Weidman-Rockhold is the tantalizing appetizer at UFC 194
Weidman-Rockhold is the tantalizing appetizer at UFC 194
Greg Beacham (Associated Press) - December 11, 2015 - 3:03pm

LAS VEGAS — Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold don't really seem to care that their middleweight title fight isn't the main event at UFC 194.

They both realize Conor McGregor's ability to sell pay-per-view buys as the headliner will put more money in their own pockets.

But to Weidman, Rockhold and mixed martial arts' die-hard fans, their showdown represents the apex of competition: Two experienced 185-pound specimens meeting in the prime of their careers, determined to seize the belt.

Let McGregor and featherweight champion Jose Aldo do the selling, Weidman (13-0) and Rockhold (14-2) have both said repeatedly. Just don't be surprised if the middleweights upstage the main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

"He is definitely the toughest competitor for me with what we have in the middleweight division right now, so I'm taking him very seriously," Weidman said.

Their matchup is an intriguing stylistic clash in and out of the cage: Weidman is an archetypal wrestler with a powerful punch from Long Island, while Rockhold is a tenacious kickboxer from California. They're respectful acquaintances away from the microphones, but they've both tried to engage in normal fight promotion by exchanging a few insults recently.

Yet those verbal jabs have usually been wrapped around educated critiques of their opponent's skills, again suggesting that both of these guys would rather be fighting than talking.

"Chris is just about to find out he's got a lot of holes in his game, and he just hasn't fought anybody that's able to exploit them until now," Rockhold said. "He's going to fight a guy that's not going to sit there and cower down and let him control the ring. I'm going to stop him in the middle of the cage."

That's bold talk against Weidman, who ended Anderson Silva's record-setting title reign and has yet to make a serious mistake in the octagon.

Unbeaten records are rare even among champions in MMA, a sport that values resilience and treats losses as learning experiences, not career disasters. Weidman has never really been slowed, and his nine-fight UFC winning streak is the second-longest active run in the promotion.

Rockhold also is practically perfect as a professional, winning 13 of his last 14 fights over the last eight years and losing only to Vitor Belfort during the Brazilian's sanctioned use of steroids. Rockhold has stopped his next four opponents to earn the title shot.

"I've seen this fight play out many, many times over the years, and I haven't really had to do too much homework," Rockhold said. "I adjust well. I stay relaxed. I stay focused. We've all seen with Chris, he gets frustrated when you hit him, when things don't go his way. ... Good for him. It's gotten him by to a certain point, but it's about to get him in big trouble."

Weidman believes Rockhold isn't as good as the best opponents the champion has fought in essentially every MMA discipline. Weidman sees Rockhold as well-rounded, not exceptional in any single aspect.

"If you were to break it down one element at a time, I've seen it all," Weidman said.

Las Vegas has also seen McGregor get upstaged in the cage.

McGregor won the interim featherweight belt in a main event in July, but his stoppage of Chad Mendes was preceded by welterweight champ Robbie Lawler's bloody victory over Rory MacDonald in a spectacular title fight that nearly got lost in McGregor's promotional shadow.

If it happens again at UFC 194, neither Weidman nor Rockhold will be surprised.

"I feel this is my time," Rockhold said. "I feel I have separated myself technically, mentally and physically, and these guys have a lot of catch-up work to do. I'm ready to fight. I feel I'm the better man."

ANDERSON SILVA CHAD MENDES CHRIS CHRIS WEIDMAN AND LUKE ROCKHOLD FIGHT GRAND GARDEN ARENA JOSE ALDO LAS VEGAS QUOT ROCKHOLD WEIDMAN
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