From the moment Sydney resident and beloved brawler Mark Hunt was pulled from the UFC Fight Night 121 headliner against Polish prospect Marcin Tybura, it seemed like the incident would define the event. The card lost its best fight and local ticket-selling connection after the Ultimate Fighting Championship became aware of an editorial Hunt wrote for Players Voice; published on Sept. 14, it was entitled “If I Die Fighting, That’s Fine.” In his remarkably grim op-ed, Hunt admitted to early signs of chronic trauma encephalopathy, and though he has since tried to distance himself from the piece and say his words were taken out of context, it was more than enough for the promotion to yank the 43-year-old warship from the contest.
Obviously, this is this is the same Hunt who is still actively suing the UFC over Brock Lesnar’s failed UFC 200 drug test, so he also went on a vulgar social media tirade against UFC President Dana White, too.
However, that would not be dubious enough for a random international card devoid of any other hype or notable flair. Instead, the 13-fight bill on Saturday at the Qudos Bank Arena will now be remembered as the event in which, during fight week, Hunt’s replacement, Fabricio Werdum, got into another hotel argument with a UFC fighter half his size and in a truly surreal moment hurled a boomerang at welterweight Colby Covington over his now-infamous comments about Brazilians. Yes, a boomerang, and Covington says he is pressing charges. It is amazing, this sport of ours.
Beyond the antisocial behavior outside the Octagon, UFC Fight Night 121 still sports some sneaky, under-the-radar prospects worth a closer look, a Tim Means appearance and MMA’s favorite dad-slash-Olympic judoka Daniel Kelly in main card action. Beware of sudden boomerangs as we get into the odds and analysis:
HeavyweightFabricio Werdum (22-7-1) vs. Marcin Tybura (16-2)
ODDS: Werdum (-395), Tybura (+295)
ANALYSIS: We cannot entirely overlook how nonsensical and embarrassing it is for 40-year-old Werdum, one of the five best heavyweights to ever step in the cage, to keep getting in fight week altercations with UFC roster fighters half his size. As a result of his “Boomerangs for Brazil” campaign against the mouthy Colby Covington, he is facing simple assault charges and may even have to fly back to the continent if he wants to contest them. Regardless of whatever foolishness awaits Werdum after the fight, this main event slot and matchup still represent a rapid change in fortune for the former UFC heavyweight champion.
After the events of UFC 213 in July, Werdum was 1-2 in the two years prior and had just dropped a majority decision in his rubber match with rival Alistair Overeem. Though Werdum dropped Overeem and hurt him badly late, he was far too tentative and lethargic in the opening 10 minutes, and it appeared after a 15-year pro fighting career “Vai Cavalo” was trotting into the twilight. He returned just three months later, set to face brutal hitter Derrick Lewis at UFC 216 six weeks ago -- until pain from bulging discs in Lewis’ back forced him out of the contest on fight day. Eager to preserve something, the UFC pulled undercard combatant Walt Harris from his prelim bout with Mark Godbeer, plopped him on the main card and watched Werdum make a reported $500,000 to armbar “The Big Ticket” in 65 seconds. Now, as a result of the Mark Hunt predicament, he returns to the Octagon just 42 days later, the shortest turnaround of his lengthy career.
Tybura, 32, has never been seen as a top-flight prospect but the Pole has showed incremental improvements throughout his six-year career. As a result, he has won three in a row in the UFC since losing his April 2016 promotional debut to Timothy Johnson and is a legitimate top-15 heavyweight. However, the Hunt fight was a better option, not because “The Super Samoan” lives in Sydney but because it was a more honest, intriguing test of both fighters’ skills at this point. Hunt is 43, slowing down and admitting to signs of CTE. Could Tybura and his much-improved striking negotiate the dangerous waters standing, get to the clinch and actually hold down Hunt?
Against even an aging and slowing Werdum, Tybura will be hard-pressed to find any time or place for the best part of his arsenal: his top position game. Considering his gi, no gi and MMA submission achievements, I think Werdum is the best heavyweight grappler of all-time and by a good margin. Over the last six years of working with Rafael Cordeiro, he has become a shockingly effective and powerful muay Thai striker, and he often likes to flaunt it. The Harris fight was a reminder that despite his actions outside the cage, Werdum is no dummy and knows how to exploit opponents over which he has major advantages. Even worse, Tybura likes to work extensively from the clinch, where nearly all of his takedowns originate. Of course, that is also where Werdum can work an extensive array of throws, trips and reaps, not to mention those massive knees.
In order to make the best and a breakthrough win out of a bad situation, Tybura is going to have to rely on a big counter shot to incapacitate the aged Brazilian. Though the S4 Fight Club product may not be a natural power puncher, he's still a 6-foot-3, 250-pound man and he's shown much improved dexterity and power with his kicking attack in recent bouts. Again, how does he use simple combinations and feints to set up a massive head kick as simply as he did against Viktor Pesta, if not for Werdum's overconfidence or laziness? It's unlikely, especially as the Brazilian is the better range striker anyhow and should be able to control the distance with his booming low kicks.
Though he managed to act like a fool beforehand, it was a smart play by Werdum to jump on this fight, even if it is likely to be one of the least watched UFC cards of the year. He is staying active in a largely inactive division, and he is likely to pull down his second win bonus in six weeks against a quality fighter tailor-made for him to exploit, even if he is starting to lose horsepower at 40 years old. If Werdum works a leisurely striking game, this one could slow to a crawl and result in an obvious 25-minute decision for him, but if he forces the ground game, a submission is possible in the first two rounds.
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