Six years after being released by the UFC, Fabricio Werdum produced the performance of his career at UFC 188, destroying Cain Velasquez to become the new undisputed UFC Heavyweight champion.
Heading into his UFC title fight on Saturday night in Mexico City, Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1 MMA, 8-2 UFC) was a 4-1 underdog facing Cain Velasquez (13-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC) and was expected to wilt under the ferocious pace and wrestling prowess of the seemingly unstoppable heavyweight champion. Instead, after coping with a series of strong leg kicks and clinch work against the cage, Werdum utilised his ever-improving Muay Thai skills, keeping Velasquez at a distance behind a heavy jab and working his own knees from the clinch as the high altitude began to take its on the conditioning of both fighters.
Werdum made the decision to move his camp to Mexico City five weeks before the fight in order to acclimatise to competing at more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Having fought Mark Hunt in the same arena last November, Werdum learned from that experience and was prepared for the tough conditions. His opponent on the other hand, spent just two weeks at high altitude, and that was only due to his coach Javier Mendez – Velasquez initially wanted to stay in California until the week of the fight but was forced to reconsider.
Velasquez was noticeably tired midway through the first round and by the end of the second he was bloody and battered. On wobbly legs following a massive knee before the bell, Mendez and the rest of his corner urged him to take the fight to the mat – something they planned to avoid heading into the contest given Werdum’s world-class grappling credentials.
Following more slick combinations from the Brazilian to open the third round, Velasquez resorted to a sloppy takedown attempt as the pressure began to mount. Leaving his neck exposed, Werdum was able to cinch a routine guillotine choke and forced a tap from Velasquez two minutes into the third frame.
Werdum’s shock victory means Kings MMA – led by legendary Muay Thai coach Rafael Cordeiro – has won two UFC belts in the space of three months and the future possibilities for the new heavyweight champion are very intriguing.
The UFC has a reputation for giving immediate rematches to losing champions, but given the convincing nature of Werdum’s performance, the most likely options appear to be a fight with Stipe Miocic, or a rematch with either Andrei Arlovski or Junior Dos Santos – both of whom beat Werdum in their first meeting.
For Velasquez, a return to the drawing board is in order along with a few weeks of recovery. Given his chequered injury record it is impossible to determine when he will make his return to the Octagon, but a couple of wins in a rather shallow heavyweight division should see the 32 year-old back in title contention within the next 18 months.