Fedor Emelianenko photo: Tyrone Z. McCants/Sherdog.com
Showtime is good for lots of things, and until recently terrible Adam Sandler movies topped that list. Thankfully, the network has jumped on the MMA bandwagon and will broadcast this Saturday’s Strikeforce/M-1 Global “Fedor vs. Werdum” fight-fest from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
Anytime Fedor Emelianenko enters the cage, it’s must-see TV. When it comes against a top-10 opponent like Fabricio Werdum, the pot only gets sweeter. Throw in women’s MMA juggernaut Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos defending her featherweight crown and comeback connoisseur Scott Smith in a rematch of his impossible win over Cung Le, and you’re a real Silly Sailor if you won’t pony up for a Showtime package.
In preparation for a night of serious fisticuffs, you know what you need to do.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum
Werdum has been a top 10-caliber heavyweight for nearly five years, and yet he enters this fight with Emelienenko considered a hopeless underdog by everyone from casual fans to hardened bookies. It is perhaps the greatest testament to Emelianenko’s seven-year reign as the sport’s best heavyweight that even quality opponents register as little more than fodder for the dead-eyed Russian’s peerless craft.
Expectation and reality rarely coalesce in the theatre of the improbable that is MMA, but Werdum will be faced with a nightmarish style clash come Saturday night. The one and only way he can realistically win this fight is by getting Emelianenko horizontal and working his world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Therein lies the rub. Werdum relies on the clinch to score takedowns, and that is the last place he wants to be with “The Last Emperor.”
While far too much is made of Emelianenko’s combat sambo career, he shows incredible balance and technique in the clinch when he wants to. Of course there are many notable instances where Emelianenko has shown disinterested takedown defense, but this only happens against opponents who don’t have the submission defense to do anything with top control on him. Given the obvious threat Werdum poses on the mat, there is every reason to believe freebie takedowns will be in short supply.
The other issue facing Werdum in pursuing a takedown is that by doing so he puts himself right in Emelianenko’s wheelhouse. Recent history shows that Emelianenko can lay out anything on two feet, and Werdum’s chin won’t hold up if he gets caught trying to wade in on him. Making matters worse for Werdum is the fact that he doesn’t have the jab to keep his Russian quarry at bay -- a worrying problem for him since few fighters have Emelianenko’s knack for stepping inside and landing accurately with heavy leather.
In his bout with Antonio Silva, Werdum’s habit of dropping his hands in exchanges and telegraphing leg kicks remained uncorrected, and that won’t make it past Emelianenko’s watchful eyes. That is really what separates these two and generally separates Emelianenko from other fighters: the ability to quickly perceive weaknesses and capitalize on them. Such a massive difference in fight IQ leaves Werdum hoping to make a paint-by-numbers approach work against an opponent who will see it coming from the opening bell.
Given Emelianenko’s recent flair for the violently dramatic, it’s a safe bet to assume Werdum will look every bit the worthy adversary Strikeforce is billing himself as. That optical illusion can only last so long, and once Emelianenko finds his rhythm, he will shatter any hope Werdum had of winning. The dream-smasher comes in the form of yet another stiff-starch overhand right knockout.