It would be understandable if Fabricio Werdum shows a sense of urgency at this stage of his career.
Now 40 years of age and 15 years deep into his exceptional run as a professional mixed martial artist, the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist and former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder will face Derrick Lewis in a featured UFC 216 showdown this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Werdum needs a victory to stay in the discussion as a possible No. 1 contender in the division he once ruled. The Kings MMA export has lost twice in three appearances and last competed at UFC 213 on July 8, when he wound up on the wrong side of a majority decision against longtime rival Alistair Overeem. Notable wins over Travis Browne (twice), 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt, former EliteXC champion Antonio Silva and onetime International Fight League titleholder Roy Nelson dot his outstanding resume.
Ahead of Werdum’s three-round battle with Lewis, here are five moments that have come to define him:
1. An Unwitting Steppingstone
Junior dos Santos was a virtual unknown when he made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut opposite Werdum at UFC 90 on Oct. 25, 2008 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. He needed a little more than a minute to introduce himself to the 15,359 fans in attendance. Dos Santos circled on the outside, probed with punches to the body and head, threw in a leg kick and freed himself from an attempted clinch, all with the calculated precision that has become a hallmark. He then countered a looping overhand from Werdum with a devastating right uppercut to the face, the impact wobbling the ears of the decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. A bloodied “Vai Cavalo” hit the deck on all fours in a semi-conscious state, as Dos Santos prompted the stoppage with a volley of kneeling power punches 1:21 into the first round. It was the first time Werdum had been finished as a professional and led to a much-needed recalibration under Kings MMA trainer Rafael Cordeiro.
2. Cracked Aura
When 11,757 fans poured into the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California, on June 26, 2010, few -- if any -- realized they were about to witness history. Werdum met the great Fedor Emelianenko as part of a Strikeforce-M-1 Global collaboration and in the span of 69 seconds turned the MMA world inside out. “Vai Cavalo” retreated to his back when faced with a volley of Emelianenko power punches and invited the Russian into his guard. The Russian obliged and soon found himself entangled in a triangle choke. For several tense moments, Werdum transitioned between the triangle and armbar before consolidating the two into a shocking finish. Emelianenko tapped 69 seconds into Round 1, the former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder suffering the first undisputed defeat of his remarkable career.
3. Another Legend Bites the Dust
Werdum put himself in some select company on June 8, 2013, when he became just the second man -- Frank Mir was the first -- to submit Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. “Vai Cavalo” forced a verbal tapout from Nogueira with a second-round armbar in the UFC on Fuel TV 10 headliner at Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Brazil. “Minotauro” gave up the fight 2:41 into Round 2. Werdum attacked with leg kicks, knees and a takedown in a competitive first frame but looked awkward when his counterpart pressed him with punches and forced him backwards. In the second round, Nogueira made a critical error in judgment, as he sat down on a guillotine choke and wound up beneath Werdum. It was not an advantageous position. Werdum moved to his back during an attempted sweep and went belly down with the fight-ending armbar. “He is an idol for all Brazilians,” said Werdum, who lost a decision to Nogueira under the Pride banner in 2006. “It was my second fight with him, and it was a tough fight. I was able to get onto his back and get the armbar, and then I was able to make him submit. That made me very happy.”
4. The Rise
Cementing his place among the all-time greats, Werdum submitted Cain Velasquez with a third-round guillotine choke and captured the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown in the UFC 188 headliner on June 13, 2015 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City. Velasquez conceded defeat 2:13 into round 3 and for the first time in his career appeared to run out of gas. He brought the fight to the Brazilian in the first round, where he attacked with punches in the clinch, leg kicks and a pair of takedowns. Werdum did not flinch, and he turned the tide in Round 2. There, he shredded Velasquez with punching combinations, a stinging jab and knees from the clinch. Accuracy and output were keys. Afterward, the American Kickboxing Academy ace returned to his corner with cuts above both eyes, his breathing labored. A little less than midway through the third round, Werdum snatched the guillotine on an attempted takedown, fell to his back and finished it.
5. The Fall
Stipe Miocic silenced a throng with one swing of his hammer, as he knocked out Werdum to become the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder in the UFC 198 main event on M1y 14, 2016 at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil. An unconscious Werdum hit the canvas 2:47 into Round 1, an eerie hush passing over the 40,000-plus fans in attendance. The two men traded punches and kicks before Werdum made his move -- and his mistake. The Kings MMA rep charged forward and walked into a counter right hook from the backpedaling Miocic. His lights were out before he landed on the mat, his reign atop the heavyweight division and six-fight winning streak at an end. It marked Werdum’s first defeat in nearly five years.