If there is one narrative that encapsulates this fight it is that of divergent trajectories. Including his December 2015 loss to Luke Rockhold, the New Yorker has dropped his last three fights all by way of KO/TKO. Although his last fight ended somewhat controversially (with Weidman playing fast and loose with the “downed opponent” rule) the Longo MMA fighter has been on a clear decline. The same however, cannot be said of his opponent.
Since his move to Middleweight, Gastelum has won all three of his fights (2 by TKO/KO) though his last win was, somewhat unjustly, overturned to a no contest following a positive test for marijuana. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner is currently on the second biggest win-streak of his career and that momentum clearly stands in stark contrast to Weidman’s current predicament.
As a former UFC Champion, the All-American is not yet in danger of being cut by the promotion. Another loss though will certainly put him on shaking foot should his contract run out. So while Saturday night’s main-event is not quite do-or-die there is an element of urgency present. One more loss could conceivable vault him over the edge, though that might not be such a bad thing.
The cases of Holly Holm and Johny Hendricks both offer significant parallels to the New York native’s. After losing three fights against two former Champions and one current Title Challenger, Holm was finally given a tune up fight against Bethe Correia. In that fight she landed a beautiful question mark kick KO and has now re-entered contention at both 135-145 lbs.
Johny Hendricks lost three fights in a row to top five talent before the UFC supplied him with a more manageable foe in Hector Lombard. Although Hendricks has recently lost again – and missed weight after moving up to 185 lbs – the precedent remains that tune up fights can contribute to the success and longevity of fighters.
The UFC seems reluctant to attempt to rehabilitate Weidman in the manner they have with Holm, Pettis, and Hendricks. The 33-year-old too has time and again rejected the idea of a tune-up as something beneath him though, a fourth loss in a row might leave the UFC no choice. What’s more is that the possibility of him going 0-4 is looking like more and more like an eventuality.
The 25-year-old Gastelum has looked flawless in his move to Middleweight. Although he has given up some size he has retained his impressive speed and power. Moreover, in a styles matchup one has to favor the Mexican-American not only for his pedigree but also for his resume. Two of his most recent wins have come over extremely seasoned grapplers: Johny Hendricks and Tim Kennedy.
Both Hendricks and Kennedy have similar grinding and grappling heavy styles to that of Weidman. Hendricks shares the All-American pedigree while Kennedy surpasses him in submission prowess. Yet Gastelum was able to overcome both largely because of his agility, hand speed, and fight IQ. It is difficult to envision how Weidman can do any better than a former Welterweight Champion and a man who kills terrorists for a living.
On Saturday, July 22, the UFC graces Long Island, New York with a main card that is not lacking in intrigue. The main event features a clash of Middleweights on divergent career trajectories. One is looking to regain former glories while the other looks to climb to the top for the first time. Both men want desperately to win but in the case of Chris Weidman a victory almost certainly means tougher matchups to come and that may not be the best thing for a fighter teetering on the edge.