As it stands today, there has never been a Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion who has defended the title more than twice. It remains one of the more interesting streaks in mixed martial arts (MMA).
Currently slated to defend his Heavyweight strap for the first time later tonight (Sat., May 14, 2016) at UFC 198 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, champion Fabricio Werdum will begin his journey to attempt to end the divisional curse. His opponent, Stipe Miocic, will do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.
In one of the more intriguing matchups the Heavyweight faction could produce, Werdum will pit his world-class submission skills against the elite-level striking of Miocic. Of course, the Brazilian has extended his standup repertoire quite a bit under the tutelage of Kings MMA head coach Rafael Cordeiro over the past few years. But despite his evolution on the feet, Werdum may experience some issues when encountered with Miocic’s superior athleticism, formidable distance control and relentless gas tank.
As we gear up for arguably the greatest PPV event to ever take place on Brazilian soil, we take a closer look at what Werdum and Miocic need to do in order to win UFC 198’s main event showdown.
1. Strike with conviction…
As previously mentioned, Werdum has begun to evolve as a Heavyweight striker. It has happened much further along in his career than he may have wanted, but he has efficiently out-pointed divisional mainstays like Cain Velasquez, Mark Hunt and Travis Browne, on the feet over his past three fights.
While the legendary Brazilian will undoubtedly draw confidence from those experiences, he also needs to understand that there’s no room for hesitation against a well-rounded boxer like Miocic. The product of Ohio has battered some of the best strikers the division has to offer with powerful combinations, excellent footwork, and uninterrupted speed.
In order to capitalize on any windows Miocic may present on the feet, Werdum needs to strike with conviction. He has believed in his ability up to this point, but it’ll be a long night for the Brazilian if he hesitates in executing his offense. Miocic is one of the best counter capable strikers in the weight class, so he’ll be waiting for Werdum to experience a standup overload when presented with foreign angles and pestering level changes.
Sticking to the script, believing in his hands, and remaining patience may go a long way for Werdum in a Heavyweight clash that could easily set the Octagon ablaze in mere seconds.
2. Utilize his bread and butter…
At the end of the day, if Werdum is getting absolutely obliterated by Miocic on the feet, the Heavyweight champ should fall back on his unparalleled grappling.
Faced with immediate danger and impending doom, there’s no shame in relying on something that got you to where you are today. In Werdum’s case, his world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has aided a career built around improbably submission victories and a fearful ground game. He has utilized his skills to tap all-time greats like Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Velasquez, just to name a few.
While Miocic has never been submitted, and sports a formidable defense on the ground with his athletic wrestling skills serving as a crutch, he’s never faced a grappling guru as seasoned, technical, and damaging as Werdum is. If he extends a leg kick too far, attempts to land strikes up close, or fails in defending any sort of takedown, Werdum will expose Miocic like a dirty politician en route to tapping him out or putting him to sleep.
1. Establish his range early…
It’s no secret that Miocic wants no part of Werdum on the ground. If he did, we'd already be congratulating Werdum on his first successful UFC title defense.
The most useful advantage Miocic can gain in the early going is to establish his range. As a striker who understands distance control, mixes it up well from the outside, and dictates the action by utilizing his movement, Miocic wants to put a licking on Werdum as quickly as possible. Damaging your opponent first is always the best course of action, especially if that opponent is less technical than you are. It often takes away from their confidence, ability to process incoming strikes, and prohibits them from finding their own level of comfort.
With all of that said, Miocic will want to establish his jab and in-and-out pressure even quicker than usual considering Werdum is a menace inside. The Brazilian not only possesses crippling knees in the clinch, but he’s always one takedown away from breaking an arm or cutting off an airway. Keeping away from his grasp is going to do wonders for Miocic, who could very well score points in bunches in the early going.
2. Keep his back off the cage…
Outside of creating space, offering different angles, and establishing an unpredictable offensive onslaught through the first few minutes, Miocic needs to do everything in his power to keep his back off the cage.
While he is the longer fighter, Werdum is every bit as powerful as Miocic. Allowing the Brazilian to edge his way inside or push the action against the cage will negate any advantage Miocic has from distance. If he finds himself defending with his back against the cage, the heavy-handed striker needs to do everything in his power to push off and get back to the center of the Octagon.
Going tit-for-tat with Werdum in close quarters may not be the smartest decision. The Brazilian not only works heavily on dirty boxing at Kings MMA, but he’s like a boa constrictor when presented with an opportunity to take hold of an opponent. To give himself the best chance to score points, avoid irreversible damage, and utilize a trustworthy counter game, Miocic must circle away from Werdum’s traps along the cage.
Prediction: Werdum via third-round submission
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 198 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.