Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi square off in the co-main event at UFC 210 in Buffalo.
The two first met at UFC 187 for the vacant UFC light heavyweight championship. Johnson was originally supposed to challenge Jon Jones, but Jones was pulled and stripped of the title due to legal reasons.
Jones’s downfall opened the door for Cormier, who survived an early knockdown against Johnson en route to a submission win. Cormier has gone on to defend the title once, while Johnson has roared back with three consecutive knockouts.
UFC 210 on Saturday, inside Buffalo’s KeyBank Center, offers Johnson a second crack at both Cormier and a UFC championship. Both fighters will benefit from a full camp this time, focused on the other.
Let’s take a closer look at UFC 210 in the latest edition of ESPN’s Cheat Sheets.
Chris Weidman (13-2) vs. Gegard Mousasi (41-6-2), Middleweight
Odds as of April 6: Mousasi -115; Weidman -105
‘This is my comeback story’
Weidman barely noticed when 2016 gave way to 2017. He’s not really one to place value on dates.
Had he chosen to wildly celebrate last year coming to an end, few would blame him. It was not the year Weidman envisioned.
The 32-year-old was forced to withdraw from a title fight against Luke Rockhold in June due to injury, and then suffered a highlight reel knockout loss to Yoel Romero in his home state of New York in November.
As a lifelong wrestler, Weidman says he’s dealt with disappointment before and doesn’t mind his current position in the UFC landscape. The next chapter of his career will be his best.
“Listen, I’ve had a lot of setbacks in my life,” Weidman said. “I’m the New York kid and [UFC 205] was my time to shine. With one mistake, it was all over. Gone. I lost when it mattered most.
“It’s just going to be part of my story. It was a huge, huge setback, but right away it becomes a motivating tool for me. This is a moment I’m enjoying. This is my comeback story. There are so many eyes on me, and this is an opportunity against a good guy to come back and persevere.”
It’s unclear exactly where a win over Mousasi would place Weidman in 185-pound title contention — with Romero, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Rockhold all positioned near the top, waiting for a shot against champion Michael Bisping.
“That’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time,” Weidman said. “I know that after what I’m going to show in there this weekend, people will want to see me fight for the title. So, I’m not hating on anybody or any system. I know it’s going to work out for me.”
On last fight of UFC contract, Mousasi looking for significant raise
It’s no secret Mousasi believes he’s been underpaid and under-appreciated up to this point in his career. He’s been saying this for months.
Given the megaphone that comes with UFC PPV co-main event status, Mousasi’s grievances have become one of the loudest storylines of UFC 210.
“This is the last fight on my contract and I’m facing a tough guy in Chris Weidman,” Mousasi told ESPN.com. “I have to win this fight. I’m planning on that. And then, why shouldn’t I get paid? I’ve seen what other fighters, some of whom I’ve defeated, are making — and they’re getting paid way more than me.
“Is it because they are vocal? I can be vocal. I can do everything better than they can, and I’m a way better fighter. It’s unfair.”
Mousasi’s last publicly disclosed purse was at UFC 200 last summer, when he made $110,000 for defeating Thiago Santos. That same evening, heavyweight Mark Hunt netted $700,000 in a loss to Brock Lesnar. Mousasi holds a win over Hunt from 2009.
“Good for Mark Hunt, but I defeated him,”” Mousasi said. “Everyone knows, if I were to fight [middleweight champion] Michael Bisping, I would be the favorite.
“I know I’m going to get a better contract after this win. I have to win to prove it. If I lose, nothing I’m saying is relevant.”
Mousasi, of the Netherlands, says his goal is to be UFC champion and he does not wish to leave the promotion. He even admitted he would consider taking slightly less money in order to stay in the UFC, if it came to that. But he wants a fair deal.
“My plan is to get the UFC belt at the end of the day,” Mousasi said. “I would take less to fight in the UFC, but not a lot less. I’m just asking for a fair deal.
Even within the dense logjam that is the UFC’s middleweight division, this is an important, fantastic matchup — between two elite athletes with loads of motivation.
Weidman needs to the right the ship. Mousasi wants to get paid. They have a very healthy level of respect for each other, but both will carry a ton of confidence into this fight. Fun, fun, fun.
Both thrive on pressure. Weidman is good at every range. He has a quality double leg shot he can start from the outside and underrated kicks. His boxing is not other-worldly, but it’s a relatively technical approach and who can forget the improvised short elbow he landed in tight that knocked out Mark Munoz? He’s still a submission wrestler at heart and his physical strength within grappling exchanges is easily noticed.
Mousasi is just one wave of technique after another. Much is made about his calm demeanor, but it’s a real advantage to his style. His defense is superb, even as he constantly walks forward with that deceitful jab, and he capitalizes on opponents’ mistakes. Few are better at using their footwork and jab to completely dictate range, and if an opponent lashes out, frustrated, Mousasi usually makes him pay two-fold.
The big question I have here is the wrestling. It’s an area of great improvement for Mousasi, but can it hold up against an NCAA Division I All-American who made a seamless transition to submission grappling competitions? When Mousasi fought Souza, Souza finished the opening round on top and flashed an enormous grin at his corner. He’d felt Mousasi on the floor and knew what was up. Souza would go on and submit him two rounds later.
Weidman doesn’t have Souza’s grappling credentials, but he’s still quite threatening on the floor. Although this is mostly dismissed as trash talk, Weidman has pointed out that Mousasi’s four-fight win streak is built on two “past-their-prime” veterans (Vitor Belfort and Henderson) and two “talented-but-relatively-unproven” opponents (Uriah Hall and Santos).
Weidman is a different animal than those names just listed, and he might be the healthiest he’s been in years. If Mousasi’s ability to manage range and walk an opponent backward holds up against Weidman, he’ll rack up offense as he always does. But Weidman’s wrestling pedigree and natural pressure could certainly neutralize a lot of what makes Mousasi great.
Prediction: Weidman via decision, 29-28.