After one of the greatest UFC title reigns in history, Chris Weidman exited the middleweight division on a 1-4 skid. His foray into light heavyweight made sense in that context; cutting less weight would let him take a better shot and put less strain on his aging body. But then Dominick Reyes crumpled Weidman with a single counter and sent him limp with a few lazy hammer fists.
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And so Weidman joins a dubious list; fighters who moved up in weight only to do worse. In just the past few months, two other notable examples include Luke Rockhold (the man who took his title) and James Vick.
But why has this happened? You’d expect them to give up a strength advantage, but why are they getting slept?
Weight = Power
Imagine that your friend has a job waking up every day at 4 am and working for 8 hours. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t get enough sleep and he’s getting very sore and tense. When you express your concerns, he tells you that he got a new shift with the same pay! One where he gets to start at 10 am! But he works 10 hour days and has to do it barefoot.
What I’m trying to say is that the costs sometimes outweigh the benefits, even if the current situation sucks. Or in other words, it makes no difference if you can take a shot 20% better if the opponents are now hitting 30% harder.
Despite finishing 1-4 at middleweight, Weidman had a great chin. Both Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort caught him with tremendous shots that rattled him but didn’t drop him. Only Yoel Romero and Jacare Souza had truly KO’d him and they needed extraordinary blows to do so; Romero needed a flying knee counter and Souza broke him down with liver punches before countering him on his temple. Yet a single punch from Reyes dazed Weidman so much that he couldn’t even defend the hammer fists.
Rockhold’s boxing means he gets clipped, but he usually recovers fine. But the first glancing blow Blachowicz landed wobbled him badly. The power on up kicks are hard to judge, but Price’s legs are longer and heavier than most lightweights. One would expect it would hurt a lot more against your jaw.
Too little, too late
Compounding on the issue of increased power at heavier divisions is that some fighters move up weight as a last resort.
When Robert Whittaker moved to middleweight, he’d already lost four times. But aside from a single TKO against counter savant Stephen Thompson, Whittaker escaped without a lot of damage. He (correctly) figured he’d do better at middleweight and proactively made the move. He wasn’t forced to move because he suffered a string of rough losses. Weidman’s move came after a body-breaking and soul-crushing KO. Their physical conditions when they made the transition is leagues apart.
A 1-4 skid isn’t just hard on the body; it erodes the spirit.
With all due respect to Kelvin Gastelum (who took Israel Adesanya to five rounds), he’s not an ideal middleweight. His extraordinary cardio and work rate is offset by his diminutive height, reach and strength. And yet Weidman considered beating him in a close back and forth affair worth getting emotional over. He’d lost three straight fights all of which he’d arguably been leading, and it felt good to win again.
Which made his loss to Jacare so much tougher; he lost a fight he started out winning. That’s not a fighter who’s ready to take heavier punishment. Rockhold was countered twice over his right hand with left hooks for a pair of devastating KO losses. Even if Rockhold dedicated himself to improving his boxing, why test it against fighters who hit even harder? After you’ve suffered two bad KO losses?
Honestly, Vick’s case is just sad. Even before his fight against Price, Vick has suffered three terrifying KO losses. Yes, Niko Price’s up-kick caught him perfectly. But I think that after getting his consciousness severed cleanly multiple times, Vick’s brain didn’t have the fortitude to resist the up kick. If he’d moved to welterweight before the Justin Gaethje fight, it may have been a different story.
The most immediate worry about moving up in weight is that your opposition will be larger than you. Considering the different heights and reaches, sparring partners can only help so much.
Consider Reyes, who stands 6-foot-4 with a 77-inch reach. He is Weidman’s tallest opponent and he only gave up an inch of reach. Weidman’s right-hand entry on Reyes against the fence wasn’t perfect by any means; he should’ve brought his right hand back to his chin or try to get back onto his rear foot instead of advancing with his guard down. But at middleweight, his opponents either felt his power or feared the takedown. But the tall, lengthy and powerful Reyes simply took a half step back and pasted his jaw.
Rockhold got away with poor defense due to his height and length, but Blachowicz nullified the latter with his 78-inch wingspan. David Branch also sports 78-inch reach, and he gave Rockhold fits in the opening salvos. When Rockhold cut to 185 pounds, he retained enough physical strength that he could physically outmaneuver fighters who went in on him. But at 205 pounds, he couldn’t do anything when he clinched. Blachowicz isn’t a middleweight trying to get healthy, but a legitimate light heavyweight.
The sad part is after these last series of losses, there’s nothing left for these fighters. Weidman’s brain and psyche is battered, and I don’t think he’ll cut back to middleweight after losing so many fights. Rockhold now openly contemplates retirement. And I’ve been saying James Vick needs to save himself from himself for a while now. A better weight cut did nothing for these men.
So if you want to move up in weight, do it. But don’t do it like these guys.
A fight is like wood carving; multifaceted, beautiful and it'll leave you hurting if you get thrown into one. I have puns like perforated edges: tear-able.