ORLANDO, Fla. -- Fabricio Werdum messed up a good storyline on Saturday.
Imagine for a second, Travis Browne crushes Werdum in the first round. Knockout. What a contender we’d have on our hands! An athletic, bearded knockout artist who has never been taken down? A man who doesn’t just defend takedowns, but drops elbows to the dome of any poor soul who attempts them? Sounds like the perfect storyline.
Yeah, that would have been exciting -- because even though Cain Velasquez has defended the UFC heavyweight title only twice, it feels like he might as well be the most dominant champion the promotion has. Seeing him challenged would be fun.
Browne, had he finished Werdum, could have been a fun sell against Velasquez. Alas, it was not meant to be. He ended up not winning one round against Werdum.
Werdum (18-5-1) clearly enjoyed rubbing the victory in his doubters’ faces. In a televised postfight show on Fox Sports, he demanded to know which analysts had picked Browne to win the fight. As it turned out, they all did.
“I said, ‘Who put money on Travis Browne?’” Werdum recounted afterward. “The guys all got [red in the face].”
In reality, Werdum versus Velasquez is the best heavyweight title fight available. The fictional challenger described above doesn’t exist (at least not yet). Browne does not yet appear capable of handling Velasquez’s pressure.
Does Werdum? It seems like we tend to overlook this cheerful Brazilian. Technically, Werdum entered the weekend as the No. 1 contender, but it was Browne who received much of the hype and the status of a 2-1 betting favorite.
Ask Werdum and he’ll tell you that too many are sleeping on his wide range of skills.
“All the guys believed Travis Browne would win,” Werdum said. “Sometimes guys say, ‘Werdum is just a jiu-jitsu guy.’ When I fought Roy Nelson I proved that [wrong] and I proved that again [tonight].”
If Werdum doesn’t get enough support ahead of his tougher fights, he’s probably partially responsible. As outstanding as he is, he’ll leave a window open here and there for doubt.
The one fight that is seared into memory (mine, at least) is Werdum’s loss to Alistair Overeem in June 2011. That was the time he literally spent 15 minutes falling to the floor and begging Overeem to come into his guard.
That night, Werdum made it blatantly obvious he didn't believe in his own standup or his takedowns. In other words, he fought like “just a jiu-jitsu guy.”
He’s grown a lot since then and it’s unfair to forever hang that loss over his head, but even in the win over Browne, Werdum didn’t go out of his way to impress.
As soon as the decision was in the bag (after the third round), Werdum let up on the gas significantly. Even then, he still won the last two rounds, but there was no urgency to put Browne away and head into the Velasquez fight off a finish.
“I think he could have finished the fight,” said UFC president Dana White. “I think he played it safe. He knew he was winning. So, it leaves questions. How much more could he have given? You know what Cain’s going to do. Cain is 100 miles per hour. He does damage and doesn't stop doing damage until he finishes you.”
Werdum didn’t have to finish Browne to keep his spot at the front of the heavyweight line. He said he played it safe to avoid taking a home run shot from a heavy-handed opponent. That is a perfectly defensible stance to take.
But as White said, it seems doubtful Velasquez would have done the same. Put a wounded animal in front of the champ and he eats in the fourth round, not coasts. In other words, Werdum did great to solidify his spot at the front of the line, but all those doubters he proved wrong on Saturday? They'll be back in November.