Two of the top heavyweights in the world will meet for the first time this Saturday night (February 4, 2012) as submission specialist Fabricio Werdum takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 10 winner Roy Nelson in the co-main event of UFC 143 in Las Vegas.
Fabricio Werdum was on a terrific run outside the UFC, with three big victories over the likes of Mike Kyle, Antonio Silva and Fedor Emelianenko which vaulted him to as high as the number two heavyweight in the world in the rankings. He came back down to Earth after dropping a decision to the current top UFC heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem, and he's hoping to make the most of his return to the UFC.
Roy Nelson was on the fast track to a title shot before dropping decisions to Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir in consecutive fights. "Big Country" bounced back with a strong showing against Mirko Filipovic his last time out and he's hoping to make another run to the top of the heap if he can get past his Brazilian foe this weekend.
Will Werdum make the most of his second opportunity in the UFC? Will "Big Country" eat "Vai Cavalo" for dinner? How does each heavyweight jiu-jitsu black belt earn a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Fabricio Werdum
Record: 14-5-1 overall, 2-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Alistair Overeem (Pride Total Elimination Absolute), Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum), Antonio Silva (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers)
How he got here: Fabricio Werdum competed all across the world to begin his professional career, from England to Morocco to Brazil, where he went undefeated in five fights. He then found himself in the Pride promotion where he consistently fought some of the best in the world like Aleksander Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and even recent UFC fighter Jon Olav Einemo.
After Pride was purchased by Zuffa, he was signed by the UFC and immediately stepped in against some of the top fighters in the promotion like Andrei Arlovski, Gabriel Gonzaga (again) and Brandon Vera. Two victories in a row had "Vai Cavalo" in title contention but he showed up flabby and out of shape when he was signed to welcome a UFC newcomer in Junior dos Santos and he paid for it dearly, getting knocked out by a nasty first round uppercut just 81 seconds into the fight.
Werdum was released from his contract and has since competed against two of the toughest non-UFC heavyweights in Antonio Silva and Fedor Emelianenko, scoring impressive victories over both fighters.
After the tremendous upset of Fedor, he took nearly a year off to have surgery on a nagging elbow injury and came up short in his return, losing a decision to Alistair Overeem in the quarterfinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. With Strikeforce disbanding its heavyweight division, the Brazilian submission specialist resigned with the UFC to face Roy Nelson in the UFC 143 co-main event.
How he gets it done: Fabricio Werdum is a talented and well-rounded fighter. He was able to utilize his striking and knees to defeat fighters like Gabriel Gonzaga and Antonio Silva and he even held his own with Alistair Overeem. Roy Nelson obviously respects his Muay Thai skills on the feet, so I expect Werdum to actually be willing to exchange for a bit before he tries to take the fight to the canvas.
In the stand-up, the key for Werdum will be trying to get this fight into the clinch where he can work his strong Muay Thai game. Nelson has a terrific chin, but he's also got plenty of vulnerabilities to knees simply due to his stature so there's a high probability that the King's MMA fighter throws a plethora of them in the stand-up realm.
As evidenced by his fight with Fedor Emelianenko, the ground is Werdum's world. He's incredibly sly on the canvas and is constantly searching for submissions and sweeps. His guard is incredibly dangerous and he's just as slick from top position. You don't become a two-time ADCC champion in jiu-jitsu without being one of the best, if not the best, in the world.
Look for Werdum to play it rather defensively in the stand-up portion while he searches for opportunities to get the fight to the ground. Whether it's shooting for a takedown attempt, working trips in the clinch, or even pulling guard, "Vai Cavalo" wants this fight in his domain. Once there, he'll be trying to get past the brick wall that is Roy Nelson on the ground, and "Big Country" presents his own unique set of problems with his unorthodox body type.
It will be interesting to see how Werdum tries to handle the Renzo Gracie black belt on the canvas if and when he brings the fight there.
Record: 16-6 overall, 3-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Frank Mir (UFC 130), Junior dos Santos (UFC 117), Andrei Arlovski (EliteXC: Heat)
How he got here: Roy Nelson made his mark outside the UFC, most notably as the inaugural IFL heavyweight champion. After defending the strap twice, the promotion folded and "Big Country" stepped in on 10 day's notice to take on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski under the Elite XC banner. Nelson was in control of the bout but a horrible stand-up ruined his night and allowed Arlovski to score a knockout victory.
The beer-bellied brawler would redeem himself on TUF 10, easily grappling his way to the finale where he would blast Brendan Schaub in the first round of the championship fight to win the show's title. He followed it up by taking out "The Skyscraper" Stefan Struve with another first round knockout.
Nelson earned a number one contender fight with Junior dos Santos at UFC 117 for his efforts and would give his best Homer Simpson impression, absorbing enough punishment in three rounds to baffle physicists. After losing a unanimous decision to "Cigano," he would eventually fight former UFC champion and friend Frank Mir at UFC 130 this past summer but would get physically dominated.
"Big Country" bounced back with a third round technical knockout of the legendary Mirko Filipovic at UFC 137 and he's hoping to return to title contention if he can get past Werdum, one of the top ranked heavyweights in the world.
How he gets it done: The most important thing of all for the Las Vegas native is to get inside. Roy Nelson has a big overhand right which he throws with great force, but he first must close the distance whether it be simply utilizing decent footwork or actually exploding forward with that lunging attack he's developed.
Footwork will be key. If Nelson can maneuver Werdum towards the fence, he can lunge forward with a hook and then back away before being trapped in a clinch. If he can connect flush, "Vai Cavalo" could be going to sleep.
If Werdum is in "flop-mode" Nelson will likely be confident enough in his ground game to take the bait. Sure, the Brazilian has potentially the best submission skills in the heavyweight division, but "Big Country" is no joke on the ground and he should be proficient enough there to avoid getting tapped out..
If Nelson feels safe in Werdum's guard, he could even posture up and drop some strong punches, but I don't expect to see him pass. He's likely going to be working to win a decision on the ground if the fight is forced there.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight might just be the stakes. Fabricio Werdum has beaten and just went three rounds with the number one contender for the UFC heavyweight title so he's still at the top of the division and Roy Nelson was once a potential number one contender himself who's trying to regain his status. When the stakes are so high, sometimes it negatively affects how a fight plays out.
I've got the worst nagging feeling about this fight that neither man is going to "go for it" here, instead fighting not to lose and it could have some serious negative impact on performance.
Bottom Line: Carrying over from the X-Factor, while the match-up sounds exciting, and there very well could be some potential for interesting scrambles on the ground, this fight could turn into another flop-fest for Werdum. The biggest issue I have is that Roy Nelson might take the bait and he should be skilled enough so as to not be submitted from top position and he'll just ride out a top control victory without taking much risk. Again, I'll dance for joy if this turns into a slugfest on the feet or both men are throwing sweeps and submission attempts at each other in a furious blitz, but I've got a really bad vibe for this one. Hopefully I'm wrong.
Who will come out on top at UFC 143? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!