July 12, 2012

Chris Weidman (above) derailed Mark Munoz's hopes for a title shot against Anderson Silva on Wednesday night in San Jose, Calif. (Ezra Shaw/Zuffa LLC)

Nice 1-2 punch by Chris Weidman.

The “1” was not actually a punch but an elbow, which connected to the head of Mark Muñoz and crumbled him in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 4 on Wednesday night in San Jose, Calif. What a knockout blow. It knocked Muñoz out of the fight (at 1:37 of the second round, after Weidman had followed his fallen opponent to the mat and unleashed a finishing flurry that really wasn’t needed), out of the No. 1 contender position in the middleweight division and out of a presumed matchup with champion Anderson Silva.

That brings us to the “2,” which also was not a punch. It was a verbal challenge. “I want Anderson Silva,” Weidman (9-0) said afterward in the cage. “Every single time I’ve had a full training camp, I’ve gotten a finish. Give me a full training camp, and I’d love a shot at the man.”

Talk about seizing the moment. Weidman seized Muñoz’s -- Mark was expected to be next in line for Silva, since he had been slated for a No. 1 contender’s showdown with Chael Sonnen back in January before injuring an elbow -- and then the unbeaten New Yorker seized his own with the respectful but no-nonsense challenge.

It wasn’t merely the victory that allowed Weidman to step to the front of the line. It was the way he won. He came into this fight as an underdog -- although no one with any sense was counting him out because, well, we’d never seen him lose. But the thinking was that the title shot was Muñoz’s for the taking, and if he didn’t snatch it up, then guys like Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher would lay claim to it. But Bisping is coming off a loss and Belcher is no more high-profile a fighter than Weidman, and he doesn’t have the kind of signature win that Weidman authored on Wednesday night.

How’d it happen? Once again, we were taught the enduring lesson of the octagon: Wrestling is different from MMA wrestling. Weidman was an All-American at Hofstra but his singlet credentials don’t measure up to those of Muñoz, who was the 2001 NCAA Division I champion at 197 pounds. On those wrestling mats, however, you can go for a takedown without worrying about a punch, knee or kick to the face. And it was within that context that Weidman seized control, getting a takedown in the bout’s first minute, then threatening Muñoz with submissions and punishing him with fists while the fighters were on the ground. Weidman also began the second round with a quick takedown. And when Muñoz got the fight back to standing and tried to change the momentum with a looping overhand right, Weidman was quicker to the punch. I mean, the elbow.

It was Weidman’s moment to shine. And to think about the shiny brass-and-leather belt that’s long been in the possession of Anderson Silva. “My takedowns are pretty good,” he said. “I’ll get him down, and I think, I really do believe, that I can submit him.”

That’s the kind of confidence you can pull off convincingly when you’ve never lost.

--Jeff Wagenheim

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