight in a week, I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ I have a lot of respect for him and am ready to go out there and test myself.

“You only live once. Some people never get this kind of opportunity given to them. Who am I to just throw it away?”

A stellar wrestler with a solid submission game, Weid-man has looked impressive in each of his previous UFC appearances. In March, he bloodied Alessio Sakara with ground-and-pound en route to a unanimous-decision victory. Three months later, he submitted Jesse Bongfeldt with a guillotine choke. Weidman then slapped an exclamation point on 2011, putting Tom Lawlor to sleep with a D’arce choke at UFC 139 in November.

Though Maia admitted he’s just relieved to have an opponent, he’s impressed with Weidman’s grappling.

“They told me I was not going to fight anymore,” Maia said. “Then two hours later, they told me Chris accepted the fight. That was great and I said OK. He’s not as well-known as the other guys like Chael and Mike, but he’s tough. He may not be as experienced, but he’s very tough and never lost.

“All my life I’ve been fighting against grapplers. So I can go back to my roots (for this fight). To fight Mike was going to be different because he is a striker. But at the same time, I didn’t have enough time to make the adjustment, but Chris also doesn’t have time to do everything properly. So we are in the same line.

“I saw him when he fought Tom Lawlor in November. I was pretty impressed with his submissions. I wasn’t surprised when they said I would be fighting him because I already knew who he was.”

Though Weidman’s grappling has been on display in his UFC bouts, some questions still remain about his striking. Since Maia’s kickboxing has improved tremendously over the past year, it will be interesting to see how things play out regardless of where the fight goes.

Weidman said that just because he hasn’t let his hands go, doesn’t mean his stand-up skills are lacking.

“So far in the UFC, I haven’t been able to showcase (my striking) yet,” Weidman said. “This might be one of those fights where I do, it might be one of those fights where I don’t. But I’m an MMA fighter and a wrestler. I’m always going to start the fight standing. If the takedowns are there, I’m going to get my takedowns. If I do, I’m always going to be looking to pass and I’m always going to look for submissions no matter who I’m fighting.

“I’m excited to show off everything and obviously I have a lot of respect for Demian Maia — especially for his ground game.”


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