Every mixed martial artist says that he’s working on all aspects of his fight game, but it’s only a select few that will be able to handle themselves with equal skill both standing and on the mat. In the space of two fights in the last 12 months, Fabricio Werdum joined that fraternity.
Known primarily for his elite ground game, Werdum stood with feared striker Alistair Overeem for three rounds in June of 2011, even rocking the former K-1 Grand Prix champ on a couple occasions. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt lost the decision that night, but when he returned to the UFC in February of this year, it was his striking that led him to a Fight of the Night win over Roy Nelson. That’s impressive stuff right there, and Werdum knows that he surprised some people with his performance.
“I think I proved to everyone that I'm not only a BJJ fighter, but also have an excellent standup game,” he said, before noting, “For sure, I feel very confident with my standup game, but I have to say, my ground game is special.”
He’s not kidding either, though the remark is made with the light-hearted confidence that comes to a veteran fighter when he is at the top of his game, comfortable in his own skin, and not stressed out by what lies ahead. During his first UFC stint, Werdum appeared to be wound too tightly, treating each fight as a walk to the gallows. These days though, fans are getting to see the true personality of “Vai Cavalo,” and he’s seemingly more relaxed. This was never clearer than during his stint as an assistant coach on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil.
“TUF Brazil was a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “Training and living together with all this up and coming fighters helped me to get motivated for my next fight. Did I still learn from them? I think the learning process never ends, and we not only shared techniques but also life experience.”
Werdum has had plenty of both in his 34 years, and as his Saturday bout with Mike Russow in Belo Horizonte approaches, it’s been a time for him not only to look at what’s in front of him, but to look back as well. It’s been over eight years since his last bout in Brazil, a knockout of Ebenezer Fontes Braga that he described as “a tough fight,” and one that launched him onto the world stage as a member of the PRIDE roster. Now he’s back home as a contender for the UFC heavyweight title and a legit MMA star.
“Being in Brazil, my heart will be pumping,” said Werdum. “I think it will be probably one of the most amazing nights I have ever experienced.”
To make that intention a reality, he has to halt the 11 fight winning streak of Russow, something Justin McCully, Todd Duffee, Jon Madsen, and John-Olav Einemo have been unable to do in the UFC.
“Mike Russow is in the UFC, and that proves he is a tough fighter,” said Werdum. “There are no easy fights. He has good wrestling and strong hands.”
Chicago’s Russow also has a style that has stifled strikers (Duffee), wrestlers (Madsen), and jiu-jitsu standouts (Einemo). Werdum knows what he’s up against though, and he’s unconcerned.
“He has his game and my job is to impose mine, and that is exactly what I'm going to do,” said the native of Porto Alegre, who found time during this training camp to visit his childhood home as well as the city where he made his bones working with the Chute Boxe team, Curitiba.
“I was in Curitiba for a while and all my friends treated me like family,” said Werdum. “I trained there before and it was very nice to see everyone again. When I went to Porto Alegre, my hometown, I only stayed for two days. It was tough to see everyone and then leave, but I can say that everyone is supporting and cheering for me. That makes me very proud and happy.”
Expect the Brazilian fans to be even prouder and happier on Sunday morning should their favorite son defeat Russow and continue his march to a world title. And Werdum is planning on delivering nothing less than that to them.
“They can expect my best and I will give 110% of me,” he said. “I want to not only win, but put on a great show.”
Fabricio Werdum - A Conquering Hero Comes Home
"He has his game and my job is to impose mine, and that is exactly what I'm going to do." - Fabricio Werdum