There was a time, and it was not all that long ago, that Fabricio Werdum was a one-dimensional fighter. Long considered one of the world’s best jiu-jitsu players, he was as dangerous on the ground as anyone in the world. But he was a subpar striker. He rarely threatened on the feet. He was so one-dimensional that the UFC elected to cut him after a 2008 knockout loss to Junior dos Santos.
The times, they have changed.
The 2014 version of Werdum is a completely different fighter, and nowhere was this more evident than in his dominating win over Travis Browne at UFC on Fox 11.
Browne was considered the better striker going into the fight. For Werdum to win, he needed to get the fight to the ground and work his submission game. If Browne kept the fight on the feet, the chances were great that he’d knock Werdum out cold.
Except none of this happened. The opposite happened, in fact. From the opening bell until the closing bell 25 minutes later, Werdum absolutely owned Browne in every facet of the fight. He outstruck him handily, often mixing repeated jabs followed by straight right hands. In one exchange, Werdum landed a leg kick, left punch, right punch and then a head kick. He landed 100 more significant strikes than Browne.
He left him bloody and battered and exhausted.
Yes, Browne gassed early. By the third round, he barely had the energy to hold his arms up and defend himself. But with the way Werdum performed, it is easy to imagine Browne having a difficult time even with a full tank of gas.
This was a beating, pure and simple. It was a display by a fighter who used to be a grappler but is now a complete mixed martial artist. Werdum, under the tutelage of coach Rafael Cordeiro, has advanced light-years beyond the guy who was cut from the UFC in 2008. In fact, he is vastly improved over his more recent Strikeforce bouts.
Who wins this heavyweight bout?
And so Werdum will move on to face heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. The fight will likely take place in Mexico, maybe in November. Few will give him much of a chance against Velasquez, a cardiovascular machine who goes and goes and never stops assaulting his opponents.
But overlooking Werdum, even against Velasquez, would be a mistake. Werdum is dangerous on the ground, and he is dangerous on the feet. He is a large and powerful man who has developed a striking game that did not exist three years ago.
And as we have seen with heavyweights, it only takes one punch to get the job done. Werdum will go into the Velasquez bout as the underdog, but few will discount him the way they did against Browne. And if Werdum somehow pulls off the upset and wrests the heavyweight belt away from Velasquez’s clutches, well, we can at least say we weren't all that surprised.