UFC Fight Night Boston: Chris Weidman’s return headlines solid Friday card

UFC Fight Night Boston
Chris Weidman changes weight classes and fights for the first time in nearly a year Friday against unbeaten Dominick Reyes on UFC Fight Night Boston. (Photo credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The UFC breaks from its regularly scheduled Saturday broadcasts for a Friday night event – UFC Fight Night Boston – with a 13-fight card emanating from TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

UFC Fight Night Boston main event: Dominick Reyes (-159) vs. Chris Weidman (+130), Friday at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

While the top end of this week’s card features a similar construction as previous events televised by ESPN, what truly sets the UFC Fight Night Boston card apart is the depth of talent scattered throughout the lineup, as some of the top prospects in the UFC join the company’s most polarizing combatant in filling out the lineup headlined by a deeply intriguing light heavyweight matchup.

UFC Fight Night Boston marks the return of former middleweight champion Chris Weidman (14-4), who competes Friday for the first time since suffering a third-round stoppage loss against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza last November at Madison Square Garden. That setback was Weidman’s fourth loss in five fights and after dealing with another collection of injuries, the 35-year-old Long Island native has opted to relocate to the 205-pound weight class.

Awaiting him in his new weight class is Dominick Reyes (11-0), an unbeaten rising star in the UFC who has earned five straight victories inside the Octagon and is looking to use a win over the former middleweight titleholder to secure a championship opportunity of his own.

Moving up to light heavyweight is something Weidman has discussed throughout his career and the shift was always expected, but when it comes following a 1-4 stretch where he was stopped in all four of those losses, it’s difficult not to wonder whether changing weight classes will cure what has been ailing “The All American” these last several years.

Weidman believes so, telling UFC.com “I’m getting older and I think (the weight cut) was definitely taking a toll on my body, so I’m excited to see what a natural, walking around-weight me is like.”

It has worked for lesser middleweights Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, who each enjoyed tremendous success and earned title shots since abandoning the cut to 185 pounds. Of course, Weidman’s long-time middleweight nemesis Luke Rockhold attempted a similar divisional switch earlier this year as well, only to be viciously knocked out by Polish contender Jan Blachowicz, proving there is no way to forecast how these moves will play out.

UFC Fight Night Boston: Weidman vs. Reyes total rounds

Even if the change in division does give Weidman new life, Reyes still enters the contest as a deserving favorite and emerging talent who is more than capable of spoiling the start of this next chapter of his career.

“I think he’s not ready to fight guys his size and bigger than him,’ Reyes said in advance of Friday’s matchup with Weidman.

A former NFL hopeful, the 29-year-old from Hesperia, California is two inches taller than the divisional newcomer and brandishes blistering power. Last time out, Reyes showed his toughness and mettle, battling through an early broken nose to edge out former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir by split decision.

Four weeks after an accidental eye halted their main event clash in Mexico City poke just 15 seconds in, Top 10 featherweights Yair Rodriguez (12-2) and Jeremy Stephens (28-16) will run it back in the co-main event. An intriguing matchup between a promising upstart and a seasoned, dangerous veteran when it was first scheduled, this one has now turned into a simmering feud that is set to boil over on Friday.

Rodriguez questioned the severity of Stephens’ injury when the former was unable to continue after being poked in the eye, suggesting that the partisan crowd inside Mexico City Arena and the pressure to back up his pre-fight trash talk was too much for the battle-tested veteran to endure. The accusation infuriated Stephens and the two have been engaged in a war of words ever since, but it will all be settled in Boston.

“I’m here to do my job, put this kid to sleep and move on, move up and move forward in the rankings,” Stephens said in advance of his rematch with Rodriguez. “I feel like this kid has backed himself into a corner and I can’t wait to put his lights out.”

UFC Fight Night Boston also features the return of former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy (5-1), who takes on Australian Ben Sosoli (7-2) as part of the six-fight main card.

Greg Hardy vs. Ben Sosoli

Hardy, whose NFL career ended following a very public domestic violence arrest and trial, has shown flashes of serious potential during his rookie campaign on the UFC roster, but remains a polarizing figure many want to see knocked out in worst way. In his last appearance, the 31-year-old Hardy dispatched Juan Adams in 45 seconds and now takes on Sosoli, a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter and Dana White’s Contender Series, who boasts considerable power and a significant edge in experience over his infamous opponent.

Elsewhere on the card, flyweight rising stars Maycee Barber (7-0) and Gillian Robertson (7-3) meet in a battle to determine which emerging prospect will take another step up the divisional ladder, while unbeaten Daniel Cormier protégé Deron Winn (6-0) makes his second UFC appearance in a showdown with British powerhouse Darren Stewart (10-4).

Two other names to keep an eye on Friday night are newcomers Sean Brady (10-0), who makes his promotional debut against former TUF winner Court McGee (19-8) and 23-year-old Brendan Allen (12-3), a former regional standout who squares off with Kevin Holland (16-4) in a compelling middleweight fight early on the slate.

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