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UFC 188 complete fighter breakdown, Fabricio 'Vai Cavalo' Werdum edition

MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 188 headliner Fabricio Werdum, who will look to dethrone Cain Velasquez this Saturday (June 13, 2015) inside Arena Ciudada de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Interim title holder, Fabricio Werdum, will attempt to unify the belt by taking out Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight kingpin, Cain Velasquez, this Saturday (June 13, 2015) in the main event of UFC 188, which will take place inside Arena Ciudada de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.

Werdum has definitely earned his interim strap. Since rejoining UFC back in 2012, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace has either dominated or finished five straight opponents, including Travis Browne and Mark Hunt. Werdum was originally supposed to face off against Velasquez back at UFC 180, but an injury to the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product scrapped that match up.

But, only momentarily.

Now, Werdum will finally have his opportunity to dethrone Velasquez. The last couple years have resulted in some of the best performances of his career, but how does he stack up with longtime champion?

Let's take a closer look at his skill set and find out:

Striking

The biggest improvement to Werdum's game in recent years is undoubtedly his kickboxing. Thanks to Rafael Cordeiro -- one of the best Muay Thai coaches in the game -- Werdum's kickboxing has been greatly sharpened.

As a lanky heavyweight, Werdum likes to operate from his kickboxing range. Initially, he'll circle around a bit and fire off the occasional low kick. Before long, Werdum will be finding opportunities to burst forward with combinations and kicks.

Werdum routinely starts his combination with a series of straight punches. Mixing up his jabs and crosses in different ways, Werdum will then build off his combination depending on how his opponent reacts and how much distance is between them.

For example, Werdum commonly mixes a stepping knee into his attack. For a tall fighter, this is a very dangerous technique. This was most effective against Roy Nelson, as the brawler rarely back out of range, leaving him wide open to knees when he tired to cover up. Sometimes, Werdum will step forward after the knee strike and continue to punch, resetting the combination.

Alternatively, Werdum will continue to hold onto the double-collar tie. Using his usual height advantage well, Werdum pressures down on his opponent's neck and breaks their posture. Additionally, Werdum does a nice job whipping his opponent around and keeping him off-balance before delivering the knee.

Werdum is also quite good at mixing up his targets. In order to open up his opponent's face, Werdum will slam his opponent's midsection with knees until the hands drop. It's not a complicated idea, but it makes him much more effective.

After his punching combinations, Werdum will also look for the body kick. Sometimes, Werdum will step into Southpaw on the right hand, allowing him to deliver a powerful left kick. This technique was particularly effective against Travis Browne, breaking his rib and ruining his conditioning.

Werdum will also switch up the order of his offense by following up inside low kicks with punches. After destabilizing his opponent's stance, Werdum will rush in with punches. Against Mike Russow, Werdum's low kick didn't land cleanly enough to off-balance Russow, but it did bring his attention low and directly into an uppercut.

Because of his general apathy toward being taken down, Werdum is more than willing to mix in some flashy kicks. His teep kick is probably the most effective of the bunch, but Werdum will also utilize some spinning or jumping techniques.

It has to be mentioned that Werdum is a crafty and tricky kickboxer. He's always trying to catch his opponent off-guard through a variety of strange tactics. Just for a few examples, he'll due things like point down at the mat, talk, announce the 10 second clap, and make funny faces in the middle of a fight. For an opponent trying to focus, this can all be very distracting.

Werdum will also rely on more conventional tricks. For example, his flying knee knockout of Mark Hunt was a pretty classic set up. First, the Brazilian shot in for a takedown, which Hunt defended easily. Just a few moments later, Werdum again ducked low in a very similar motion, but instead sprung into the knee.

Defensively, Werdum has improved quite a bit. His aggression can definitely still be countered by a sharp boxer, but his cage awareness has increased. He's had difficulties in the past with getting caught against the fence and then standing still, but his improved movement helped him avoid that scenario against Browne.

Wrestling

Despite some of the ugly shots in his last bout, Werdum actually has some nice takedowns. He's a Judo black belt, though wrestling is probably the weakest aspect of his game.

And it's still well above average.

On occasion, Werdum will utilize some of his Judo ability. In the clinch, he'll push his opponent against the fence, only to suddenly turn into a trip takedown. Lately, Werdum has been relying more on the Muay Thai clinch when in close, which shows that he's focusing more on landing strikes than securing takedowns.

Werdum will often shoot takedowns as well. One of his preferred setups is to drop down from the clinch into a single leg, ensuring he has a grip on his opponent. From there, Werdum attempts to finish with his head on the inside by dumping his opponent. If that fails, he looks to trip up his opponent's remaining leg.

In his bout with Browne, Werdum frequently went after the double leg. He finished it off the initial shot a couple times but also chained his attempts together well. As Browne went to sprawl, Werdum would circle around him and look to drag him to the mat from there with a body lock.

In top position, Werdum's control is suffocating. He's not exactly a knockout threat with his ground strikes, but Werdum can remain so tight while in a dominant position that his opponent will not be able to defend himself from a continuous stream of shots.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Werdum is an incredible grappler, having won gold in the most high level jiu-jitsu tournaments in the world, such as the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC), Worlds, and Pan-Ams. Additionally, Werdum has more than proven that his jiu-jitsu has translated into mixed martial arts (MMA) quite well.

Werdum is adept with several guards, and thus has numerous options depending on how his opponent is grappling and what he's looking to accomplish. If the Brazilian is looking to sweep or stand up, Werdum will rely on the butterfly guard, which allows him to elevate his opponent's hips. If his opponent tries to pass, Werdum has a chance to reverse position. Should his foe back away or try to hover around top position, Werdum can usually create enough space to stand.

If his opponent doesn't just want to jump into his guard -- generally a wise choice -- Werdum still has a couple of options. While resting on his back, Werdum will occasionally play around with the De La Riva guard. Basically, while his opponent stands over him, he'll control one of his opponent's ankles with his hand and wrap up a leg with his own. Werdum hasn't really used it to sweep in MMA, as it's difficult without a gi, but he keeps his opponent from really throwing any ground strikes.

Additionally, Werdum will suddenly sit up and latch onto his opponent's leg. If he can, Werdum will stand up directly into the single leg takedown and work from there, one of the most high percentage sweeps in jiu-jitsu. When his opponent prevents this, Werdum will spin under the leg into deep half guard. From the deep half, Werdum escapes out the back door and comes up in top position. Werdum hits this sweep often and against quality opponents, such as Antonio Silva and Travis Browne.

If Werdum is hunting for the finish, Werdum will first lock up a closed guard, ensuring his foe cannot easily escape. Then, he'll suddenly swivel his hips or climb his legs high up on his opponent's shoulder. With these movements, Werdum can create opportunities for arm bars, triangles, or kimuras.

He's finished each move at some point in his lengthy career.

On the rare occasion that a fighter is willing to grapple with Werdum, he thrives. Of course, the premiere example of this came when he handed Fedor Emelianenko his first defeat. "Last Emperor" was willing to fight Werdum on the mat and paid for it, as Werdum countered Emelianenko's attempts to pass with a triangle choke. It only took one quick mistake on Emelianenko's part, and Werdum suddenly became the first man to hold a legitimate win over the Russian.

More recently, Nogueira willingly engaged Werdum on the mat. Well, he was forced onto his back by "Vai Cavalo," but once there Nogueira tried to play his usual deep half guard game, and it went terribly for him. The whole fight was an excellent example of Werdum's guard passing ability, as he spun around Nogueira's sweep attempts and then cut through the guard.

In the second round, Nogueira turtled up to avoid having his guard passed by Werdum again. As he did, Werdum slipped a hook in and moved towards taking the back. To defend, Nogueira stripped off one of Werdum's hooks and attempted to shake him off, but Werdum simply transitioned to an armbar.

Best Chance For Success

Werdum's success hinges on his ability to do one thing: keep his back off the fence. At this point, he's incredibly confident in both his kickboxing and his jiu-jitsu skills. However, none of that matters if Velasquez holds him against the cage, dirty boxes, and wears Werdum out.

To avoid that, the most important thing Werdum can do is circle whenever pressured. Backing straight up against Velasquez is a terrible idea ... just ask Junior dos Santos. Werdum absolutely needs to circle, move forward with his combinations, then return to circling.

If Werdum is clinched up against the fence, he needs to immediately work to break away. If he's unable to, it's time to resort to drastic measures. If he's stuck against the fence, jumping guard would be a very viable tactic for the Brazilian.

Finally, Werdum needs to bring his usual aggression into this match up. Both men can punch fairly hard, but Werdum's kicks and knees are superior, which will be useful in exchanges. Plus, he's historically very durable, whereas that's a bit of a question mark for Velasquez.

Will Fabricio Werdum score the upset or can Velasquez make a successful return to the Octagon?

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