Chris Weidman is a very unique case in that he's a UFC champion and just knocked out the consensus greatest fighter alive in MMA, but his striking is still unrefined and he's extremely inexperienced. Going into the Silva fight, he had only 9 fights in his career and had only been training MMA for about four years. In the years to come, Weidman's striking ability is bound to grow exponentially as he gets more experience and comfort. This fanpost is a look into what improvements he might make, and things I would personally really like to see him develop throughout his career.
1. Closing his mouth. This led a lot of people to believe he was gassed in the Silva fight, but the truth is Weidman has always had a habit of leaving his mouth open. Getting caught with your mouth open is a great way to get your jaw broken and should be fixed. It's one of those beginner habits that shows in Weidman's game.
2. Stop ducking his head. He's actually been making this improvement in every fight. In his first UFC fights, he would immediately duck and shell up whenever he felt threatened. He would often stand in place while doing so. This is a huge mistake because he's handcuffing himself, blinding himself and giving a smart opponent freedom to move to angles or land strikes to areas he isn't defending since there is no deterrent. If you watch his debut against Sakara, you'll see him eat lots of leg kicks and body shots while ducking his head. He's done it less and less in every fight, but will still do it every once in a while and it leaves openings. This is another one of those signs that he's not very experienced as a striker.
3. Retreat at different angles. When Weidman gets pressured, his response is almost always to either duck his head as mentioned above, or to pull his head back over the rear leg and retreat at an angle back and to his right. He doesn't circle out to his left when he moves back, which makes his defensive footwork predictable and thus exploitable. It's better than standing in place or retreating straight back every time but it would be ideal to be able to move to the left as well.
*Note: As Weidman's career has progressed so far, he's really settled into a front foot heavy stance. I'm going to base a lot of these techniques on that stance, his wrestling ability and his reach. Also, he already has very solid right straights that are looking better each fight so I won't be talking about those.
1. A really stiff jab. This one is pretty obvious. A guy with that kind of length could really benefit from a solid jab (as could all fighters). With his weight heavy on the front foot, Weidman should work on throwing this with a falling step. For those unfamiliar with the technique, you basically start with your weight on the lead foot, step your lead foot forward and push off your back foot as you "fall" onto the front foot and land the jab as your lead foot hits the ground. I've also heard this referred to as a lead jolt, a drop step and a gravity punch. The mechanics of this punch could work really well for Weidman because he could disguise it with level changes and feinted takedown attempts.
2. Leaping left hook. In recent fights, especially the Silva one, Weidman has been showing a developing affinity for leading with a left hook, and for landing it in general. Therefore, I propose that he would really benefit from developing a leaping left hook. With his weight already forward and his shoulders already pretty square, he's naturally in the perfect position to throw one. As a strong wrestler, he can utilize the level change to set this up even more. For an example of what that might look like, check out this gif of Gray Maynard scoring a knockout with it. He feints the takedown which causes the opponent to square up, drop his hands and circle into the hook. This type of move fits perfectly into Weidman's skillset and style. He could throw the left hook off a feinted right hand as well. It would also flow really well with the jab mentioned above. He could have the triple threat of the takedown, the lead jolt and the leaping left hook all being disguised and augmented by the level change. Whether this hook lands or not, it's great for steering an opponent into a straight right which Weidman throws well.
3. Chasing the opponent with leg kicks. One thing that's pretty unique about Weidman is that he's a fighter who came into MMA as primarily a wrestler and he's been throwing a good amount of kicks in his fights. What I'd like to see him do is take advantage of his wrestling background, his length and his stance to throw those kicks as hard as possible without as much fear of being taken down. Most guys in the division aren't gonna be looking to take him down and the threat of his takedowns encourages people to back up when Weidman moves forward. As it turns out, it's very difficult to check or counter leg kicks when you're moving backwards but it's very easy to throw them when you're moving forward. Donald Cerrone is a fighter who really takes advantage of this concept and Weidman could apply it to his game very well since he's also a long fighter, but has better boxing and wrestling to set the kicks up with. For a visual, here's a gif of Shogun implementing this tactic. This is something that I could see working well in the rematch with Silva. If Silva starts moving his head, Weidman could pressure with a punch or two then kick the legs while Silva is unable to check.
4. Stepping in knees. I think every tall fighter alive should be able to throw some powerful stepping in knees. They're a phenomenal weapon, especially against shorter fighters coming forward and against guys who like to shell up. Weidman actually has used these a couple times, but there's a lot of room for improvement in the way he throws them. Check out his finish of Jesse Bongfeldt in his second UFC fight: The biggest mistake Weidman makes in throwing that knee is not controlling the hands or posture of his opponent. He manages to land it because Bongfeldt ducks for a takedown attempt and moves into it, but he was still very open while throwing that knee. If Bongfeldt had thrown a jab, Weidman would have walked right into it on one foot. In fact, if Bongfeldt had just stood in place and stayed upright he wouldn't have been hit by the knee at all and would have been in a good position to counter when Weidman finished the technique and tried to recover. Compare Weidman's exposed entry to Overeem's smothering entry and you'll see a massive difference in both offensive potential and defensive liability. Notice how Overeem uses both of his arms to check Lesnar's hands throughout the engagement. Watch how Overeem uses his left forearm to jam Lesnar's right straight as he steps into the knee, then slides his hand to the back of Lesnar's head while jamming the forearm into his collarbone to start controlling his posture. Also take note of how Overeem control the hands on the way back out as well, ensuring that Lesnar can't punch him. Weidman could learn a lot from the way Overeem throws his knees and could turn them into very dangerous weapons. Also, he needs to make sure he doesn't let the lower portion of his leg dangle loosely when he knees. It's important to contract the hamstrings to really point the knee both for power and to make it more difficult to catch the knee or even the ankle. One reason that I think this specific type of attack would be fantastic for Weidman is because of how skilled he is at working from the front headlock. If people respond to the knee by leaning forward and trying to grab it, they're entering his world and can get submitted like Bongfeldt or dragged down. If they try to stand upright and get their hips in, he can work his clinch trips and takedowns.
5. Rear leg front snap kick (to the body and head). For a tall guy, this is a fantastic kick. Weidman's stance would allow him to throw this kick very quickly because his weight is already on the supporting leg and doesn't need to transfer before he strikes. One great aspect of the kick is that it forces opponents to stand up tall, which is very useful for someone who's trying to set up a takedown. If he manages to land it flush, it can absolutely result in a knockout. Plus, in a division with a lot of southpaws near the top (Silva, Belfort, Okami, Sonnen if he drops back down), it's bound to be even more useful because it's easier to get past the guard, especially to the body.
1. Check left hook. Weidman is already in position to throw this just like he's in position to throw the leaping left hook. This technique would be a great way for him to establish a threat that helps him control range as well as to punish overaggressive opponents and to give him a method of circling out to his left. The most famous example of this technique was done by Mayweather but it was also used (though without the pivot) to score a knockout by Anthony Njokuani. Weidman really needs techniques like this because he doesn't often counter or punish opponents who move forward, except when he wants to take them down. He doesn't have to use it right from his stance like Mayweather and Njokuani though, a great way for him to use it would be like how Cub Swanson used it to knock out a very good boxer in Ross Pearson. I could see this working for Weidman if he pulls back, squares up and lets an opponent start to chase him, then quickly cuts the angle with the hook. Even if it doesn't knock them out, he could use it to turn them into the cage and corner them there.
2. Leg kick defense. In all of his UFC fights, Weidman has never once gotten a takedown off a caught kick or even checked one really well. He looked pretty uncomfortable defending Silva's leg kicks and he really needs to develop a defense. There are four basic ways to defend/counter a leg kick: You either move your leg out of the way, check the kick, catch the kick or counter it with punches. With how heavy he is on the front foot, it isn't too likely that Weidman will be successfully checking or avoiding leg kicks. His stance just makes those difficult. As a result, Weidman would really benefit from learning to catch the kicks and get a takedown (possibly while punching) or brace the leg while loading up a punch to counter with. Here's Velasquez showing the first method, and Cung Le showing the second.
3. Elbows. I'm kind of cheating on this one, because Weidman already used an elbow to land a simultaneous counter and knockout Munoz. I just really hope he keeps developing the elbows to counter opponents who move forward quickly. He could learn a thing or two from the hand fighting and elbowing of the tall, lanky champion a weight class above him.
4. Counter right straight/pull counter. This could work in conjunction with a check left hook or just be used on its own. With his weight already forward, Weidman looks to be pretty hittable. In the Silva fight, his standard response to being attacked was to pull his head back over the rear foot and retreat. Instead of retreating, he could pull his head back and to the right a little, then fire a straight right back. The genius of this is that with his weight already forward, Weidman has a lot of room to pull back without leaning too far. It's a good way to play with the range and counter opponents who don't understand it as well. It won't be as pretty, but the goal is to look something like this. One way he could set this up is to use a weak, flicking jab and drop his hand after to bait the opponent so this counter is easier to time.
Weidman has shown to be at his best when he's moving forward. When he starts backing up, he has no real ability to attack until he's circled out and reset again. This leads me to believe that Weidman's game should be built around constant pressure and forward movement. If he pulls back at all, he should either do it with a check hook or immediately shoot back with a right hand. If opponent's try to swarm him, he should learn to stop them in their tracks with a stiff jab or step in with knees or elbows that the opponent is moving into. He would benefit a lot from practicing hand fighting and trapping from range, as this can be used in a variety of situations for different purposes including setting up his close range attacks, forcing opponents to move backwards, limiting their offense and upsetting their balance. He should continue using his crisp right hand lead to cut opponents off and close distance, and could benefit from using it to enter into his takedowns more often.He should make constant use of the level change and threat of wrestling to set up many of his strikes and keep opponents hesitant and on the defensive.
I'm really looking forward to watching Chris Weidman grow, evolve and mature as a fighter. He's a smart, talented guy with smart, talented coaches and is going to be around for a long time. I can't wait to see what sort of striker he turns into, and if any of the things that I'm hoping to see will become a part of his game.