Having battled Sandy, Chris Weidman now preparing for Anderson Silva
BALDWIN, N.Y. -- The water is calm now. Placid and blue, Chris Weidman and his wife, Marivi, can see water lapping against their deck from the back windows of their Baldwin, N.Y. home. It's the water, the Weidmans say that convinced them to convert Weidman's second UFC purse into a down payment on the two-family, eight-bedroom house along the Long Island Coastline in 2011. But the same water that drew the Weidmans to their home, threatened to topple it last October when Hurricane Sandy's 115-mile-per-hour-winds pushed walls of water as high as 13 feet from the shores and through the kitchens, yards and neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast. In Weidman's Long Island, the storm ravaged nearly 60,000 homes in the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
Nine months and several insurance claims later, Weidman surveys his street. It's dotted with empty lots where the storm washed away entire family homes. Sandy, by comparison to some neighbors, acted like a polite houseguest in his home. "We're still dealing with it," Weidman says, ticking off his list of repairs. Patches of siding on the house need replacement. The kitchen still needs cabinets and countertops.
But Weidman, 29, left his house and his chores on Monday, seeking higher ground in his sport. Weidman (9-0-0) will challenge Anderson Silva (33-4-0) for the middleweight title on Saturday during the main event of UFC 162. The 38-year-old Silva has yet to lose a bout in the UFC, boasting 16 straight wins in the promotion, a record 11 knockouts and 14 total finishes. The middleweight title belt has remained cinched around Silva's waist since 2006, when he kneed Rich Franklin at UFC 64 for the knockout. Yet Vegas oddsmakers list Weidman, with just five UFC bouts to his credit, as a 9-0 underdog, the shortest margin since Dan Henderson's matchup with Silva in 2008. Fellow UFC fighters like Georges St. Pierre, Daniel Cormier, and Chael Sonnen have picked Weidman to end Silva's reign.
Count Weidman, himself, among those believers.
"If I have to stand with him for five rounds, I'm ready to go after him," Weidman tells SI.com. "I'm not going to shy away. My roots are my wrestling. That's where I came from. My wrestling and my jiu-jitsu will probably my biggest weapons in this fight."
Besides, how could Weidman be unnerved at the prospect of fighting the best when he's already survived the worst?
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The morning of Oct. 29, the date of Hurricane Sandy's arrival, started at 8 a.m. with a knock at the door. Chris's father, Charlie, stood on the other side with a warning: The only road leading in or out of the fighter's family home had already started flooding -- 12 hours before the storm would make landfall. "If you don't leave now, you're not going to get out," Charlie said to Marivi.
She surveyed the pools of water already flooding the front and backyard. "I knew our house was going to get hit," she says. Marivi grabbed a few toys, clothes, and a diaper bag for the couple's then four-month-old son, CJ, and Cassidy, two-and-a-half. But Chris? He'd have to stay. The bulkhead in the backyard needed to be secured and he and his cousin would have to stay and anchor it.
"[My cousin and I] were just going to have a guys' night in, have a good time. Figure the power was going to go out. Play board games. Just hang out," Weidman says. Besides, Weidman figured, all the forecasters warned that Hurricane Irene would strike the Long Island shores with death, despair and destruction 14 months earlier. Water splashed the three feet of crawl space beneath his home but didn't even make it to the garage during Irene. Weidman and his cousin settled in.
Weidman's night, however, abruptly shifted from bonding to survival. As the storm inched closer to the shore, he and his cousin heard the refrigerator in the garage thrashing about in the water, along with the family's garbage cans, and stacks of boxed-up baby clothes.
"It went from hanging out, getting ready to have a good time to holy crap, this is pretty serious," he says.
In an instant the water soaked the family's first floor. Chris started hauling couches and tables, chairs and mattresses, up to the second floor in an effort to save them from the salt water. A dirty diaper from the garage garbage can floated by in the living room. Sewage pipes broke. The currents carried the bracket sheets from his New York State high school wrestling title and his Division I All-American wrestling career at Hofstra University into the great beyond. Weidman waded through, barefoot and knee-high in water.
"I didn't get a single ounce of sleep," he says.
The worst, though, was yet to come.
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Daybreak the next morning brought light, Marivi and the kids, and a large helping of reality for the Weidmans.
"At the time you just think the next day you're going to clean it out and you're going to be living back in but it didn't happen like that," says Weidman.
He opened the garage door and toddler Cassidy saw her toys soiled and strewn all over. "My kids are crying and I realize this is serious," he says.
In the light of day, Weidman saw his octogenarian neighbor assessing the pile of rubble that used to be his house. He saw the basketball goal from who-knows-where staked in front of his house. Most clearly, through the broken branches and washed out cars, he saw an opportunity to help others.
Leveraging his more than 50,000 Twitter followers, Weidman organized a supplies drive for his neighbors who lost more than his family did. Fight fans in the tri-state area used precious gasoline -- which was in short supply after the storm -- to drop off blankets, clothing and toys for those most affected by Sandy's wrath. Weidman's sponsor, the apparel company Bad Boy, shipped boxes of shirts in every size they manufacture for their rising star to distribute to his neighbors.
"I didn't feel bad for myself," he says. "I was just doing what I had to do. You see someone else who has it worse than you that takes your mind off yourself."
After two weeks of ripping out the walls and the floors of his home, Weidman's management team worried the fighter needed to redirect his energy back to the cage. His bout with against the well-regarded Tim Boetsch was set for the end of December on the undercard of UFC 155. The gas shortages and stress left little means or time for training. Ryan Bader, who knew Weidman from the college wrestling scene, helped arrange for the displaced fighter to train at his camp, Power MMA, in Gilbert, Ariz. Bader's wife, who'd given birth to a son two months before the Weidman's welcomed CJ, shared baby supplies with New Yorkers. "It was just nice to get a break," says Marivi.
But what started as a break, ended with a pop in Weidman's right shoulder. Just a week into his Arizona fight-camp, he was out of the fight with a torn labrum. "Breathing hurt him," Marivi remembers.
Yet Weidman remained resolute. "Everything happens for a reason," he told MMAfighting.com after the November injury. "Hopefully, this will be a blessing."
A blessing? Or a broken road to a greater destiny? Without Sandy, there is no injury. No injury? No guarantee that Weidman, entering just his 10th pro MMA bout, squares off with Silva quite so soon. The upstart Weidman is respectful of Silva's legacy but refuses to be intimidated by it.
"I could give myself a million excuses on why I might lose this fight but I refuse to do that," Weidman says. "I think I'll be able to sustain a pace that could break him mentally and physically. I'm young. I'm hungry. I'm undefeated."
And as he drives past the construction trucks on his streets and sees his walls still standing, his floors reinstalled, he's emboldened by knowing that not even Mother Nature herself could take him down.