Baldwin native Chris Weidman was twice an All-American wrestler at Hofstra University so his Saturday, July 22, main event match at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, will be a homecoming.
Yet Weidman’s status as a former world Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight champion in mixed-martial arts (MMA) has introduced him to an international audience in a way he could not have anticipated after graduating with a psychology degree in 2007. Before arriving at Hofstra, Weidman was a star wrestler at Nassau Community College, too.
“My goal was to be in the Olympics in 2008,” as a wrestler, Weidman explained, in a recent phone interview. “But I got injured before the trials so I couldn’t compete.” With his athletic career seemingly over, Weidman found a different way to stay in the fight game.
“Let me try MMA,” the 185-pound fighter recalled thinking, when asked how he moved to mixed-martial arts from wrestling. “All the wrestlers were at that time, and I dove in 100 percent.” Professional MMA participants must not only know how to wrestle but they must have a proficiency in boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Thailand’s Muay Thai, as well. UFC matches are held in an octagon, rather than a traditional boxing ring.
Weidman, who turns 33 this month, had his first professional MMA bout in 2009. His ascent up the UFC rankings was swift as he won nine fights in a row. In July 2013, in a career-defining victory, Weidman knocked out the defending champ, Brazilian Anderson Silva, to secure the UFC’s middleweight title. The huge win, which made him a global star in a sport claiming 260 million fans worldwide, also gave rise to Longo-Weidman MMA Gym, situated at One Commercial Avenue, Garden City.
“Right after I won the title, I decided to partner up with my coach, Ray Longo, and fix the place up nicely,” Weidman said, discussing the 6,000-plus square foot facility that houses their business to the south of Stewart Avenue. The gym’s patrons, he continued, are drawn from all age groups and feature a combination of those who “just want to stay in shape, or learn how to defend themselves.” Longo is a boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai trainer.
“Now we’ve also got a full-sized octagon,” Weidman stated, referring to the Longo-Weidman MMA Gym, which is where he’s preparing for the July 22 match against Kelvin Gastelum of Yuma, AZ, who has a professional record of 14 wins, and two losses. Weidman’s record is 13 wins, and three defeats.
Meanwhile, Weidman’s wife, Marivi, a Baldwin native, Hofstra alumna, and Certified Public Accountant (CPA), has brought her financial expertise to the gym business, as well. The Weidmans, who reside in Dix Hills, are the parents of seven-year-old Cassidy, four-year-old Christopher, Jr., and Tolten, who is one and one-half years of age. Weidman proudly posts photos of his kids on Instagram and supported UNICEF in an international Father’s Day campaign.
“No matter where you go in the world, people are watching,” Weidman said, about the UFC, noting he’s routinely recognized on the street in Brazil and Italy. “We don’t have helmets so people recognize the face.”
The Weidman-Gastelum bout will be broadcast live on Fox starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 22. Tickets for UFC Fight Night: Weidman vs. Gastelum can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com. There are also numerous other fights on the evening’s undercard.
Mike Barry can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.