Few underdogs could ever claim they are the baddest man on the planet. Fabricio Werdum is the amazing exception to that rule. The new UFC Heavyweight Champion should not have had to even deal with the underdog label after big wins leading up to his victory over Cain Velasquez. He had done plenty to at least be considered a threat to win the belt from Velasquez, but respect comes hard in the UFC evidently.
Werdum is no stranger to shaking up the MMA world, having submitted the legendary Fedor Emelianenko back in 2010. The new UFC champion got credit at the time for beating the seemingly invincible Fedor, but many saw it as a fluke and others said Fedor was in decline. This despite the fact that Fedor was considered by most experts the best heavyweight MMA fighter in the world at the time. Yes the big Russian did lose two more fights right after his loss to Werdum, but it was Werdum who got him first. That counts for something in my book. It’s a lot easier for a fighter to knock off a legend once he has chinks in the armor. It’s a bit more challenging to beat a man that was riding a win streak that stretched back to the year 2000!
Werdum went on to rack up wins against Mike Russow and Roy Nelson once he made it back to the UFC from Strikeforce. Nelson may look like an out of shape Duck Dynasty family member, but he is a damn good fighter. Werdum’s next victim as he climbed his way up the UFC ladder was legendary Minotauro Nogueira. Werdum submitted him in the second round to set up a big fight with rising star Travis Browne in 2014.
Browne was being hyped as some new age MMA badass that other fighters were going to have to adapt to in the Octagon. The guy was ferocious no doubt and likely took Werdum a bit lightly. Once you have everyone around you, including MMA experts, telling you how great you are, you start to believe your own hype. Fabricio Werdum didn’t have to worry about anyone hyping him. No one believed he would beat Travis Browne and no one was telling him how great he was 24/7. That could have been the difference in that career changing fight. Werdum was a hungry junkyard dog. Travis Browne was hungry as well, but forgot he had to take care of the business directly in front of him instead of looking ahead to bigger names. Werdum simply beat Browne up for five full rounds leaving no doubt in the minds’ of the judges.
That win over Browne set the stage for a battle against Mark Hunt for the interim UFC Heavyweight Belt. Again Werdum delivered as he TKO’d Hunt in the second round after a vicious knee to the face then some ground and pound to wrap up the interim title.
Everyone was proud of the 37 year old Werdum at that point. There were lots of pats on the back and “atta boys.” There was no fear of the interim champ ever becoming the real UFC Heavyweight Champion though. Everyone figured that once Cain Velasquez recovered from his injury, he would put a stop to this underdog’s assent to the top of the mountain. Folks felt like Werdum had been a nice little story, but reality would have to catch up to him just like it does to most other Cinderella stories.
From tiny schools in the NCAA tournament who go on nice runs only to be eventually ousted from the big dance, to boxers who put up a great fight for a few rounds only to be knocked out once the champion realizes he is in a real fight. The clock always sounds at midnight and the fairy tale ends. Werdum intended to take his fairy tale way past midnight, and did so as he forced Velasquez to admit Werdum was the baddest man in that Octagon as he tapped out for mercy. With that guillotine choke, Fabricio Werdum became the real UFC Heavyweight Champion and the baddest underdog on the planet.
We have no idea how long Werdum can hold onto the heavyweight belt. He has endured tough fights already to get to the top and he isn’t getting any younger obviously. The competition won’t get any easier as Junior Dos Santos sits at the number two heavyweight contender spot and of course Velasquez will get a rematch at some point in the near future.
Hopefully this underdog story doesn’t end in a Buster Douglas fashion with Werdum getting fat and embarrassed in his first title defense. I don’t see that happening, but no matter what happens next, Fabricio Werdum has made his mark on the UFC forever. It would have been easy to hang it up a few years back after some disappointing losses, but that’s not what champions do. They rise up from their situations, making no excuses along the way.
The greatest underdog ever was Muhammad Ali as he shocked Sonny Liston along with the rest of the world. Ali went on to decades of brilliance after he shed his underdog status. No one can expect Werdum to come close to what Ali did as a champion. But whatever success Werdum has going forward will just be icing on the cake. The guy has nothing left to prove, but I hope he is still hungry as hell so we get to see more from this perpetual underdog.
Cain Velasquez vs Fabricio Werdum Highlights