Fabricio Werdum shocked the world once before. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
At the UFC on Fox 11 post-fight press conference, a jovial Fabricio Werdum showed his linguistic versatility, answering media queries in three different tongues.
That Werdum was reasonably comfortable holding court in his native Portuguese, as well as English and Spanish, was not the Brazilian’s most impressive display of skill at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday. That came approximately an hour earlier, when “Vai Cavalo” picked apart Travis Browne on the feet with a well-rounded standup arsenal to capture a clear-cut unanimous verdict in the UFC on Fox 11 headliner. According to FightMetric.com, Werdum landed 121 significant strikes, the fourth highest total by a heavyweight in Ultimate Fighting Championship history. Not bad for a two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist who tried to butt scoot his way to victory against Alistair Overeem some three years earlier.
It was common knowledge that Werdum would have a decided edge against Browne on the mat, and while he did become the first person in UFC competition to take down the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian, he truly distinguished himself on the feet. While it was true that Werdum had displayed vast improvement in his striking since that forgettable Strikeforce encounter with Overeem, few expected the Brazilian to so easily outclass Browne, a former college basketball player lauded for his footwork, agility and athleticism.
Outstriking an outmatched Mike Russow or a one-dimensional Roy Nelson was one thing. Doing the same against Browne -- a man who announced his presence in the UFC with a Superman punch knockout of Stefan Struve in his third Octagon appearance and had just authored a spectacular 2013 that included stoppages of Gabriel Gonzaga, Overeem and Josh Barnett -- was another thing entirely. There was a reason Browne was the trendy favorite.
Apparently, we did not give Werdum enough credit.
“He is the future,” said Rafael Cordeiro, who has helped Werdum hone his standup at King’s MMA. “He changed all his game. If you look at Fabricio today, you don’t know if he comes from jiu-jitsu or he comes from muay Thai. He’s developed his standup game; he’s trained hard every day with good guys. We’re so proud of him.”
Other than a brief moment in the opening round where Browne appeared to rock him with a right hand, Werdum was in complete control. He landed combinations consistently, connecting with a variety of punches, kicks and knees. Browne, meanwhile, appeared to run out of gas in a hurry. Whether that was a product of Werdum’s assault, a potentially broken rib suffered early in the fight, or both, mattered little when the judges’ scorecards were announced.
All that matters now is that Werdum is the one moving on to challenge reigning heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez when the Las Vegas-based promotion drops its anchor in Mexico City. The locale should suit the 36-year-old Brazilian just fine. As someone who has served as an analyst for UFC broadcasts in Latin America because of his fluency in Spanish, Werdum is already able to talk the talk.
To walk the walk against Velasquez, however, is a far more daunting task. While making it through a 25-minute bout would seem to be a step in the right direction, especially in preparation for a seemingly indefatigable champion, UFC President Dana White thought Werdum could have done more against Browne.
“Werdum looked good tonight. He picked Browne apart; and in the first round, Werdum took a bomb. I thought the fight was over there, but he came back and he fought a great fight,” White said. “Werdum could have finished the fight. He played it safe at the end to get the shot at the title.”
Playing it safe and Velasquez do not belong in the same sentence. Anyone who witnessed Velasquez’s consecutive maulings of Junior dos Santos knows that a bout against the American Kickboxing Academy product could potentially take years off a fighter’s career. What’s more frightening than Velasquez’s violent tendencies in close-quarters combat is a gas tank that could put most flyweights to shame. As good as Werdum looked against Browne, he is going to have to raise his game if he plans on capturing UFC gold.
Considering the progress he has made the past couple years, yet another leap might not be too farfetched.
“For the next fight he’s going to be better; he’s going to be in better shape -- stronger than ever,” Cordeiro said. “Because now he has the chance he’s fought for all his life; he has the opportunity to fight for the belt.”
Werdum will undoubtedly be a significant underdog when he finally steps into the Octagon with Velasquez, but as anyone with a basic knowledge of MMA history knows, “Vai Cavalo” has faced -- and defeated -- long odds before. Werdum made history when he forced Fedor Emelianenko to tap to a triangle armbar 1:09 into the first round at a Strikeforce event on June 26, 2010. The stoic Russian had achieved near mythical status during a decade-long unbeaten run, earning himself the unofficial title as the sport’s pound-for-pound greatest. Werdum was not a trendy choice to shock the world back then, either. His unlikely victory damn near broke the Internet that summer night; at least that is what those who frequent MMA websites like to say.
Today, Velasquez inspires nowhere near the intense fervor Emelianenko once did. However, he may very well be a more daunting challenge for Werdum.
“[Velasquez] is a different type of heavyweight,” White said. “He goes at a speed that other heavyweights can’t go. He goes five rounds and never stops.”
Werdum is accustomed to being overlooked.
“Cain said he wanted to fight Travis Browne because he knows he could take him down and win the fight,” Werdum said. “But he knows when he takes me down, that’s the start of the fight.”
Recent history suggests that it might be unwise to bet against the perpetually smiling Brazilian. When the time comes, you can rest assured that Werdum will be more than happy to prove the masses wrong once again.