By Vic Tafur
Chris Weidman says there was point in time when he wouldn't be up to fighting middleweight champ Anderson Silva Saturday night at UFC 162 in Las Vegas.
And Weidman is not talking about Silva's Muy Thai clinches, or the boxing skills and long leg kicks that have helped him win all 16 of his UFC fights.
Weidman is referring to the mind games Silva plays before and after he steps into the octagon. From dismissing opponents beforehand to staggering around in a drunken boxer's stance, Silva has been known to clown around in his previous title defenses.
"Some have said Silva's showboating and that's bad for the sport, but you can totally see what he is doing," Weidman said. "He's breaking down his opponents. They were probably nervous coming in against him anyway and now he is not even taking you seriously when you have your hands up against him.
"It makes it look like he can kill you whenever he decides to stop messing around, and that's not something you want in your head."
Weidman, 29, was a two-time Division I All-American in wrestling at Hofstra, and said Silva's mind games would have totally worked on him when he was younger. Before he took a psychology course, and then another, on the way to a degree in the field.
"It helped me a lot in my fighting, helped me build up a winner's mindset," Weidman said. "There's nothing worse than beating yourself … and I used to do that all the time in high school and college. I was always beating myself in wrestling … in ping pong … in bowling."
It was a rib injury that ultimately beat him in wrestling, ending his Olympic dreams just before the 2008 trials. At that point, he had to sell his wife, Marivi, on letting him try mixed martial arts, telling her he could possibly make more money than he could coaching wrestling.
"Tough sell, tough sell," said Weidman, who has two kids. "I had to humanize the sport to her, because what she had seen on TV was brutal, blood everywhere. It was not easy getting her on board. But I told her this was the best way for me to provide for my family."
Nine wins in nine fights later (five in the UFC) and Weidman will now stand in the octagon to face Silva, who UFC president Dana White calls the best fighter in the history of the sport.
"This is a life changer," Weidman said. "I will not beat myself. I refuse to. I am mentally strong."
Silva, 38, has loomed large over the middleweight division since his first appearance in the UFC in 2006.
He has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu but it is speed, range and his use of Muay Thai that singles him out. The 185-pound Silva clinches opponents with his palms above the crown of the head and fires knees to the opponent's body and head. When the opponent moves his hips in to defend himself, Silva applies a twist to the neck and knees upward from a different angle.
He also has great timing and a dangerous front kick, using former action movie star Steven Seagal's advice once to kick Vitor Belfort flush in the face in UFC 126 in 2011.
Weidman is actually a big fan of Silva's, though he is not going to spend too much time on that topic in the pre-fight buildup.
"He's done things that no one has done in the sport," Weidman said.
Silva messes with opponents' confidence, often putting his head out there to get hit and then pulling it back and unleashing counter punches or kicks.
"He's highly skilled, very confident and very relaxed," Weidman said.
While many of Silva's opponents are beaten before they walk into the cage, Weidman looks to emulate the success, or near-success, of former wrestler Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen dominated Silva in their first fight before losing to a submission in the fifth round, and then lost the rematch after missing a wild spinning back-fist punch and paying for it, as he was then wide open to be knocked out in the second round.
"Chael walked forward and punched him in the face," Weidman said. "And he took him down and beat on him. I am going to do the same thing. I am pressure-based fighter."
Dan Henderson also once took Silva down, so if there is a nick in the champion's armor, it is his defense against top-notch wrestlers.
"Weidman is absolutely Silva's toughest opponent," Sonnen said. "He has a better top game, at least submission-wise, than I do and I had some success for several minutes with Anderson from that position."
Sonnen also thinks that Weidman may have "better cardio" than Silva, and the challenger agreed.
"He will break before I break," Weidman said.
Besides training in jiu-jitsu, Weidman also has developed some striking skills, which he showed off with a second-round annihilation of contender Mark Munoz last July. It was after that fight that Weidman first called out Silva, and the champ essentially yawned.
"After the Munoz fight, it was frustrating to hear that he wasn't interested in me," Weidman said. "But it is what is."
Silva last week said his thinking hasn't changed on fighting Weidman. The matchup doesn't particularly excite him.
"Nothing's changed," Silva said. "A fight is a fight."
So … probably not his toughest bout to date, like Sonnen suggested?
"I've been doing this since I was eight years old," Silva said. "There is always a new challenge."
Not only would Silva rather be fighting welterweight champ Georges St.-Pierre or light heavyweight champ Jon Jones in a "superfight," he spent more time last week talking about fighting a washed-up boxer than Weidman.
Silva said he wants to fight Roy Jones Jr. after the Weidman fight. He first called out the 44-year-old former boxing champ four years ago, but White put a pin in that balloon pretty fast.
"I would love to fight him," said Silva, who recently signed a 10-fight deal with the UFC. "He's already said that he would fight me also, so that's something that I would really like to happen.
"I feel that his boxing style is one that I'd like to test myself against. I've always been a fan of his, and I just always wanted to test myself against Roy Jones."
Weidman smiled when he heard that. If Silva is looking past him, or wants him to think he is, that's fine.
"I know the mindset I need," Weidman said. "I have to stay confident and stay relaxed."
@VicTafur covers the NFL, boxing and UFC for the San Francisco Chronicle. He, too, wouldn't mind a shot at fighting Roy Jones.