Rivalries: Fabricio Werdum

By Brian Knapp Sep 28, 2021

Twilight has begun to creep in on Fabricio Werdum, one of the most accomplished heavyweights in mixed martial arts history.

The 44-year-old former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder and two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist sports a 24-9-1 record as he navigates the latter stages of his incredible career. Werdum has delivered 18 of his 24 victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, having victimized a number of high-profile opponents, from Alexander Gustafsson, Mark Hunt and Brandon Vera to Walt Harris, Aleksander Emelianenko and Gabriel Gonzaga (twice). He last competed under the Professional Fighters League banner on May 6, as he succumbed to first-round punches from Renan Ferreira. The result was later overturned when it was determined that Ferreira had tapped to triangle choke away from the referee’s line of sight prior to securing the stoppage.

As the MMA world awaits word on Werdum’s next move, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped steer his remarkable journey through the sport:

Junior dos Santos

Dos Santos was a virtual unknown when he made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut opposite Werdum in a UFC 90 heavyweight showcase 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 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 and led to a much-needed recalibration under Kings MMA trainer Rafael Cordeiro.

Fedor Emelianenko

When 11,757 fans flowed 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 collaboration between Strikeforce and M-1 Global, and in the span of 69 seconds, he turned the MMA world inside out. “Vai Cavalo” retreated to his back when confronted by a burst of Emelianenko power punches and invited the Russian into his guard. The former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder obliged and soon found himself entangled in a triangle choke. For several tense moments, Werdum transitioned between the choke and armbar before consolidating the two into a shocking finish. Emelianenko tapped 69 seconds into Round 1, “The Last Emperor” suffering the first undisputed defeat of his remarkable career.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Werdum put himself in some select company on June 8, 2013, when he became just the second man—he joined Frank Mir—to submit the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder. “Vai Cavalo” forced a verbal tapout from Nogueira with a deftly executed armbar in the second round of their UFC on Fuel TV 10 headliner at Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Brazil. “Minotauro” raised the white flag 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, went belly down with the fight-ending armbar and avenged his July 2006 decision defeat to the Brazilian icon.

Cain Velasquez

Cementing himself among the all-time greats, Werdum submitted the American Kickboxing Academy ace with a third-round guillotine choke and captured the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown in the UFC 188 main event on June 13, 2015 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, Velasquez 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 there. It remains the only time Velasquez has ever been submitted.

Stipe Miocic

The Strong Style Fight Team centerpiece hushed 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 headliner on May 14, 2016 at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil. An unconscious Werdum hit the canvas 2:47 into Round 1, an eerie silence passing over the 40,000-plus fans in attendance. The two men traded punches and kicks before Werdum made his move—and his fatal mistake. The Kings MMA rep charged forward and walked into a counter right hook from the backpedaling Miocic. His lights were out before he kissed the canvas, his 335-day reign atop the heavyweight division at an end. It marked Werdum’s first defeat in nearly five years.

Alistair Overeem

The former Strikeforce, Dream and K-1 World Grand Prix champion claimed a contentious majority decision over Werdum, as the two longtime rivals completed their trilogy in the UFC 213 co-main event on July 8, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 28-28, as Overeem took a 2-1 advantage in his head-to-head series with the two-time ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships winner. Neither man did much to separate himself in a tentative first round. Overeem made the first significant move in the second, where he dazed “Vai Cavalo” with an overhand right and followed it with a wicked knee strike to the body. Werdum weathered those shots and dragged the Dutchman into deeper water. It led to a dominant Round 3 for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, as he clipped Overeem with a knee, jumped in top position and spent the final two-plus minutes grinding away with ground-and-pound. However, Werdum’s efforts went unrewarded on two of the three scorecards. The two all-time greats had split their two previous meetings: Werdum submitted “The Demolition Man” with a second round kimura at Pride Total Elimination Absolute in May 2006 before Overeem took a split decision from the Brazilian in their June 2011 rematch in Strikeforce.
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