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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 121’s Fabricio Werdum

Esther Lin

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Fabricio Werdum, will square off with former M-1 champ, Marcin Tybura, this Saturday (Nov. 18, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 121 inside Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia

Werdum’s run to capture UFC’s Heavyweight title was fantastic, but things have been a bit odd since he lost the strap to Stipe Miocic. Since that bout, Werdum flying kicked Travis Browne’s ass for a second decision victory, lost a controversial decision to Alistair Overeem after almost knocking him out, and then arm-barred last-second replacement Walt Harris in 65 seconds.

That submission win came just over a month ago, and it’s the first “easy” opponent Werdum has faced in years. He seems to have realized that he gets paid the same regardless of opponent, as he jumped at the chance to fight another foe outside the Top 5 in this main event slot.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Werdum began his career as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist desperate to score a takedown, but he’s a dangerous kickboxer. No one will mistake Werdum for a perfect striker, but he’s aggressive, tough and certainly has some offensive skill, which has been fine-tuned by Muay Thai master Rafael Cordeiro.

Since Werdum has absolutely no fear of the takedown -- he generally invites it -- Werdum is able to fire power kicks with little fear of repercussion. If Werdum’s opponent is backing up, he’ll have a hard time doing anything other than blocking the kick, so Werdum takes full advantage by trying to blast through his foe with kicks.

To set up his kicks, Werdum routinely starts his combination with a series of straight punches. It’s very often the one-two combination, but Werdum will occasionally double up his jab or throw a pair of right hands. Either way, Werdum is trying to get his opponent on the defensive, and he’ll then look to build upon the combination. For example, Werdum commonly mixes a stepping knee into his attack (GIF). This was especially effective against both Roy Nelson and Travis Browne, men who generally like to stand and trade at range. Once they tired and began to simply cover up, Werdum was able to take advantage with his knees. Sometimes, Werdum will step forward after the knee strike and continue to punch, re-setting 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 his 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. To open up his opponent's face, Werdum will slam his midsection with knees until the hands drop (GIF). It's not a complicated idea, but it makes him much more effective.

Against Cain Velasquez, Werdum's clinch served a different and more important purpose. Whenever Velasquez pressured him into the clinch, Werdum would look for the double-collar tie and used it to circle off with a knee (GIF). This forced his opponent to exhaust himself and take damage, while giving Werdum an opportunity to break away and strike.

Whenever Werdum gets his opponent to cover up under his flurry of punches, but is to far back to land a knee, a body kick is coming (GIF). Much of the time, Werdum will end his combination with a right hand, stepping into Southpaw on the cross. From there, he’s lined up perfectly for a left kick to the body or head, which is one of the most effective stand up techniques around.

Though he often gets in trouble for throwing it lazily, Werdum is still effective with his inside low kick. After landing the strike, Werdum will follow up with punches, as his opponent is often out of stance and unable to counter/defend (GIF).

Werdum will also mix other kicks into his offense. For example, Werdum has a very powerful teep kick (GIF). Once more, his lack of concern for being put on his back allows him to throw jumping and spinning techniques without much consequence.

Werdum has a number of veteran tricks up his sleeve, from pointing at the ground to happily announcing that there are 10 seconds left in the round before firing off a combo. In a more traditional example, his flying knee knockout of Mark Hunt was a perfect set up. First, the Brazilian shot in for a double leg 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 (GIF).

Much of Werdum’s game relies on him convincing his opponent to back up under the offense of his punches and kicks. Against a foe lacking confidence or otherwise unwilling to counter, Werdum looks like a world-beater. However, more disciplined strikers like Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem found great success in planting their feet and countering, as most of Werdum’s aggression is without much head movement.


At this point in his career, Werdum does not often rely on forcing the takedown. He's still a Judo black belt and above average wrestler, but "Vai Cavalo" has largely been relying on his striking and reactive grappling.

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 (GIF). Lately, Werdum has been relying more on the Muay Thai clinch when in close, which shows how he's focused more on landing strikes than securing takedowns.

Currently, it's more common for Werdum to shoot for takedowns. 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 the inside single with a dump. If that fails, he looks to trip up his opponent's remaining leg. Werdum landed an easy single leg and dump for the first time in a while on Walt Harris, showing that he still remembers how to wrestle at least a bit.

If Werdum is desperate, he’ll frequently go after the double leg. It’s not pretty, but Werdum is pretty good at driving into a body lock clinch. At worst, he can easily pull guard off a failed double leg.

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. Werdum has strong arguments as both the greatest submission grappler in Heavyweight history and best active jiu-jitsu player in UFC.

Werdum is adept with several guards and will choose his guard based on his objective. 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.

One of Werdum’s favorite techniques from his back is to sit up into a single leg takedown. It can be done from a number of positions and transitions into many different sweeps, making it a perfect topic for this week’s technique highlight.

If Werdum is hunting for the finish, Werdum will first lock up a closed guard, ensuring his foe cannot easily back out. 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 most famous example of this came when he handed Emelianenko his first defeat. "The 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 (GIF). 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.

He remains the only man to submit him.

More recently, Nogueira willingly engaged Werdum on the mat. He didn't exactly choose to grapple -- Werdum kept taking him down -- but once there, Nogueira looked to use his signature half guard sweeps and tried to play jiu-jitsu with Werdum. The whole fight was an excellent example of Werdum's guard passing ability, as he spun around Nogueira's sweep attempts and then either cut through or smashed his remaining 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 (GIF). It was against a far less accomplished grappler, but Werdum finished his most recent win in very similar fashion.

Lastly, a desperate and tired Cain Velasquez chose to try his luck with the takedown. In his first attempt, he was nearly reversed by a guillotine choke and was not able to maintain top position. The second time around, Werdum quickly locked the grip around his neck, falling to his back with a smile on his face and finishing the fight (GIF).


Werdum is one of the Heavyweight division’s most accomplished veterans, and he’s still in the title mix despite a pair of losses to Top 5 opponents. He’s not in the immediate mix because of those defeats, but putting together a win streak against non-elite competition is a great way to return to the strap.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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