To become UFC middleweight champion, Chris Weidman had to go through arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time in Anderson Silva, and then beat him a second time for his first title defense.
Since then, Weidman has dispatched former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida as well as Vitor Belfort, but his greatest challenge may lie in his opponent at UFC 194 this weekend.
Luke Rockhold has looked better than ever in his last few fights, submitting Michael Bisping and Lyoto Machida to finally earn his first shot at a UFC title. Rockhold, a former Strikeforce champion, has not only earned a shot at the gold but may be the best person suited to take the belt away from Weidman.
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Despite recent performances, Weidman isn’t ready to anoint Rockhold with the crown of his toughest opponent because they still haven’t fought, but he does believe there are areas of the fight game where he’s gone up against better competition.
"In my head and all due respect to Luke, but if you were to put on paper you know, Anderson Silva versus him or Lyoto Machida versus him, just in the striking department, you’d probably say that Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida have better striking. If you were to put Demian Maia or you get Vitor Belfor in there, but Demian Maia with jiu-jitsu, he’s going to have better jiu-jitsu," Weidman said on a recent UFC media conference call.
"So on paper in every area, I’ve fought better wrestlers, you know, Mark Munoz, so on paper if you take out every category he’s in. But I do believe that Luke is better in the other areas than some of those guys."
Where Rockhold becomes a threat according to Weidman is his use of multitude of weapons in a fight. Rockhold is extremely well-rounded, with knockout power in his hands, wrestling learned from two-time Olympian Daniel Cormier and the kind of grappling where he’s submitted his last two opponents.
Weidman sees Rockhold as a “jack of all trades” and while that may not give him the striking prowess to feel superior to a fighter like Silva on the feet, he has a lot of other ways he could still conceivably win the fight.
"You know, I think he’s more well-rounded," Weidman said. "I think he has better wrestling than Machida and better jiu-jitsu than Machida. I think he has better wrestling and jiu-jitsu than Anderson Silva, so he definitely brings a different element to the game that I’m prepared for, and that’s different than a lot of guys I’ve fought. But if you were to break it down one element at a time, I’ve seen it all."
Rockhold obviously believes he’s the foil to Weidman’s title reign after winning his last four fights in a row without any of them going to decision.
Weidman is more than happy to find out if Rockhold really is the best competition he’s faced since becoming champion, and he welcomes the toughest possible fight come Saturday night in Las Vegas.
"I don’t know if he’s the toughest challenge I ever had, only on Dec. 12 we’ll be able to find that out, but he definitely is the toughest customer for me at the time," Weidman said. "I think with what we have in the middleweight division right now, so I’m taking him very seriously and this is, for me, I prepare as if it’s the toughest guy I’ve ever fought every single time.
"And the biggest fight of my life, this fight means everything to me and I take them seriously.”