Werdum 2.0 even more dangerous
Fabricio Werdum's first stint in the UFC lasted four fights. He went 2-2, with wins over Gabriel Gonzaga (back when he was Gabriel Gonzaga) and Brandon Vera. His losses? The first was to Andrei Arlovski in his promotional debut, and then there was his last one the unfortunate fight that people can't shake from memory. That was the night Junior dos Santos turned Werdum into fun email Gif with a wicked, highlight-reel knockout. Werdum was finished as a contender. Then he went to Strikeforce and metamorphosed into another human being.
What's the difference between that Werdum and the one who just smashed Roy Nelson for three rounds at UFC 143 in his return? This version is a scheming, multifarious fighter who can beat you in various areas. This one actually outstruck Alistair Overeem on the feet (surprising himself in the process), even as he was inviting him to the floor. He beat Nelson with vicious knees from the Thai clinch.
Before, he was just a jiu-jitsu ace with pretty decent ground-and-pound. Yes he TKO'd Gonzaga in a Jungle Fight in 2003, but striking was never his forte. Today he throws hands with faith instead of prayers.
And if you won't go quietly to the ground, he'll happily pelt you with fists, elbows, knees and cold, calloused feet. He might even point to a spot on the floor to distract you, then slam a fat knee in your forehead, like he did to Nelson. Werdum is a deceptive, luring fighter who is not above cheap trickery. Take the Fedor Emelianenko fight, when he took a glancing blow, feigned being hurt, spilled to the ground, and set up the Venus flytrap. That was a decade's worth of mythology tapping him to quit. He's a slick practitioner of "finding a way."
Given the landscape in the heavyweight division, Werdum could have a shortcut to a title shot in 2012. In fact, if the UFC sticks him against Frank Mir (which many think they will), that fight almost has to be a title eliminator. And you don't think that Werdum could win that bout? He could. Werdum needs only a small mistake to make it his fight, and the difference is it's no longer out of the question for him to score a knockout.
Since competing in Strikeforce (where he went 3-1, the other win against Antonio Silva), Werdum has become more patient in picking his shots, and more comfortable wherever the fight takes place. He's less desperate, more hungry, more explosive. In short, he has become a well-rounded fighter. And if he were to get that shot, there would be a backstory either way. If it's Overeem, it'd be a trilogy fight with the series tied 1-1. If it were dos Santos, it would be a chance to exact revenge from that first encounter at UFC 90, when they were ships passing in the Chicago night.
Is it possible he defeats either Overeem or dos Santos? Most would highly doubt it. And then again, most didn't like his chances against Fedor, and you saw what happened there.
What does beating Nelson prove?
When a fighter looks as impressive as Fabricio Werdum did this weekend against Roy Nelson at UFC 143, it's easy to get a little carried away with the title talk. Let's certainly applaud Werdum for a dominant performance here, but hold off on taking the man's measurements for the heavyweight belt.
Werdum beat up Roy Nelson in the stand-up during all three rounds Saturday -- impressive, considering we typically think of this guy as a grapple-first fighter. But I have to point out here, at the risk of sounding a bit negative, where exactly does "hitting Roy Nelson repeatedly" fall in terms of impressive feats?
Nelson is as durable as they come in the UFC and he has a lethal right hand that has claimed several victims in the Octagon; but in addition to that, he's an easy target. He tends to be flat-footed, even early in fights, and often forgets to move his head. He's not exactly a speedster, and if you go to the body, as Werdum did, he gets slower.
Give Werdum credit for recognizing this and committing to a game plan that took advantage of it and his ability to execute. But do you see where I'm going with this? Just because Werdum looked like a world-class striker against Nelson doesn't mean he will against the likes of, say, a Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem or Frank Mir.
What that means is Werdum is going to have to rely on his bread and butter to get him to UFC gold, which is his submission game. There's no questioning how dangerous his guard is, but I wonder how he'll entice opponents into it. Neither Overeem nor Dos Santos will go there. Mir might, but he's a black belt and would be comfortable doing so. Cain Velasquez might wander into it, but as relentless and dynamic as Cain's top game is, Werdum would have his hands full not taking damage.
"Well, he already beat Overeem once before," you say. That's true. But much has changed since that kimura did the trick in 2006. As we saw in their most recent meeting in 2011, Overeem will no longer willingly go into Werdum's guard as he did in their first fight. That was also prior to his physical transformation, which has made him much more difficult to control in the clinch and take to the ground.
Ultimately, look at the list of UFC champions. They all have one thing in common. They keep the fight where they want it. If Georges St. Pierre needs to get a fight to the ground, he gets it there. Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, dos Santos -- they are all terrific at finding range and keeping their opponent standing. When Jon Jones decides it's best to put a guy on his back, he does so violently.
Werdum has a dynamic skill set, but to win fights against the elite of the elite, he'll likely have to beat them at their own game. He might be able to pull that off for a fight, but not on a consistent basis.
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