As UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez recovers from shoulder surgery, the division has been in somewhat of a stale mate. Junior Dos Santos (JDS), although certainly the second best fighter at the weight, is still some way behind Velasquez and after knocking him out the first time they fought has lost decisively the last two times. Down in the series 2-1, JDS is unlikely to get another shot at the belt whilst Velasquez holds it. There are many fringe fighters at heavyweight, such as Overeem and Mark Hunt, but not many who seem to have a realistic shot at beating Velasquez. Saturday night saw a number one contender fight between two fighters that could actually put up a challenge.
On Saturday night Travis Browne of Hawaii fought Brazil’s Fabricio Werdum for a chance to fight Velasquez for the title this Autumn. Browne has been on a tear of late. He had fought Alistair Overeem last August and after taking enormous knees and punches, somehow managed to knock Overeem out with a straight kick before the end of the first round. Browne had described this as the closest to death he had ever been. Browne seemed to change after this fight and when he fought UFC veteran, Josh Barnett in December, did what few had done before and knocked him out in round one. This new, aggressive, exciting Travis Browne had the MMA world buzzing once more about the heavyweight division.
Werdum is an MMA legend. Having fought in the infamous PRIDE in Japan, Werdum made his debut in the UFC in 2007. In his fourth fight, he fought a young JDS and was knocked out in the first round. He was subsequently cut from the UFC and joined Strikeforce. In Strikeforce, Werdum upset Fedor Emelianenko who had been undefeated in 28 fights and submitted him in the first round. His only loss in the promotion was to Alistair Overeem by decision. In 2012, Werdum resigned with the UFC and was undefeated through three fights going into Saturday night.
Werdum is a small heavyweight, weighing about 30 pounds less than the 265 pound limit. He is also a ground specialist with phenomenal jiu-jitsu credentials. Browne, is a much larger fighter and known for his striking. He had also not been taken down in any of his UFC fights prior. Would Werdum be able to get him to the ground? Would Browne simply have too much power in his hands and knock out Werdum? it was an enthralling prospect.
On a Fox online survey, 75 per cent of fans believed Browne would have too much for Werdum and would win the contest. How wrong they were. Not only did Werdum prove he could take Travis Browne down, as he did multiple times throughout the five rounds, but he also dominated the stand up sticking portions of the fight. There is no counting Browne’s heart, managing somehow to stay standing and see out the full five rounds, but he was dominated and hurt throughout. Werdum didn’t take any risks, and upon seeing that Browne’s gas tank was empty, seemed happy enough to just do enough and not go for the finish. It was an expert display from the Brazilian.
As the fight entered round four, my thoughts immediately went to sizing up Werdum in terms of his prospects against Cain Velasquez. Right on cue, Werdum, it seemed, began to tire. Cain Velasquez does not tire, ever. He is relentless and doesn’t allow his opponent to rest. On Saturday night, Werdum was fantastic, but Velasquez is a phenomenon. In heavyweight fighting, anything can happen because there is so much weight behind individual shots, that a knockout can come at any time. I believe however that Cain Velasquez will smother Werdum and maintain his title without too much of a problem. If this happens, the UFC finds itself in a position it has been in before in every weight class at one time or other; the position of having a champion who is too dominant. Somehow this always seems to work itself out, but with JDS having already fought Velasquez three times, it is hard to see where the competition will come from.
With Velasquez being a key to the much desired Mexican marketplace, this is maybe not such a bad thing. He could be to Mexico what GSP was to Canada. Time will tell. Stay tuned...
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