Chris Weidman and the lost art of winning fights

Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman is 0-3 in his last three fights and hasn’t experienced the sweet smell of success since May 2015. Before that, before this unsightly run, Weidman was undefeated in 13, the reigning UFC middleweight king of the world and the all-American hero. It’s why his latest slump is so hard to believe and it’s why Weidman, the man at the centre of it, sees it not as a crisis but a momentary blip, one caused by misfortune and freak occurrence rather than any sudden regression in skill-set.

Still, three defeats kind of speaks for itself. Moreover, for a man who was once so imperious and dominant, the run of bad luck resonates more than it would for most; it’s all the more unexpected; all the more shocking; all the more un-Weidman.

This Saturday (July 22), Weidman goes into a fight with Kelvin Gastelum, a welterweight-cum-middleweight contender, knowing defeat is simply not an option.

He will also, however, presumably roll his eyes and tut whenever anybody writes that particular sentence or reminds him of the fact. He will, in response, say every fight is must-win. He will tell you his loss to Luke Rockhold, the one that started the slide, was a must-win fight, as was his next loss, to Yoel Romero, and the one after that, his latest, against Gegard Mousasi. Weidman, a man accustomed to having his hand raised, couldn’t afford to lose any of them, nor did he expect to lose any of them.

Saturday night will be no different. The shift, though, is this: opponents no longer fear Chris Weidman. They see him not as a former UFC world champion but as a fall-guy who has lost his last three fights. This, in turn, creates a kind of confidence and belief they would have otherwise been without. It also makes the job of turning things around all the more difficult, for opponents once intimidated by Weidman’s unbeaten record and his wrestling and his heavy hands will now simplify his skill-set and instead view him as a name they can add to their resume.

There could now be a weakness, too; a crumbling of his resolve. Defeats are one thing; three TKO defeats in a row another thing entirely. Weidman has found himself broken by punches and also knees. He has lost when dominated and lost when seemingly in a winning position. What’s more, each time he has lost, he has been expected to win.

There could, as a consequence of all this, be some physical deterioration – three TKOs within 16 months is no good for anyone – as well as some psychological damage owing to the fact Weidman, a natural born winner, is now losing fights he might once have won.

Could. Might. We don’t know yet.

On a more positive note, it’s worth remembering Weidman, 13-3, has only just turned 33 years of age. His best days may well be behind him, but, given the advanced ages of the rest of the division, you’d imagine he’s far from finished. Not only that, his defeats have come against the cream of the 185-pound weight class and should, therefore, be analysed in the correct context. You could even go so far as to offer him the benefit of the doubt. Rockhold, Romero and Mousasi, after all, hardly represent soft opposition. Former champions or title challengers, the trio would have their way with most middleweights on the planet.

Admittedly, this, right now, is scant consolation for Weidman – he’ll shrug upon hearing it – but it should, nevertheless, provide a reality check to all those with a hammer raised above the final nail. Because, should he win against Gastelum on Saturday, the entire picture changes. It won’t be good enough to land Weidman a shot at his old belt, no, but it will apply a fresh lick of paint to patchy framework and give the engine a much-needed jumpstart. Most important of all, Weidman will be back in the win column and therefore back in the race. Right now, that’s all he’s looking for. It’s all he needs.

“I have all these people writing me off right now – more than ever,” the New Yorker said before Saturday’s fight with Gastelum. “I’ll shut them all up in my next fight and that’s going to be a fun feeling.

“I always look at the positive side of things. I don’t get negative about anything. I don’t like to think or say negative things. There is no point of dwelling on past mistakes because I feel my mistakes have led me to where I need to be to fix the things I need to fix.

“I’m only going to get better and keep moving forward, and I aim to show that when I meet Gastelum.”

There’s no aiming about it. He has to show it. He has to win. But you don’t need to tell Chris Weidman that. It’s been that way since the night he turned pro in 2009.