Two of the UFC's top-ranked heavyweights will duke it out this Saturday night (June 23, 2012) as Fabricio Werdum takes on Mike Russow on the main card of UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Werdum is currently a top five-ranked heavyweight, having scored impressive victories outside the UFC over Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Silva, but it was his destruction of Roy Nelson at UFC 143 earlier this year which really opened some eyes. "Vai Cavalo" is on the verge of title contention and a strong showing against Russow could put him one fight closer to a shot at the belt.
Mike Russow has extremely quietly gone 4-0 in the UFC. Fighting only once per year, he's been on clean-up duty thus far in his career, as no one he's beaten is currently on the UFC heavyweight roster. Now, though, he's being thrown into the pack against Werdum, who is by far the toughest test of his fighting career.
Will Werdum rise to the occasion and hand Russow his first UFC loss? Can Russow play spoiler against the Brazilian on his home turf and put his name into title contention? What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:Fabricio Werdum
Record: 15-5-1 overall, 3-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Alistair Overeem (Pride Total Elimination Absolute), Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum), Roy Nelson (UFC 143)
Key Losses: Alistair Overeem (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum), Junior dos Santos (UFC 90) Sergei Kharitonov (Pride 30)
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 was brought over to the UFC once more and he made an immediate impact, thoroughly dismantling Roy Nelson over the course of three rounds.
Now, Werdum is working his way towards a potential title shot but he'll have to get through Russow.
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 his Muay Thai was put on incredible display against Roy Nelson in his last bout.
In the stand-up, the key for Werdum will be trying to get this fight into the clinch where he can work his strong knees. Russow is very hittable on the feet, so I expect Werdum to be aggressive in the stand-up whether in space or in the clinch. He should be looking to land big hooks, knees and elbows throughout the full 15 minutes.
For once, I wouldn't recommend Werdum taking this fight to the ground despite the fact that he probably has the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu out of any heavyweight in MMA today. This is because Russow could neutralize his submission skills with his wrestling and size on the ground.
I think Werdum turns up the aggression in the stand-up portion, really working Russow both to the head and body with an assortment of flailing limbs. As long as he keeps his guard up, he can definitely strike his way to victory.
Record: 15-1 (1 no contest), 4-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Todd Duffee (UFC 114), Jon Madsen (UFC Fight Night 24), Jon Olav Einemo (UFC on Fox 2)
Key Losses: Sergei Kharitonov (Pride 33)
How he got here: Mike Russow has split his time being both a professional cage fighter and a member of the Chicago Police Force. He began actively fighting in 2006 rising up to the point where he even took on Sergei Kharitonov at Pride 33 in Las Vegas, but he would suffer his lone career defeat.
Afterwards, Russow continued to gain experience in the Chicago area and a seven fight win streak earned him an invite to the UFC where he would defeat Justin McCully via unanimous decision.
By far, the most memorable moment of his career occurred at UFC 114 in 2010. Russow was battered by undefeated prospect Todd Duffee for two and a half rounds, but a pair of right hands from Russow and the hammerfist of doom knocked Duffee out cold.
Since then, Russow has TKO'd Jon Madsen and ground out a decision against Jon Olav Einemo to move his UFC record to 4-0. He'll definitely be facing the sternest test of his career against Fabricio Werdum this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Russow needs to avoid stand-up exchanges against Werdum and he needs to utilize his wrestling to take this fight to the canvas. Russow is well-versed in submissions and trains alongside elite grapplers like Rodrigo Comprido in Chicago so he should be fully prepared to avoid most of what Werdum can throw at him, at least if he's in top position on the ground.
I hate to suggest a boring gameplan, but that's how Russow is going to defeat Werdum. If he wants to defeat "Vai Cavalo," he'll likely need to lay-and-pray from within Werdum's guard, throwing just enough punches to the head and body to keep the fight from being stood up but not being aggressive enough to give Werdum an opening to try and submit him or sweep.
Russow needs to be conservative if he wants to pull this off.
Fight X-Factor: The X-Factor for this fight is the fact that Russow is active again. A long stretch of tough luck and injuries had forced him to fight just once per year for the last four years. This is the first time he's actively fighting on a regular schedule and who knows, it could mess with him.
The other factor has to be the Brazilian crowd, which is going to be extremely in favor of Werdum. This is the complete opposite of Russow's last fight where he fought in his home city of Chicago and was a heavy crowd favorite despite not putting on a very exciting performance. Russow is going to have to fight both the crowd and Werdum to get this victory.
Bottom Line: This fight could be entertaining if Werdum forces Russow to stand and trade. Both Werdum and Russow have knockout power and are capable of putting on a show on the feet. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Russow on the ground. He has been very conservative on the ground so if he takes Werdum down and tries to grind him out, this one could get very tedious in a heartbeat. You never know what you'll get with a Werdum or a Russow fight so this one is a complete wildcard for me.
Who will come out on top at UFC 147? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!