Top Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight contender -- and two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) gold medalist -- Fabricio Werdum looks to finally earn a shot at UFC gold against crafty knockout artist, Travis Browne, this Saturday night (April 19, 2014) in UFC on FOX 11's main event from Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
A mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor since 2002, Werdum has really come into his prime in the last couple of years. His Brazilian jiu-jitsu remained excellent, but he has become a strong Muay Thai striker, too. This combination of new and old skills lead him to his current three-fight win streak, mixing knockout and submission victories.
Despite a long career filled with wins over quality competition, Werdum has yet to fight for a major title. With a win over Browne, there's no doubt that he's earned a scrap with current kingpin Cain Velasquez. But, does he have the skills to take out the athletic prospect?
Let's take a closer look:
Werdum has done an excellent job developing a sound Muay Thai game under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro. The lengthy Brazilian uses a wide array of strikes to damage his foe and usually avoids most of his opponent's punches. He also uses his height well, either picking apart his opponent at long range or crushing them in close with knees.
As the fight starts, Werdum circles around the cage endlessly. Then, he'll stop in his tracks and fire out a leg kick. He'll continue to do this with an increasing volume of inside and outside leg kicks as the fight progresses, as well as working in some lead hand strikes like the jab and a long hook.
Though it's risky to throw leg kicks without a setup (ask Anderson Silva), Werdum does throw them quickly. It also helps that few fighters in the heavyweight division check leg kicks. In addition, Werdum does a nice job judging distance and landing accurate, shin-to-the-thigh kicks.
It's worth mentioning that Werdum uses a plethora of kicks. The Brazilian works the body and head with roundhouse kicks, switch kicks, and teeps. Werdum throws the teep with both legs, but his back leg teep kick is especially powerful.
Once Werdum establishes his range and gets comfortable, he'll begin aggressively throwing boxing combinations. Despite his background as a grappler, Werdum shows no fear when punching. He's more than happy to throw long combinations and chase his opponent backwards.
Many times, Werdum likes to tie together left and right hooks. If his opponent covers up while he retreats, "Vai Cavalo" does an excellent job picking his shots around his opponent's defense.
Werdum often begins his combinations with either the one-two combination or left hook-right straight. After those punches, he'll either circle off, end the combination with a kick, or kick and then continue punching his off-balance opponent.
Overall, Werdum does a very good job mixing kicks in with his punches.
For example, Werdum likes to attack with punches following a hard inside leg kick. He usually follows it up with a long jab, keeping a distance that most opponents cannot counter. However, in his fight with Mike Russow, Werdum followed a leg kick that was a bit short with another short jab, then stepped forward and fired an uppercut into Russow's jaw.
In addition to mixing kicks into his punching combinations, Werdum's even better at mixing clinch strikes into his boxing. His most common entry to the clinch is to grab the head after a left-right combination. From there, he has the option of throwing a couple knees then breaking off or latching on and looking to control while doing damage.
Once Werdum secures the clinch, he does a couple of things very well. The first, and most important, aspect of Werdum's clinch is his posture control. He does an excellent job putting pressure on his opponent's head and neck, which is made easier by his usual height advantage. This allows him to maneuver his opponent into knees and makes it more difficult for his opponent to break his grip.
Against Nelson, Werdum did a very good job choosing when to throw to the head and body. As Nelson covered up, Werdum would drill his gut. Once he felt "Big Country" attempting to punch, he'd yank his head down into a knee. Nelson was getting hammered regardless of what he did, and the clinch ended up being Werdum's most successful position.
For the most part, Werdum does a good job avoiding strikes, usually by staying out of range. However, he sometimes backs straight up rather than laterally. When he gets pinned on the fence, he's much more vulnerable. Even in the clinch, he's not very effective unless he can secure the double collar tie.
Werdum is a Judo black belt and actually has some slick takedowns in his arsenal. It's not the strongest part of Werdum's game, but he normally manages to get the fight to the mat when it's important.
"Vai Cavalo" sometimes works for takedowns from the clinch. Werdum uses leverage quite well and moves his opponent around easily. He may not look particularly strong, but Werdum is able to push strong fighters around before switching directions and going for trips.
Werdum's most used takedown is likely the single leg. His entries are pretty decent and often start from the clinch, ensuring he gets a grip on his opponent's hip. From there, he does his own version of running the pipe in which he keeps his head on the inside. If that fails, Werdum likes to attempt trips while controlling the single leg. Finally, Werdum looks to snatch his opponent's leg kicks when trying to take the fight to the mat.
On top, Werdum is a very difficult man to shake. His control is excellent, and he stays very tight to his opponent. His ground striking isn't particularly powerful, but it can finish the fight if he traps his opponent in a dominant position.
Takedown defense has never really been important to Werdum. He's not awful at defending the shot, but he so rarely has to that it's not especially relevant. Werdum welcomes being on his back and usually has attempted a submission or sweep within the first twenty seconds he's on the mat.
A second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Octavio Couto, Werdum is one of the most decorated practitioners in the UFC. In addition to his two gold medals at ADCC, Werdum is a two-time Mundials champion and Pan-Ams gold medalist.
Depending on his goals and how his opponent engages, Werdum will play different guards.When he is looking to sweep or stand up and his opponent engages, 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 stands above him, Werdum has a couple attacks. Against Antonio Silva, Werdum would kick at "Bigfoot's" hips and keep him on edge. Then, Werdum would sit up and latch onto one of Silva's legs. He initially attempted a single leg from there, which Silva stuffed, but then switched it up. After grabbing a leg, he would roll underneath to deep half. From there, he managed to scoot out the back door and sweep Silva.
Additionally, Werdum will use the De La Riva guard to off-balance his opponent. He hasn't swept anyone recently from the De La Riva guard, but he managed to prevent Nelson from landing any ground striking. Plus, this guard frustrates his opponents, and they sometimes will just let him back up to avoid it.
When Werdum wants to threaten his opponent with submissions, he'll often use the closed guard. Once he knows that his opponent cannot pull away, Werdum will climb his legs up high on his opponent's back. From there, he can swivel and attack with arm bars, triangles and kimuras.
Werdum is especially dangerous when his opponent is trying to pass his guard. Fedor Emelianenko was more than willing to dive into Werdum's guard with punches. He tried to throw Werdum's legs around, but Werdum was able to roll with his movements too well and trapped a triangle armbar combination. Once Werdum has a submission locked up, the fight is over.
The most impressive grappling performance of Werdum's recent career came against fellow Brazilian black belt Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. In the first round, Werdum dueled in "Big Nog's" favorite position: The deep half guard. Despite it being the position Nogueira is known for, Werdum was able to spin around and cut through numerous times.
In the second round, Nogueira turtled up after his guard was passed. Werdum looked to hop onto his back, and "Minotauro" attempted to counter by stripping one of his hooks. Instead, Werdum slid off to one side and transitioned to a tight armbar. He squeezed his legs the entire time, rolled belly-down, and pulled. In a sudden grappling exchange, Werdum had added another name to his impressive resume.
Best Chance For Success
One thing is certain: Under no circumstances should Werdum go for a double-leg against the cage. That's precisely what left the last two grapplers Browne fought crumpled on the mat. If Werdum must go for takedowns, a single-leg in the center of the cage is a better option.
Instead, I'd rather see Werdum work his striking. Despite his well-deserved reputation as a knockout artist, Browne has only two knockouts -- the most hittable man in MMA, Stefan Struve, and a gassed out Alistair Overeem -- inside the UFC that occurred directly because of his kickboxing. Overall, he just hasn't spent a lot of time striking in the center of the cage.
Werdum has a solid Muay Thai game and should test it out.
It would be wise for Werdum to wait at least a round or two before trying to grappler. Browne's cardio doesn't seem to be that great, judging by his draw with Cheick Kongo and decision victory over Rob Broughton. IF Werdum comes to this fight in good shape, conditioning could be a big advantage for him.
Will Werdum upset his younger foe or will Browne add another knockout win to his record?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Browne be sure to click here.