Chris Weidman 'grateful' for UFC return after 2-year injury layoff

BOSTON -- Chris Weidman is poised to complete a return after one of the most devastating in-cage injuries in UFC history.

The former UFC middleweight champion will face Brad Tavares at UFC 292 on Saturday at TD Garden. It will be the first time Weidman steps into the Octagon since April 4, 2021, when he sustained a gruesome broken right leg in a fight against Uriah Hall at UFC 261. Weidman broke the tibia and fibula in a compound fracture -- bone tore through muscle, nerves and flesh, making it one of the worst in-competition injuries ever in UFC.

The break happened 17 seconds into the bout. Weidman started the fight with a hard leg kick that Hall blocked with his own leg. Weidman's shin shattered on impact, and he went down in visible pain.

Weidman, now 39, needed multiple surgeries to fully repair the leg. At first, the goal was to just live a healthy life with his family. But after disciplined recovery and rehab, he knew he would be ready to return to fighting.

"[MMA] was kind of the furthest thing from my mind," Weidman told ESPN on Wednesday. "It was about being healthy, being able to provide for my family and be there for my kids, play with my kids. That was kind of like the main thing. So for me to be here, I'm more than grateful than ever, because I didn't know if I was really going to be able to come back."

Weidman said the mental aspect of recovery was just as difficult, if not more so, than the physical over the past 26 months.

"It was just nonstop issues after issue," Weidman said. "Light at the end of the tunnel, then it just disappears and no light at all. So it was just staying optimistic, taking one day at a time and not getting depressed."

The story will be chronicled in a future ESPN "E:60" documentary, Weidman said. For the first time, fans will get a chance to see just how damaging the injuries and setbacks really were.

"You guys will actually see that angle that the UFC hasn't shown to anybody," Weidman said. "You'll actually see the bones come out of my leg, the blood and all that stuff. The UFC didn't show it because it's pretty damn gory."

While it doesn't take away from his happiness to be back, Weidman is a bit dismayed by his position on the UFC 292 card. He is fighting on the prelims, not the pay-per-view portion of the event. The last time Weidman was on the prelims was UFC 139 in 2011, two years before he became middleweight champion when he ended Anderson Silva's record 16-fight winning streak with a knockout at UFC 162.

"I broke my leg on the mats of the UFC on a pay-per-view, first card ever since COVID, [with a] fully packed arena in Jacksonville, put my body on the line, and then they put me on a prelim," Weidman said. "That's a bad idea. ... It's a little bit of motivation. Disrespect me like that? What, do you think I'm done? What, do you think I'm just here to see how I feel? No, I'm here to make a statement."