Fabricio Werdum seeks a third consecutive victory at UFC on Fuel TV 10. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
On July 1, 2006, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira handed Fabricio Werdum his second professional defeat in the Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix. Some seven years later, “Vai Cavalo” finally has a chance to exact some revenge.
Werdum will challenge Nogueira in the UFC on Fuel TV 10 headliner this Saturday at the Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Brazil, the two Brazilian heavyweights having completed their responsibilities as opposing coaches on Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.”
A two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist, Werdum finds himself on the cusp of title contention in the heavyweight division. The 35-year-old has rattled off five wins in his last six outings -- a run of sustained success that includes his historic upset of Russian icon Fedor Emelianenko and victories over Antonio Silva and Roy Nelson. Nogueira, meanwhile, remains one of the most beloved figures in the sport. The former Pride champion returned from a horrific arm injury in October to submit Dave Herman at UFC 153.
The UFC on Fuel TV 10 “Werdum vs. Nogueira” lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: Nogueira and Werdum are undoubtedly fine headliners for a Brazilian audience, but do you think this matchup will entice North American viewers to tune in to Fuel TV?
Knapp: As we know, the MMA television audience can be a finicky, hard-to-please bunch, but in light of Nogueira’s global popularity, I expect this event to do just fine in terms of ratings. Plus, there is plenty at stake in the heavyweight division, especially for Werdum. He could be a win or two shy of challenging for the title. Those factors should do enough to drive viewership to the UFC’s liking.
Whitman: Regarding the main event, how do you think this rematch will go? When these men first met, Werdum was essentially a straight jiu-jitsu fighter and the far less experienced competitor. In the six years that followed, “Vai Cavalo” has made great strides in his standup technique. Will this development be the fight’s deciding factor?
Knapp: I think this is clearly an uphill battle for Nogueira, who has lost a lot of the durability that made him so revered. As you pointed out, Werdum’s standup has improved immensely since the last time the two Brazilians fought. I do believe this will be the deciding factor in this rematch.
Whitman: On the flip side, Nogueira has put a ton of miles on his body over nearly 14 years of professional fighting, during which he felt the wrath of men like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Filipovic, Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir. From where you are sitting, how close do you reckon “Minotauro” is from retirement?
Knapp: No one, outside of Nogueira himself, knows the answer to that question. This could be his last fight, or he could have 10 more. Considering the wonderful career he has enjoyed, one would hope he would not overstay his welcome in a sport that has proven quite unforgiving to those who have not walked away when the time was right. Still, he has won two of his last three fights and was on the verge of winning the other before aggression got the best of him against Frank Mir. Your guess is as good as mine.
Whitman: Once a straight killer, Thiago Silva has simply not looked right in his last several fights. In my opinion, it really seems like the back problems are still plaguing him, significantly hindering his movement in the cage. I hope Silva surprises me and proves me wrong, but I think his best days are behind him. Do you agree?
Knapp: Back injuries are no joke. I speak from personal experience on this one. Because of two no-contests, Silva has not posted an official victory in nearly four years. His bout with Rafael Cavalcante should tell us a lot about his future, but considering his injury history and the fact that he has received post-fight penalties in two of his last three appearances, I am not particularly hopeful about his returning to a place of prominence in the UFC.
Whitman: The fact that Silva is facing perennial violence-maker Cavalcante only makes me more confident in my position, though I am still on the fence about “Feijao’s” future as a UFC light heavyweight, especially given his positive steroid test following his final Strikeforce appearance against Mike Kyle. How do you see Cavalcante’s UFC run panning out?
Knapp: Cavalcante has the talent and pedigree to become a real factor in the Octagon, provided he can stay healthy, shore up his gas tank and steer clear of trouble. Remember, his only loss in the last four years was to Dan Henderson.
Whitman: Jason High is a serious veteran talent who seems to be flying under the radar ahead of his clash with Erick Silva. What are the odds that “The Kansas City Bandit” can throw more water on the flame of the Brazilian prospect and hand him his second straight loss?
Knapp: It all depends on matchups for High, and this looks like a bad one. I would be far more hopeful for him had Silva not been exposed by Jon Fitch in his last outing. That experience likely opened the young Brazilian’s eyes and forced him to close the holes a fighter like High would seek to seize upon. High will need to push the pace and keep Silva grounded and contained in order to give himself a shot. Otherwise, I see Silva finishing it with punches in the first or second round.
Whitman: Rafael Assuncao has not lost since dropping to bantamweight, where he is currently ranked seventh by Sherdog.com after besting Mike Easton in December. Is a title shot in Assuncao’s future if he can get by Vaughan Lee?
Knapp: I doubt it, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. I like Assuncao a lot, but his encounters with Urijah Faber and Erik Koch give me pause, even though they were contested at 145 pounds. I would not favor him against any of the six fighters currently ranked ahead of him: Renan Barao, Faber, Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland, Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen. I see him more in the seven-to-10 mold as a bantamweight. He can scratch out a good living there, even if he never challenges for the gold.