No matter what happens in the cage next Saturday night, UFC 162 is already a win for the organization.
For the first time in a long time, people are not universally convinced that middleweight champion Anderson Silva is walking away from the cage with the gold around his waist.
You have to go back to his UFC 126 meeting with Vitor Belfort — or his UFC 82 encounter with Dan Henderson before that — in order to find a bout where “The Spider” wasn’t an astronomical favourite.
Chris Weidman is viewed by many as a legitimate threat to the man widely considered the greatest fighter of all-time.
We’re not talking “He has a better chance than most” territory either. This is Joe Rogan calling “the perfect man to defeat Anderson Silva” in the same trailer that features Gray Maynard singing his praises, and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre tabbing the unbeaten “All-American” to become the new ruler of the middleweight division.
This time last year, there were people complaining about the idea of the 9-0 Weidman facing Silva for the title. Now, with less than two weeks to go until the two men share the cage on July 6, more and more people are buying into the possibility that we might be on the verge of a changing of the guard atop the 185-pound ranks.
That’s huge for the organization, and they deserve a round of applause for crushing the promotional campaign for this fight.
While there has been plenty of attention given to Silva in the marketing efforts for this event as well, making Weidman the greater focus is a stroke of brilliance, and a move that sets the UFC up for positive returns regardless of the outcome.
Should he suffer the same fate as the previous 16 men to enter the Octagon opposite Silva, there’s a strong chance that he still exits the cage as “The Heir Apparent,” the man next in line to inherit the throne whenever the mercurial Brazilian superstar decides to abdicate. But the bigger pluses come if he wins, and not just because the UFC can push him on the basis of being “the man who beat the unbeatable Anderson Silva.”
In promoting Weidman as a very real threat to Silva, the UFC has made calling a potential win for the New Yorker a fluke less of an option. A win for the undefeated challenger isn’t going to stand alongside Matt Serra’s victory over GSP as one of the biggest upsets the sport has ever seen, partially because Weidman has been billed as a future champion from Jump Street, but also because the organization isn’t hyping this up as “David vs. Goliath.”
When you push the challenger as a significant underdog, it opens up lanes for people to view their victory — should it happen — as a one-time deal; a freak occurrence that is impossible to repeat. (See Edgar, Frankie circa UFC 112)
Selling the challenger is the right call, and having respected, recognizable UFC fighters speaking to his abilities and potential to score the victory is even smarter. We’ve heard Rogan and Dana White call every title contender in every division “a serious threat” to the champion over the last few years.
More often than not, said “serious threat” gets absolutely waxed, and the masses get salty that the UFC once again sold us a trumped up contender who winds up getting trounced.
Note: very seldom do we get mad at ourselves for buying into the promotional hype; that just isn’t how this works.
At the end of the 30-second spot centered around Weidman, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans echoes the sentiment many fight fans feels heading into this fight.
“Anderson Silva, he’s my favourite fighter to watch,” Evans begins before adding, “but I don’t know.”
The fact that that “but I don’t know” is coming from Evans, a number of his peers, a bunch of analysts, and countless fans has the UFC 162 main event positioned as the most must-see championship fight of the last year.
While there have been more historic fights (Rousey vs. Carmouche), bouts that featured bigger rivalries (Silva-Sonnen II, GSP vs. Diaz), and a handful of really close, highly entertaining contests since last year’s Fourth of July fight card, none have been accompanied by as much genuine anticipation as next weekend’s championship contest at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
There have been titleholders that fans and critics alike have thought were vulnerable, but the unbeatable Anderson Silva has never been the one in that position… until now.
And this isn’t manufactured hype either.
Weidman’s skill set and track record is what differentiates him from the collection of massive championship underdogs that have shared the cage with the long-reigning champion in recent years.
The New York native has proven himself capable of beating opponents in various different ways, and looks like a bigger, stronger, fast, more complete version of Chael Sonnen, the only fighter to have a modicum of success against Silva since Henderson took a round from the champ five years ago.
Win or lose, Weidman’s status has been elevated to the point that he is now one of the fighters you can see serving as the face of the franchise alongside Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey going forward.
While that is obviously amplified if he defeats Silva next Saturday night, he’ll be bankable in the same way Sonnen became a headlining act following his first dalliance with the dominant champion, only with a greater skill set and far less scripted shtick.
Creating new stars is something the UFC has struggled to do in recent years, save for making good on the “so good it’s hard to screw it up” combination of Jones and Rousey.
They’ve managed to build up Weidman to the point where he’s on the verge of a larger breakthrough, which is ironic — at least to me — since the only thing that has changed since many declared him “not ready to face Silva” and “not a big enough star” following his destruction of Munoz is the push he’s received from the organization.
Once Dana White started speaking of him as a viable contender, the media coverage picked up and the objections to his placement opposite the middleweight kingpin quieted down.
Now, 10 days prior to fighting for the belt, he’s on the brink of being a superstar, and the UFC is counting down the days to what is sure to be one of their biggest pay-per-views in the last couple of years.
That’s a testament to the tremendous job the UFC has done to promote Weidman and this fight, and it deserves to be recognized.