The lure of a $1 million prize was enough to pique Fabricio Werdum’s interest.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder will make his Professional Fighters League debut when he meets Renan Ferreira in the 2021 PFL 3 headliner on Thursday at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Werdum carries with him a resume befitting of an all-time great, with victories over Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Cain Velasquez and Brandon Vera. He last appeared at UFC on ESPN 14 in July, when he dispatched Alexander Gustafsson with a first-round armbar.
As Werdum prepares to make waves in the PFL for the first time, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Eviction Notice
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 became one of his hallmarks. 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, led to a much-needed recalibration under Kings MMA trainer Rafael Cordeiro and forced him to find employment elsewhere. Strikeforce soon called.
2. The Gladiator Who Defied an Emperor
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 incomparable 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. Big-Game Hunting
Midnight took the form of a Werdum lightning strike for MMA’s Cinderella Man. “Vai Cavalo” stopped 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt with a second-round knee strike and follow-up punches, as he claimed the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown in the UFC 180 headliner on Nov. 15, 2014 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City. The two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist closed out Hunt 2:27 into Round 2. Hunt controlled the first round with his striking and a takedown, and he twice dropped the Brazilian with right hands. However, he never came close to a finish. Werdum landed a crushing knee in the center of the cage midway through Round 2 and pounced on the dazed kiwi with punches and hammerfists. Hunt did not recover. Werdum went on to unify the undisputed championship with a third-round submission of Velasquez at UFC 188 seven months later.
4. Regime Change
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 May 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.
5. Transition Phase
Questions swirled about Werdum’s future when he locked horns with Gustafsson in a UFC on ESPN 14 heavyweight showcase on July 25, 2020 at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The 42-year-old was on the last fight of his contract and trying to rebound from consecutive losses to Alexander Volkov and Alexey Oleynik. Werdum provided some answers when he submitted the Swede with an armbar 2:30 into the first round, proving he had a little something left in the tank. “Vai Cavalo” withstood a few jabs and flurries from Gustafsson, made the decision to shoot for a single-leg takedown and eventually scrambled to the back. Werdum then transitioned to the armbar, methodically broke his counterpart’s defensive grip and flexed his hips to prompt the tapout. Afterward, the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist indicated he did not plan to resign with the UFC, and in November, it was announced that he had agreed to terms with the Professional Fighters League.
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