Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Sherdog’s Upset of the Year
By Jason Probst
It did not look like the hotel room of a guy preparing to face the “Baddest Man on the Planet,” one who had ruled the heavyweight division for seven years.
But in the days and hours leading into his showdown with Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce on June 26 in San Jose, Calif., Fabricio Werdum hardly played the part of a nerves-frayed underdog as he killed off the final hours. Playing a soccer game on his beloved Xbox -- a pastime at which Werdum is quite good, according to his manager, Richard Wilner -- the Brazilian took on all comers.
“Fabricio had a huge entourage of lifetime friends who came in on their own dime, from Spain and Brazil, and his sister came in from London,” said Wilner. “He doesn’t go into isolation before a fight. I almost go into isolation as a manager. In Fabricio’s room, three mattresses were on the floor to give more seating. He’d be playing soccer games and beating everyone. He loves having family and friends around. It’s just who he is as a person.”
It was not supposed to happen this way -- the most impressive win streak in MMA history being snuffed out in 69 seconds. That is precisely why Werdum’s submission of Emelianenko -- Sherdog’s “Upset of the Year” for 2010 -- sent shockwaves across the world, as the longtime heavyweight king, at last, looked human.
“Mentally, I was in a great place for the fight,” said Werdum, who went off as a 10-1 underdog at fight time. “I trained a lot. I did a good job getting ready in the gym. In the future, if we have a rematch, I think I’ll do the same thing to him that I did the first time.”
Going into his showdown with the Russian, Werdum was perceived as cannon fodder being served up amidst much larger battles taking place.
With ongoing wrangling between Strikeforce, Fedor’s M-1 handlers and the occasional media feeding frenzy hinting at a possible UFC signing of the game’s biggest prize, it was almost an afterthought that Werdum would politely and dutifully play his role in serving up another highlight-reel win for “The Last Emperor.”
Somebody forgot to tell Werdum.
On the heels of a businesslike submission of Mike Kyle, the two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion felt better than he had in years, thanks to coming in at an exceptionally light 228 pounds. Often weighing in the 240 range or higher, Werdum’s quickness was noticeably improved coming into the Kyle bout, and he scaled 238 for the Fedor bout.
“We were 120 percent convinced we were going to win the fight, because the mental and physical preparation came [together] perfectly,” Wilner said. “Fabricio was already convinced he won the fight as camp started. The victory in and of itself was not a surprise, but, to be perfectly honest, I think everyone but Fabricio was surprised it was so fast. Nutrition was a big part of it. Unlike years past where he weighed in [heavier], he’s more fluid, faster and more flexible when he’s lighter. It’s a better weight for him.”
In the opening moments of the bout, the script seemingly played out as almost everyone expected. Style-wise, Werdum seemed a perfectly reasonable facsimile of Emelianenko rival Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder whose submission prowess and toughness only subjected him to extended beatings as the Russian simply overpowered him.
Emelianenko opened with his trademark stalking style, inching forward, with Werdum yielding slightly, wary of the inevitable storm of blows. At 25 seconds in, Emelianenko exploded, unleashing a six-punch combination as Werdum missed his own return combination and fell to the ground.
Emelianenko pounced, and, then, as suddenly as it began, the momentum shifted wildly in Werdum’s direction as he gripped Russian’s right arm, signaling the beginning of the end. In the game of MMA, even the great ones like Emelianenko will find themselves outmatched in the endless minutia of positions, angles and tactics; it is up to the other guy to exploit it, and Werdum did just that.
“The triangle is a position I’ve trained for a long time. I have long legs, and it’s a technique I can use,” Werdum said. “People always try to exchange with Fedor, so for this fight, I used it as a setup to pull the fight to the ground. I felt his right hand come and then sat. It didn’t hit me. Then I could drop and pull him into my game.”
Moments later, after sinking the triangle, Werdum coaxed what will go down as the most memorable tapout in the sport’s history, signaling an end to a phenomenal streak. What ensued signified much more than the first definitive defeat of Emelianenko’s career -- a controversial cut stoppage in 2000 was his first, since avenged over Tsuyoshi Kosaka. Werdum’s triangle submission resonated on multiple levels, its aftereffects touching virtually everyone involved.
Werdum’s career, seemingly lost in the roster of Strikeforce contenders, suddenly catapulted. Emelianenko’s tortuous dance with Strikeforce and, occasionally, the UFC, took a wildly different turn, as his M-1 representatives suddenly found themselves with a significantly diminished negotiating hand, no
longer in possession of the game’s biggest free-agent prize.
Strikeforce, freed from the endless process of trying to secure Emelianenko’s services in long-term fashion, switched away from that headache-inducing pursuit to focus on other weight classes and developing talent. Whatever the UFC offered Fedor during the last round of failed negotiations is something only the parties intimately involved know, but whatever it was, any future number will be nowhere close to it.
Perhaps most importantly, Werdum’s win signaled a passing of the torch, of sorts, at least in the psychic sense -- long limited to the hardcore fans on account of his mercurial promotional affiliations and preference for overseas bookings, Emelianenko nonetheless remained the unquestioned best in the heavyweight division. His defeat signified, at least, some room for other names in the conversation.
Contacted through representatives, Fedor offered a simple take on the bout.
“I made a mistake. I rushed to try and end the fight early, and Fabricio took advantage,” he said. “I am human like everyone else. I hope to fight Fabricio again, and, if it is God’s will, I will win the next fight.”
While other upset wins in 2010 were noteworthy feats, namely 8-1 long shot Frankie Edgar’s decision over B.J. Penn in their April bout -- Edgar repeated the trick as a mere 3-1 underdog in the August rematch -- Werdum’s victory surpasses that one clearly for several reasons.
First, it was a definitive triumph, unlike the decision some felt should have gone to Penn in the United Arab Emirates. Second, while Penn is clearly the greatest lightweight in the history of the sport, his consistency and commitment have been much-chronicled question marks. Emelianenko’s remain the gold standard. That is why Werdum’s win was “Upset of the Year” for 2010 and, perhaps, the decade.
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