Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight contenders Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt are ready to battle over the interim title TONIGHT (Sat., Nov. 15, 2014) at UFC 180 inside Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.
Werdum entered UFC without a ton of momentum, but his violent debut against Roy Nelson helped sell the Brazilian as an elite Heavyweight. Recently, Werdum proved how effective his striking is for the second time at the expense of Travis Browne.
Hunt may not be on an impressive win streak, but he's more than proven that he's an elite Heavyweight. His combination of raw knockout power and technical savvy is a threat to anyone in the division, regardless of his frequent underdog status.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum), Travis Browne (UFC on FOX 11), Roy Nelson (UFC 143)
Key Losses: Alistair Overeem (Strikeforce: Overeem vs Werdum), Junior dos Santos (UFC 90)
Keys to Victory: Werdum is the most credentialed grappler in the heavyweight division, having won multiple gold medals at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) and Mundials tournaments. The Brazilian has had great success bringing his submission skills off the mat and into the cage, resulting in nine submission victories.
In addition, Werdum has been working on his kickboxing under Rafael Cordeiro for a number of years. The results are clearly positive, as Werdum's improved Muay Thai has been instrumental in three of his last four victories.
However, Werdum should not rely on these new developments against Hunt. For all his offensive success, Werdum is still not the most defensively sound striker in the division.
He may have a strong chin, but that's not an attribute to rely on in the heavyweight division.
Rather than engage Hunt, Werdum should use his large length advantage to punish Hunt from the outside. In particular, Werdum should hammer away at Hunt's lead leg. If Hunt attempts to close the distance, Werdum can either circle off or clinch with "Super Samoan."
Either way, it'll force Hunt to use up some of his gas tank, which will be strained by the high altitude.
At the end of the day, getting Hunt to the mat is the end game. If Werdum cannot land takedowns early, it wouldn't be a bad idea for him to pull guard. Hunt would likely follow him to the mat, and the Brazilian is at a huge advantage even from his back.
Key Wins: Roy Nelson (UFC Fight Night 52), Stefan Struve (UFC on Fuel TV 8), Cheick Kongo (UFC 144)
Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC 160), Sean McCorkle (UFC 127)
Keys to Victory: Hunt is one of very few fighters on the roster to have professional kickboxing experience. He's on an even slimmer list of fighters who've had success in that sport, as Hunt won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001.
So far, Hunt has finished off seven of his opponents via knockout inside the mixed martial arts (MMA) arena.
To defeat Werdum, Hunt will have to essentially pitch a shutout. If his opponent is able to get a takedown with any amount of time remaining, the fight is more than likely over. Hunt may have made serious improvements to his grappling, but it's almost certainly not enough to grapple with Werdum.
If Hunt tries to reach for Werdum, he'll very likely end up on his back. Since Hunt doesn't have the gas tank to play a waiting game -- the high altitude of Mexico City combined with the short notice of the bout will be tough to overcome -- Hunt needs to give Werdum incentive to close the distance.
Namely, Hunt should blast Werdum with a couple of low kicks. Obviously, Hunt won't be able to land the leg kicks as easily as Werdum, but if he lets Werdum know he's not safe on the outside, the Brazilian may look to close the gap with his punches.
That's where Hunt's best chance to land a counter punch knockout lies.
Bottom Line: Any fight involving a belt -- even interim -- is obviously hugely important. This fight is especially vital, as there are rumors that Cain Velasquez could be stripped of his strap before long, meaning this bout could determine the next heavyweight title holder.
For Werdum, this is the culmination of years of improvements and experience. If Werdum earns this interim belt, he'll solidify his already impressive resume even further. Plus, he'll either end up as the full champion or get to challenge Velasquez for that honor.
A loss would be quite devastating. Werdum has been perfect thus far in his current UFC run, and for the wheels to unexpectedly come off en route to Velasquez would be a serious disappointment.
Hunt is already an incredible come back story. However, earning the interim belt by overcoming a specialist in his area of prior weakness would be an excellent next chapter, which then leads into an improbable finale against Cain Velasquez.
Due to the lack of depth in the heavyweight division, Hunt could potentially earn his way back into the title picture even with a loss here, especially if Velasquez retains his title. However, Hunt is already 40 years old, meaning this is his best opportunity.
At UFC 180, Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt will put it on the line for a chance to wear the interim title. Which man will walk away with the strap?