Werdum plans to shock MMA world

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
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Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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This time, perhaps people will take Fabricio Werdum more seriously when he steps into a cage with the universally recognized best heavyweight in mixed martial arts.

Simply put, Werdum, 36, is a much more dangerous fighter against UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez than he was when he stunned Fedor Emelianenko in 69 seconds with a triangle choke in 2010.

"Fedor fought 10 years without losing," Werdum told ESPN.com while his wife translated from Portuguese to English. "I showed the world I could do it. But it's important for me that my fans, my family, my friends and my team believe in me."

This past summer Werdum forced iconic Brazilian heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to verbally tap because of an armbar, becoming the only man to submit Pride's two heavyweight champions. The win, he and his team felt, was enough to warrant a crack at the UFC title. They waited, and Saturday night, after Velasquez trucked through Junior dos Santos to score a fifth-round technical knockout, UFC president Dana White confirmed that Werdum would get his chance.

“He's going to want to take it to the ground,” White said of Werdum during the UFC 166 pay-per-view broadcast. “It makes this fight really interesting. Stylistically, we will see who has the better stand-up, and if it goes to the ground, I think for the first time that is a dangerous, dangerous fight for Velasquez.”

Werdum and his head trainer of six years, Rafael Cordeiro, said they expect to be comfortable wherever the fight takes them.

"Fabricio worked hard for a long time," said Cordeiro, who helped develop Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua and a host of other stud Brazilians. "He expected this fight. I think this fight against Cain fits very well for him."

Having twice seen Velasquez demolish dos Santos, who knocked Werdum out early in the first round of a contest in 2008, some fans may find this confidence hollow. Velasquez (13-1) has proved to be a monster in the Octagon. The UFC champion's stamina, pace, power and ability to transition between striking and grappling is in stark contrast to so many heavyweights who came before him, save at least one notable Russian.

For Werdum, it all feels understandably familiar.

When the 6-foot-4 Brazilian entered MMA in 2002, Pride in 2005 and UFC in 2007, he was known primarily as a weak-punching jiu-jitsu convert. Werdum still can't punch as concussively as dos Santos, but he may be a more threatening striker.

"I think today he's a complete fighter," Cordeiro said. "His stand-up is better than 'Cigano' at the moment because Cigano just throws punches. Fabricio today throws punches, knees, kicks. And his jiu-jitsu is amazing. I think we have a good, good chance to take this belt and win this fight.

"If the guys exchange, Fabricio has a long reach. Long arms. Long legs. We can work this, too. If the fight goes to the ground, we feel really comfortable about that. It's really hard to punch Fabricio in the face on the ground. If you try to do this, for sure, he'll submit you. He has amazing skills. We feel really confident about this fight.

"For me, it's a pleasure to work with guys like Fabricio. The guy works hard to put his life in our hands to develop his game."

Werdum watched Saturday as Velasquez "broke Cigano's strategy one more time," and chalked it up to a "perfect" fight by the UFC king, whom some suggest should rank as the sport's best big man ever. Validation of that would come with victories and time -- a defense over Werdum would give Velasquez the record for consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses at three.

"He never got tired," Werdum said of the champion. "He never blew his power. He's very consistent fighting and grappling. He did what he wanted. When Cigano wanted to box, Cain took him down. He was always playing opposite of what Cigano thought.

"I believe that he won't change his strategy and the way he fights. For sure he'll want to stand up with me, but he'll also try to put me on the ground."

Werdum, a world champion jiu-jitsu black belt, isn't "afraid to strike with [Velasquez] because I'm not afraid to go to the ground with him. I trust my guard. I can sweep from half-guard or guard.”

Werdum expects interactions leading up to the fight to be cordial, as they were when he challenged the great Emelianenko. Werdum is mindful of the opportunity in front of him, especially as he holds down three jobs with the UFC. Fighter, first. Ambassador to Latin and South America. And a voice on the Spanish-language UFC broadcasts, which he hopes to continue after his fighting days are done.

"If I can submit Cain, it's going to be awesome," Werdum said. "I'll try. I have this in my mind. I want to break records. I want to submit Fedor, submit Minotauro, then submit Cain Velasquez. That would be awesome for my career."

Should he pull it off, Werdum would take up space in rarefied air. He wouldn't go so far as to entertain the idea that victories over Emelianenko, Nogueira and Velasquez make him the best heavyweight of his generation, though. That's up to fans and media, he said.

For now, Werdum’s focus is on more attainable things. Like shocking the world once more.

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