In a year that already has proved to be massive for the UFC, with one major card after another, UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York looks to be the biggest and most important of them all. In honor of such a marquee event, ESPN.com is providing dedicated previews to all 13 bouts on the card, breaking down what's at stake and projecting who will win, along with quotes and statistics for each fighter.
Middleweights: Chris Weidman (13-1) versus Yoel Romero (11-1)
Odds as of Nov. 7: Weidman -165; Romero +145
Dana White's thoughts
"Weidman and Romero is the No. 1 contender fight -- that totally makes sense. This is a big fight in New York. Weidman felt like he and [former UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta] had sort of gone down this road regarding his career and this fight -- and once Lorenzo was gone [due to the UFC's sale to WME-IMG earlier this year], it was my opinion the only right thing to do was to have him and Lorenzo meet and finish this thing. That's what happened, and now Weidman has a big fight against a nasty middleweight in Romero."
What's at stake?
UFC 205 not exactly what Weidman had in mind, but plenty of silver linings
In recent years, Weidman put in hours and hours of work into the UFC's lobbying efforts to legalize MMA -- and he always did it with a general image in mind.
He'd walk out as the main event in Madison Square Garden ... the middleweight champion of the world, fighting out of Long Island ... a belt around his waist and American flag draped around his back.
As it turned out, Weidman almost didn't make it to the UFC's first card in Madison Square Garden. He was supposed to fight Luke Rockhold in a rematch for the 185-pound title in June but was forced to pull out due to a herniated disk in his neck.
The first three doctors Weidman spoke to advised him to undergo fusion surgery, which would have placed him on a recovery timeline that would have made fighting on Nov. 12 in New York "really tough." Weidman eventually underwent a less invasive procedure that required less recovery time but couldn't completely guarantee the pain and nerve issues he was experiencing wouldn't come back. Ultimately, the decision worked out perfectly.
"Literally, two weeks after surgery, I felt I could do everything again," Weidman said. "Normally, I would have just done the fusion, but since it's the neck, I kept educating myself and getting different opinions. If I would have done the fusion, the chances of me fighting in New York would've been really tough."
Even after his health was ruled a nonissue, Weidman still wasn't officially added to the card until the 11th hour, as he and the UFC needed to sit down and hammer out certain aspects of his contract. It actually took an impromptu trip to Las Vegas to meet with the former owner of the UFC to finalize everything. With those two issues settled, Weidman is now focused on reclaiming the title he lost to Rockhold late last year.
"I'm happy with it, you know?" Weidman said. "Bottom line is that everyone wants more money, no matter what their job is, and everyone always thinks they're worth more. The UFC met me at a good spot, though, and I'm happy."
'I am next in line. I'm next, we all know that.'
Romero has been inactive in 2016 thanks to a failed drug test last December. The Cuban Olympian originally faced a possibility of a two-year suspension, but he had that reduced to six months when he was able to prove the failure came from a tainted legal supplement.
The situation came at a very inopportune time for Romero. The 39-year-old was firmly in title contention, coming off a decision win against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza -- his ninth in a row.
Based on the fact his suspension was reduced, Romero does feel vindicated in the matter -- although he says he's not taking any chances now after going through the ordeal.
"When they told me about the positive test, it took me about 10 minutes [to comprehend] because I still did not believe it," Romero said. "Steroid use is a lie against God. People do not understand that.
"We are more careful now. I don't want to offend anybody, but this is what we will do. We will take our own water to New York. I will not take anything from anyone. I have to be this careful now."
The current UFC champion, Michael Bisping, recently said he will not fight again until 2017. Prior to that announcement, Bisping had been angling for big-money fights against either Georges St-Pierre or Nick Diaz -- both of whom are considered welterweights.
Romero said he doesn't blame Bisping for calling out smaller opponents, because he ultimately is confident with his place in the division. Especially with former champion Rockhold recently pulling out of a fight in November, Romero says a win over Weidman will absolutely lift him into title contention.
"This is a job, so you think about your money," Romero said. "Bisping also thinks that. If you told me, 'Yoel, I'm going to pay you $1 million to fight a shark in water, or I'll pay you $1 million to fight the shark out of water,' I'd say, 'Well, bring the shark out of the water, then.' You understand? Bisping thinks the same way, but I am next in line. We all know that. I know that I will fight Michael Bisping."
Weidman: 13-1 (9-1 UFC); first non-title fight since July 2012
Weidman: 56 percent takedown accuracy, second highest among active UFC middleweights
Romero: 11-1 (7-0 UFC); nine of 11 wins by knockout
Romero: 78 percent takedown defense, fifth highest among active UFC middleweights
One of hardest fights on the card to predict, and close betting odds support that.
Romero is a special athlete. His physical gifts stand out, even among the backdrop of his professional peers. His gas tank has always been something of a concern, but he manages that relatively well with extreme efficiency in his movement.
Weidman will pressure and should have success doing so, but his guard needs to be up at all times. He made his name against another fluid, dangerous southpaw by the name of Anderson Silva, but Romero presents other things to think about with the Olympic wrestling background. Weidman has more ways to win, but he'll always be one Romero left hand away from disaster.
Prediction: Weidman TKO, third round.