Fabricio Werdum can strengthen his position as the world’s top heavyweight by successfully defending the Ultimate Fighting Championship title for the first time.
In his first appearance since dethroning Cain Velasquez in June, Werdum will put his championship on the line against Stipe Miocic in the UFC 198 main event on Saturday at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil. Meanwhile, the co-headliner shines the spotlight on two of the sport’s premier middleweights, as Ronaldo Souza takes on Vitor Belfort at 185 pounds. The rest of the main card features the long-awaited promotional debut of reigning Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Cristiane Justino opposite Leslie Smith and a pivotal light heavyweight clash pairing “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Corey Anderson with former champion Mauricio Rua.
Let us take a look at each UFC 198 “Werdum vs. Miocic” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Heavyweight ChampionshipFabricio Werdum (20-5-1) vs Stipe Miocic (14-2)
THE MATCHUP: The heavyweight belt is on the line in the UFC 198 main event, and it will be the first time since December 2012 that Cain Velasquez was not involved in its defense. Instead, Werdum will attempt to guard the championship for the first time since wrenching it from Velasquez’s grasp at UFC 188. Opposite the champion is Miocic, a wrestle-boxer not wholly dissimilar to Velasquez but with a few unique tricks up the sleeves of his fire suit.
They say that offense wins fights and defense wins championships. In Werdum’s mind, however, offense is the best defense a man could ask for. When Werdum fought Velasquez in June, he did not evade the swarming champion’s first rush so much as he met it head on, teeth clenched and both fists swinging. This is not the kind of striking match in which Werdum excels -- he is at his best sticking and moving in open space -- but his willingness to fight that fight rather than giving Velasquez the momentum he needed speaks volumes about his flexibility and tenacity. Once Velasquez slowed, or was forced to slow, Werdum displayed the kind of striking that has been his most marked improvement in recent years. He moved laterally, stabbed Velasquez over and over with a sharp jab and hid a salvo of right hands and powerful kicks behind it.
Miocic can pressure, but it is not in his nature to do so for five minutes straight, round after round, like Velasquez. Instead, he is more of a boxer-puncher, versatile and dexterous enough to box at range but hard-hitting and mean enough to slug it out in the pocket. This dual nature sometimes turns into a bit of an internal conflict for Miocic. At times he jabs, feints and circles, cleverly mixing in power punches while making defense and cage location a priority. At other times, Miocic stands his ground and waits to unload with thunderous counters, eschewing his jab in favor of heavier ordnance.
Werdum’s submission grappling is of course unparalleled in the heavyweight division. Like some massive gunboat, Werdum keeps tremendous weight and pressure on his opponent while still managing to float on top of him. Whether or not he will be able to play top position, however, is a question worthy of debate. Werdum has some craft, but in terms of technique, Miocic is the superior wrestler. Interestingly, he presents a unique challenge on that front for Werdum. Unlike Velasquez, whose grinding upper-body wrestling Werdum thwarted with a Thai clinch, Miocic prefers low leg attacks. Whether a snatch single or a powerful reactive double, Miocic likes to time his takedowns as the opponent lunges forward -- and Werdum does a fair bit of lunging. Whether Miocic wants to play in the guard of Werdum is yet another intriguing question going into this stellar matchup.
THE ODDS: Werdum (-151), Miocic (+131)
THE PICK: If his last two fights are anything to go by, Miocic may have ironed out the kinks in his two-minded boxing game. He has regressed before, however, so the possibility that one back-and-forth round with Werdum will turn the boxer into a slugger remains. Miocic could supplement his striking with wrestling, but Werdum has submitted three all-time great heavyweights who were willing to explore his ground game: Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Velasquez. In the end, Werdum’s sheer grit and killer instinct are his strongest advantages. The matchup is a dangerous one, but even a cool-headed Miocic will give Werdum space to work, and the champion has more elite experience under his belt than just about any other heavyweight active today. Built upon that foundation is an ever-evolving style that has seen Werdum put together a superb six-fight winning streak. Expect that number to increase by one before the championship rounds are up. The pick is Werdum by fourth-round submission.
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