Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Weidman vs. Mousasi at UFC 210 in Buffalo, and everything you don’t about the Lovecraftian fate of middleweight.
Gegard Mousasi and Chris Weidman help clarify the mess at middleweight this April 8, 2017 at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Dutch-Armenian insouciance takes on the All-American on a tough streak.
David: Weidman and Mousasi rearrange deckchairs on Middleweight’s Titanic.
Record: Chris Weidman 13-2 Gegard Mousasi 41-6-2 Draw
Odds: Chris Wiedman +100 Gegard Mousasi -120
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Chris Weidman will forever be defined by those wins over Anderson Silva, two fights which ended up being an interesting Rorschach inkblot for the fanbase: there were the people who thought Silva was just toying with Weidman until the American managed to catch him clowning for a bit too long, the ones who clung to that perception even after Weidman beat him again, and those who looked at how Silva barely won a single uninterrupted minute of either fight and realized that his time at the top of the sport was over. Nevertheless, Weidman’s injuries and the fact that most of his wins have come over aging Brazilian legends have perhaps unfairly dampened the belief the fans have in him, particularly coming off the only two losses of his career.
David: Weidman’s presence in MMA was definitely an anti-X-Files situation. People wanted to nonbelieve. Weidman didn’t do anything spectacularly, so to see him see him knockout a spectacular icon of the sport seemed incorrect, for lack of a better term. MMA loves its non sequiturs though. Pretty soon Weidman was as legit a champ as there was, and then the Luke Rockhold fight happened. And then 3rd round Yoel Romero happened. What’s tough for Wiedman is that he’s in a situation where the prospect of losing three in a row is a very real, yet rather than validate his status as a fight mirage to fans, it should be seen as what happens when the division, and matchmaking come together to form a field of bullets.
Phil: Mousasi has had a mini-renaissance of late. Like Lawler, or Masvidal, the laconic Dutchman is showing some of the best form of his career at a surprisingly late point. It makes sense, though- he’s always been defensively sound, and I get the impression he didn’t kill himself in training when he was younger, so his incredibly deep and technical game has only matured with time. Perhaps the most welcome surprise has been on the mic- the blank disinterest of yesteryear is no more, and he’s been bringing a blunt, sarcastic fire to press conferences and interviews.
David: I don’t think it ever really “clicked” for Mousasi. When you look at his losses, they’re not losses of status, skill, embarrassment, or shame. They’re losses of minimalism and in some cases, ‘chance’. Instead I think Mousasi’s resurgence is just a matter of minimalism and chance. The little in-fight decisions making a difference have broken his way and the matchmaking has been more favorable. So no here we are.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Title shot? Maybe? Depends how much of a log jam Bisping-GSP generates. Yoel should have a title shot. Jacare should probably also have a title shot. This division is an absolute mess.
David: Bisping-GSP isn’t a logjam. It’s infrastructure meltdown. Granted, the winner of this fight doesn’t prima facie deserve a title shot, but it won’t matter because Bisping vs. GSP has the ability to be a game changer, for better or for worse.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Chris Weidman is an absolutely defined pressure fighter. He has a preternatural gift for detecting where opponents want to move and intercepting them, a skill which extends to his takedown game. While he isn’t quick on his feet, he can take the smallest amount of steps necessary to close down an opponent. Similarly, if he lands a snapdown or his excellent single leg, he will often have moments of surprising stillness on top, as he waits for an opponent to make a move then immediately cuts them off or counters them into a submission or guard pass. His best strikes are a sweeping hook and his right body kick, both of which are excellent at cutting down movement. He is in general an extremely underrated kicker. His main problem is his defense: he just doesn’t offer much on the counter and even less moving backwards, aside from retreating and throwing up the double forearm guard.
David: Weidman used to confuse with me his effectiveness. How is this blue collar dude turning solid fighters into complete marks? It’s tough to define latent variables in MMA. I see you, guy who’s ready to type the words “pretentious” in response to this article, so give me a second. It’s a better phrase than sports nonspeak like “toughness” and “will to win”. Most qualities labeled intangibles by media types don’t actually mean anything. They’re just buzzwords that arbitrarily assign value. My point in all of this is that Weidman gets by without supernatural athleticism because he’s economic in a way that’s more effective than usual. By cutting space and time from “better punchers”, Weidman is able to shortcut typical defenses. Instead his pressure game allows him to sidestep traditional modes of attack, and within that ability to turn a takedown into a submission threat, he’s suddenly able to be dynamic without expending the energy of dynamic fighting. This has traditionally helped hide his achilles heel, which is his defense. When pressured, not only is his movement disjointed, but he has a real fundamental flaw at anticipating the location of the attacks. Hell even Belfort blitzed the hell out of him before going humpty dumpty.
Phil: Mousasi lives and breathes off a long, snapping jab and cracking low kick. He used to be a woeful defensive wrestler but cleaned that side of his game up nicely since coming to the UFC, although he’s still shown that he can be vulnerable to chained attempts if trapped against the cage. He’s also gotten much better at using his strikes to move opponents backwards rather than timing them on the way in and looking to counter, something which should be extremely important against Weidman.
I do feel like people who have been talking about his “new” killer instinct are slightly over-egging the point, though- he’s always been one of the most prolific finishers in the sport, and has almost always gotten his opponent out of there if they’ve been badly hurt. The difference is in process- he’s better at consistently winning rounds and forcing opponents into positions where they’re compromised than he used to be.
David: I’m a little skeptical of “new” Mousasi. As in, there’s more credence to the claim that he’s the benefactor of matchmaking than the claim that he’s suddenly more effective at what he’s always been good at. That’s the beauty of Mousasi’s game, though. He never had to tweak much of anything; a brilliant kickboxer, with a stout grappling game whose only real issue was counter wrestling. He’s no longer a victim of his own lack of urgency, which is where his prospects get interesting. It’s been four fights since he’s gone to the third round, which is good, since we know he can fight more than three rounds. The problem has never been his dynamism. The problem has always been his ability to trigger that dynamism sooner rather than later.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: The closest analogue would be Jacare-Mousasi, one which you picked correctly and I did not, if I recall. I over-favoured Mousasi’s ability to close down Jacare’s shot with the jab. Instead he allowed himself to be pushed into the cage, where he had some success closing down Jacare’s initial shots, but eventually started to give up takedowns, and eventually the striking portion of the game as well.
David: The big difference there is that Jacare is much more active in top control, tightening his grip in top control to better position for submissions. Weidman just tightens. He’s a wonderful grappler, granted, and he’s looked good even against the best on their own turf, but Mousasi can wade through Weidman’s grappling storm on a shortened timeline.
Phil: Momentum? It can be a psychological thing for the fighters, but it can also occlude things like level of competition. Mousasi has looked great of late, but against fighters that he was massively favoured to beat. Conversely, Weidman has been finished in competitive fights by absolute murderers.
David: Absolute murderers? Heavens to Betsy, Phil (my birthdate is 12-04-43), tell me you’re not shooting up Joe Rogan’s alpha brain intravenously?
Phil: How Weidman has looked of late has been a little concerning, but I don’t think I’ve seen quite enough from Mousasi to convince me that he’s changed enough to beat a very similar style match to the man who handed him his most one-sided UFC loss. The big cage and his improved volume should tilt the fight a bit, but I still think my pick is Chris Weidman by unanimous decision.
David: It’s funny how we see Mousasi so similarly yet are at odds when it comes to predicting his fights. I’m taking Mousasi in this one for all the reasons you listed. The caveat here is that Weidman doesn’t close distance quick enough the way Jacare did, to trap Mousasi enough to keep him neutralized. To me, the hard part is figuring out if Mousasi can crack him in those intervals to turn opportunity into pressure. That’s where it gets tricky because Wiedman has a better chin than Jacare. Gegard Mousasi by Unanimous Decision.