Last Saturday night, NYCB Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum welcomed the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for the first time in history. The long-anticipated event drew a crowd of 11,198, compiled a gate of more than $1 million, and saw five Long Island-born fighters compete on a card headlined by former middleweight champ Chris Weidman of Baldwin.
After overcoming a knockdown late in the first round against rising star Kelvin Gastelum, Weidman controlled the second and then brought the house down 3:35 into the third with a victory by submission. The arm-triangle choke gave Weidman’s his first win since he defeated Vitor Belfort in May of 2015.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” said Weidman, who upped his professional record to 14-3. “I did it in Nassau Coliseum,” he added. “I grew up five minutes away from here. I can’t wait to go home and tell my kids I won.”
Throughout the night, which featured 13 bouts, promos with Weidman’s voice dubbed over video packages and training montages stirred the buzzing home crowd. Gastelum entered to a smattering of boos. Then, an appropriate mixing of Billy Joel, Jay-Z, and Weidman’s classic entrance song, Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”, sent the crowd into a calculated frenzy as Weidman, a former high school state wrestling champ and Hofstra University standout, walked out.
Both fighters were tentative in the early going, feeling out the range and the distance. Then, a straight right from Weidman that slipped through Gastelum’s guard was the opening Weidman needed to close distance and land one of his signature takedowns. As the opening round was nearing it’s close, Gastelum sent a left hand that landed flush onto Weidman’s chin and dropped him. The crowd collectively held its breath as Gastelum jumped on the Long Islander while Weidman clutched for a single leg takedown to alleviate the incoming strikes before the round ended.
“I got right back up,” Weidman said. “I was composed. I wasn’t getting finished here tonight. That wasn’t going to happen.”
Between rounds, there was a sense of uneasiness in the building. However, the second round opened with Gastelum (14-3) throwing quick combos that caught nothing but air. Soon after, he found himself pressed against the cage and put to the ground as Weidman began to take control.
In the third round, Weidman landed a stiff punch that stunned Gastelum before he came back to his wits and started working his jab. But similar to the second round, Weidman initiated the clinch and earned another takedown. Gastelum mustered up enough to scramble back to his feet, but Weidman dragged him back to the mat again and looked for full mount positioning.
With urging from the deafening crowd, Weidman found an opening and applied an arm-triangle choke that forced Gastelum to submit.
“I didn’t want my words to do the talking through this time that I was going through adversity,” said the 33-year-old Weidman, who snapped a three-fight losing skid. “Gastelum is a tough dude,” he added. “He’s not scared to get hit. He wasn’t going to give me anything.”
The inaugural card at the Coliseum marked the fifth UFC event in New York State since the ban on Mixed Martial Arts was lifted in 2016. Weidman had fought on the inaugural New York MMA post-ban card at UFC 205 in a losing effort last Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden, and once more in Buffalo at UFC 210 with another bitter defeat on April 8 of this year.
Mixed results for Wade, Villante
The card began with Rockville Centre native Chris Wade, a 29-year old prospect, earning a unanimous decision victory to push his record to 12-3. Mixing his impressive wrestling skills with slick combinations on the feet, Wade controlled opponent Frankie Perez for three rounds, sticking him against the cage with some fantastic clinch work and showing excellent prowess in using his striking to mask his grappling attempts.
Gian Villante, one of Weidman’s training partners based out of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, engaged in a tough three-round battle against Patrick Cummins and came up short in a razor-close split decision. The turning point came midway through the first round when Villante landed heavy punches and had Cummins hurt. Upon being involved in a clinch, Villante seemingly looked to disengage the position while incidentally colliding heads with his opponent, leading to a serious gash on Cummins’ head and an extended stoppage.
Cummins then went on to grind out two hard-fought rounds for the narrow decision. The outcome dropped Villante to 15-9.
“I should have stepped on the gas when I had him hurt,” Villante said. “It sucks. There’s always a winner and a loser.”