Two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) gold medalist, Fabricio Werdum, will take on former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Interim Heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, this Saturday (June 8, 2013) in the main even of UFC on Fuel TV 10, which will emanate from Paulo Sarasate Arena in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Werdum has been a top mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter for a long time. Back in 2008, "Vai Cavalo" was on a two-fight win streak, had finished both of his opponents, and was in consideration for a UFC title shot. Instead, Werdum fought an unheard of upstart Brazilian, future champion Junior dos Santos, who registered a thundering first round knockout, sending him packing when negotiations for a new contract failed afterward.
He would sign with Strikeforce, an organization that was quickly gathering some of the best heavyweights in the world. And after two wins, Werdum was matched up with the legendary, nearly undefeated, Fedor Emelianenko. In one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, Werdum was able to ensnare Emelianenko in a triangle/armbar combo and tapped him in the first round.
Unfortunately, the biggest win of his career was dampened by his next fight, a dull performance against hulking Dutchman Alistair Overeem.
However, Werdum didn't allow the loss to hold him back. He returned to the Octagon shortly thereafter and after two dominant UFC wins, he once again finds himself in title contention more than four years later. And with a win over Nogueira, he might finally earn his shot at UFC gold in the near future
But, does he have the skills to avenge his second career loss?
Let's take a closer look:
Werdum's base is Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which was made quite clear in the beginning of his career. However, under the careful eye of Rafael Cordeiro, the former head coach at Chute Boxe, Werdum developed nasty Muay Thai striking skills, a martial art in which he owns a black belt.
Standing at 6'4," Werdum is a tall fighter and uses his length quite well. When he fights, he wants to keep his opponent at range, carving them up with lengthy techniques, or in close, where his knees are especially effective.
Regardless of which attack Werdum is attempting, it all begins with the jab. Werdum frequently throws hard, accurate jabs and is effective with them both moving forward and moving backward.
Werdum relies on the one-two combination more than anything else. His straight right hand is fast and powerful, and Werdum will occasionally go to the body with it. After Werdum lands the right hand, he'll either reset or go after his opponent with a barrage of hooks.
In his last two fights, Werdum's punches have gotten noticeably stronger. According to the Brazilian, he never focused on strength and conditioning training until after his loss to Overeem. Against Nelson, his straight right and overhand forced the iron chinned brawler into a mostly defensive shell, and a brutal uppercut knocked out Mike Russow in his last fight.
In addition to his boxing, Werdum is developing one of the most powerful clinch attacks in the division. Werdum is excellent at controlling his opponent with the double collar clinch and repeatedly ramming knees into their body and head. One of the things Werdum does very well is manhandle his opponent, whipping his head around before landing a knee.
Another key factor for Werdum is his ability to get to the clinch. More often than not, Werdum initiates the clinch by throwing his 1-2 and then controlling his opponent's hands with his own, or going directly to the Thai plum. Werdum repeatedly did this to Nelson and sliced open "Big Country's" face with knees.
Further diversifying his stand up arsenal, Werdum is very smooth kickboxer. He often throws leg kicks and lands both inside and outside kicks with power. Additionally, his inside leg kick sets up his punches very well. Werdum likes to throw a long jab after the kick and managed to knockout Russow with an uppercut following the inside leg kick.
In addition to his leg kicks, Werdum can throw head kicks, switch kicks, teeps and even wheel kicks.
Defensively, Werdum has shown both good and bad traits. Much to his detriment, Werdum occasionally moves straight backwards, rather than using lateral movement. This makes it easier for his opponent to land combinations and increases his chances of getting pinned along the fence. On the plus side, Werdum's has shown good head movement, especially when standing in the pocket.
Werdum, a Judo black belt, has demonstrated some slick takedowns throughout his MMA career. While it's the weakest aspect of his game, he still manages to get most of his opponent's to the ground.
Many of Werdum's takedowns come from the clinch. He is deceptively strong from that position and is able to move his opponent around, before switching directions and hitting a trip.
Outside of his clinch takedowns, Werdum mostly uses single legs to drag his opponent to the mat. Most of the time, he finishes by running the pipe, but he will also mix a trip into his attempt. Additionally, Werdum will catch his opponent's leg kicks for a takedown.
As for Werdum's ground and pound, it isn't the strongest, but his control makes up for it. Werdum is excellent at maintaining dominant positions and raining down punches, which he did to controversially finish Brandon Vera in their battle at UFC 85.
Werdum's takedown defense isn't the best, but it doesn't have to be. Werdum has no qualms about fighting from his back, and it is quite rare that his opponent takes him there on purpose.
Werdum is a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Octavio Couto and is one of the most decorated practitioners in the sport. In addition to his two gold medals at ADCC, Werdum is a two-time Mundials champion.
From the bottom, Werdum is willing to play many different types of guard. When he is looking to sweep or stand up, he generally goes to butterfly guard, where he can elevate his opponent's hips. Once his opponent is off balance, Werdum can easily roll him over and land in a dominant position.
If his opponent is standing over him, Werdum often attacks with the De La Riva guard. For the most part, De La Riva is used to sweep, not submit. In his fight with Nelson, Werdum went to De La Riva guard after Nelson landed a hard punch, and he was able to keep him off balance while he recovered.
When Werdum is hunting for submissions, he uses a high closed guard. Once his guard is locked up, he'll inch his legs higher up his opponent's back until he can swivel for an arm bar or triangle.
Regardless of which guard he is using, Werdum is excellent at constantly rotating beneath his opponent. His ability to create space from the bottom is second to none and one of the reasons his jiu-jitsu is so effective.
Werdum is just as good from the top as he is from the bottom. The opposite of his bottom game, Werdum is phenomenal at staying tight to his opponent from the top. When he gets his opponent to the mat, Werdum slices through their guard and punishes them while he does it. Once he gets a dominant position, his opponent cannot escape and is either finished with a submission or strikes.
Werdum began his career as a specialist and evolved into one of the most complete heavyweights in the division. Not only can he strike with some of the heaviest hitters on the planet, he is capable of submitting any of his opponents.
The true advantage of having a rounded skill set is that the fighter is comfortable wherever the fight takes place. This is especially true for Werdum. With his guard game, he can be confident that his opponents can't harm him if they manage to take him down. In fact, it's often to his advantage.
In the Emelianenko fight, Werdum was dropped early by "The Last Emperor." Emelianenko is an aggressive fighter and fearlessly dove into Werdum's guard. He avoided the initial attack but fell victim to Werdum's follow up, the triangle/arm bar combination.
Best chance for success
While Werdum has looked excellent in his current UFC run, Nogueira has looked decidedly less so. Recently, "Minatauro" seems old, looking rather slow. Even worse, his famously sturdy chin may be weakened, if not outright cracked.
Werdum has a big speed advantage and should use it. By relying on kicks and straight punches, Werdum can soften Nogueira up from the outside. Then, at the first opportunity, Werdum should clinch Nogueira and attempt to finish him with knees.
If Werdum has the option, I'd recommend he avoid going to the ground with Nogueira. He's certainly skilled enough to tap Nogueira, but Nogueira's standup has never been at the level of his grappling. Therefore, Werdum should take the path of least resistance, meaning he should try to knock him out.
If he is forced to the ground, he should focus on sweeping and maintaining top position. In their last fight, Werdum was too aggressive when hunting for submissions, and it allowed Nogueira to sweep him multiple times.
Will Werdum continue his successful UFC return, or can Nogueira prove he still has some fight left in him?