Fabricio Werdum was supposed to lose. He was a tune-up for Fedor Emelianenko, who at the time was considered the best heavyweight in the world.
On June 26, 2010, the crowd chanted “Fedor” as he walked to the cage at San Jose’s HP Pavilion. This fighter, a man who had never set foot inside the UFC, was arguably the most popular man in the sport. The night was all about “The Last Emperor” and the beating he was about to put on Werdum, then a UFC washout.
Instead, it would turn out to be the beginning of the end for the great Emelianenko and a new beginning for Werdum.
Werdum stunned the MMA world with a wicked first-round submission of Emelianenko, tapping him out with a triangle choke in 69 seconds. In that moment, Werdum put himself into history as the first man to submit Emelianenko.
Now, Werdum finds himself in a the same situation; he’s an underdog facing UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight championship next year. The UFC is already in hype-mode for the fight, but Werdum as No. 1 contender is more of a reflection of a lack of depth in the heavyweight division, than a meteoric rise by the Brazilian.
The best heavyweight not named Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, won’t fight his best friend, so he’s moving down to light heavyweight. That leaves Werdum, Josh Barnett and Travis Browne as contenders.
It’s safe to call Werdum (17-5) a submission specialist, but only when other fighters fight his fights. He followed up his epic victory over Emelianenko with a unanimous decision loss to Alistair Overeem, of all people. Werdum spent most of the fight looking like Shinya Aoki, flat on his back trying to lure Overeem into his trap.
It never worked.
Overeem, who has a wicked ground game, refused to go to the ground with him just kicked and punched him throughout the fight.
Velasquez would certainly take the fight to the ground if necessary, and would be able to do far more damage than Overeem would have.
After the loss to Overeem, Werdum bounced back with impressive ictories over Roy Nelson, Mike Russow and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Now Werdum will get his title shot. Is he ready?
No one knows. He wasn’t supposed to be ready against Emelianenko and look how that turned out. The upset derailed Strikeforce’s plans. Had Emelianenko won, Strikeforce planned to launch a Pay-Per-View, headlined by Emelianenko vs. then-Strikeforce champion Overeem.
Werdum spoiled those plans. He will get a chance to make history again against Velasquez.