It didn’t start out that way, of course, as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) interim heavyweight titleholder Fabricio Werdum was once, at best, a UFC washout. The Brazilian — coming off a bookie-busting knockout loss to Junior dos Santos in late 2008, was shipped off to San Jose, California, where combat sports careers were sent to die.
Or to be resurrected.
The Strikeforce promotion, under the leadership of mixed martial arts (MMA) darling Scott Coker, provided shelter for whatever talent couldn’t make hay while the sun shined in UFC. That included under-performing “names” of yesteryear, like Dan Henderson and Andrei Arlovski, whose price tags caused sticker shock at the ZUFFA bargaining table.
That said, the ladder back to the top of the fight world was a relatively short one.
In the hurt business, nothing warrants a second look more than the ability to earn money for the competition. Not surprisingly, both “Hendo” and “The Pitbull” are back in the good graces of UFC, and both former champions are ranked within their respective divisions.
That brings us back to Werdum.
“Vai Cavalo” wasted little time getting back to his winning ways, firing off three straight wins inside the “Golden State” Hexagon. After toying with Mike Kyle, Werdum won an uninspired slap fight against friend and former EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio Silva.
In hindsight, it’s understandable if fight fans were laughing when the crowned prince of Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) was announced as cannon fodder for Fedor Emelianenko. After all, the former PRIDE heavyweight kingpin hadn’t lost a contest in over a decade, an astonishing 28-fight unbeaten streak.
Even his lone loss — a questionable doctor stoppage at the turn of the century — was debatable.
But Werdum quickly defeated the Combat Sambo champion by way of angry tap in June of 2010 and as expected, was showered with dismissive praise. Fedor was careless, critics would cry, and the underdog skated from the HP Pavilion with what amounted to the luckiest “W” in the history of MMA — or so we thought.
Then he kept winning.
Well, there was that little hiccup against an old foe. Despite out-striking and out-grappling Alistair Overeem in the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix (the cold, hard numbers right here), the butt-scooting Werdum dropped a lazy decision to the hulking Dutchman.
“Vai Cavalo” was understandably blasé about his final Strikeforce performance, citing a satisfactory submission win over “The Reem” back in 2006.
Besides, this was a time for celebration, as the former TUF coach was already en route to the sport’s hallowed ground.
What followed was an unlikely five-fight winning streak that started with a three-round shellacking of the brick-fisted Roy Nelson, and ended with a stunning technical knockout win over the granite-chinned Mark Hunt. One that would send Werdum into a title unification bout opposite Cain Velasquez.
Where? The UFC 188 pay-per-view (PPV) main event in Mexico. When? Sat., June 13, 2015, somewhere at or around the stroke of midnight.
It’s not outrageous to suggest that Velasquez is the finest heavyweight in the game today, and the baddest 265-pound bruiser since Junior dos Santos held that title in 2011. “Cigano” would eventually fall to his American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) nemesis in a pair of lopsided title fights.
Cain’s only other opponent during the last five years – due in part to excessive injury layoffs — was the increasingly-brittle Antonio Silva.
Nevertheless, Velasquez is still king of the heavyweight castle because he’s mastered the very essence of MMA. Not only is he a ferocious striker, his wrestling is top shelf and he can maintain a murderous pace for 25 straight minutes, perhaps more if the commission allowed it.
Simply put, he’s the man.
And to be the man, you gotta beat the man. If Werdum can depose Velasquez at this weekend’s UFC 188 extravaganza — and especially if he manages to finish him — it will be difficult to deny that he is the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time.
Then I ask you … if victory is attained this weekend in Mexico City, what task remains unfulfilled?
I believe the line up speaks for itself:
Mark Hunt, K-1 World Grand Prix Champion: Defeated by knockout
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion: Defeated by submission
Roy Nelson, former IFL Heavyweight Champion: Defeated by unanimous decision
Fedor Emelianenko, former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion: Defeated by submission
Alistair Overeem, former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion: Defeated by submission
Antonio Silva, former EliteXC Heavyweight Champion: Defeated by unanimous decision
Only one name missing from that prestigious index.
Werdum doesn’t have a win over Dos Santos, but he doesn’t need one at this time because “Cigano” is no longer the best fighter in his division. That label belongs to the house of Velasquez, though I’m sure vengeance against “JDS” would be a welcome feather in his cap.
Is calling “Vai Cavalo” the “best ever” still a tough pill to swallow?
I think it’s important to recognize that GOAT status is not like one of those old stickers we used to plaster all over our Trapper Keepers (you know the ones with the industrial-strength adhesive, cocooned in a plastic womb and birthed by those red surrogates at the local grocer).
No, this is one distinction that can bend and mold to fit the fighter who summons it. Becoming the GOAT on Saturday night does not infer that said distinction will still be applicable in six months, or a year, or however long it takes Velasquez to smoke Werdum in a guaranteed rematch.
And if the Brazilian goes up two-zip on Cain?
Then another rising heavyweight — or established veteran — will be there to try to take his place.
Outside of Velasquez, Emelianenko was, and to many fans still is, the best combatant to ever step foot inside the arena of pain. In less than two days, when the lights go down in the (Mexican) city, there could be another name added to that argument.
Or depending on the will of the reigning champion, eliminated from it completely.
MMAmania.com – All Posts