After winning the interim UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 197 a couple of weeks ago, Jon Jones spoke of the belt as if it were a prize found at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.
While it was shiny like the linear title he wore around his waist for a number of years, that belt was still in Daniel Cormier’s possession and the one presented to him after his win over Ovince Saint Preux that sat before him on the dais was little more than costume jewelry. It was pretty, but without any real value to him.
That sentiment is one shared by many fighters that have challenged for and captured interim gold, but not Fabricio Werdum. Where plenty of competitors are quick to dismiss the significance of winning an interim title, opting instead to focus exclusively on the linear title, the current undisputed UFC heavyweight champion put a lot of value in claiming his first UFC title because that victory is what led him to the biggest win of his underrated career.
“A lot of fighters don’t care about an interim belt, but I did – I cared about it when (I) fought Mark Hunt for it,” Werdum, who collected a second-round stoppage win over the “Super Samoan” at UFC 180 to capture the interim title, explained.
Seven months later and back inside Arena Ciudad de Mexico, he shared the cage with the man he was originally supposed to face on that warm November evening, Cain Velasquez, in a bout to unify the titles and determine the top dog in the big boy division.
“I fought Cain to unify the titles and did that, even though I was the underdog,” offered Werdum, reflecting on the third-round submission win over Velasquez that left him as the unquestioned top heavyweight in the sport. “It was emotional. No one believed in me, but I proved myself inside the Octagon.
“The moment when I got the belt was one of the biggest moments in my career, in my life. It was meant to be.”
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The affable Brazilian feels that way about his first title defense this weekend against Stipe Miocic as well.
Initially scheduled to run things back with Velasquez in February at UFC 196, the former champion was forced from the contest at the 11th hour. Top contender Stipe Miocic quickly threw his hat in the ring to replace Velasquez and for about 24 hours, the fight was on, before Werdum opted to withdraw as well, citing various lingering injuries.
The event was shifted from Pay-Per-View to FS1, stripped of its UFC 196 branding and became a Fight Night event, with the triumvirate of talents linked to the heavyweight championship bout initially unsure about how things would shake out going forward. But the UFC didn’t let the uncertainty linger too long, booking Werdum and Miocic as the main event for this weekend’s colossal fight card at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil while pairing Velasquez with Travis Browne at UFC 200.
“When I was supposed to fight Cain, I got a little frustrated and upset because he got hurt and I got hurt and the fight didn’t happen, but I believe a lot in energy and believe that this was meant to be,” Werdum, who has collected six consecutive victories to ascend to the top of the heavyweight division since returning to the UFC, said. “Now I’m fighting in my home country, defending my belt.
“I’m very happy and very motivated (to fight in front of a massive Brazilian audience),” he added. “This is only the third time the UFC has done an event like this in a stadium and I have the chance to fight for 45,000 people and defend the belt at home. Everybody knows that Curitiba is the fight capital in Brazil and all the tickets were sold (quickly), which was amazing and that’s why I came down here two weeks early to get acclimated to make sure I do a big show for the fans.”
And Werdum plans on making a spectacular entrance on Saturday.
“My entrance is going to be amazing. I’m going to do something special,” he teased, saying only that it will involve a Brazilian sporting icon. “It’s going to be very emotional and very beautiful. It will be a huge surprise.”
As for his clash with Miocic, the reigning, defending, undisputed champion knows that there are some that still see him as the underdog – a position he has occupied many times over during his career – and he’s okay with that because he knows where he stands and that is all that matters.
“When I fought Cain, he wanted to be the ‘King of Mexico’ and the ‘King of Latin America,’ but I went in the Octagon and showed that I’m the ‘King of Mexico and Latin America,’ not Cain Velasquez,” he laughed. “I know I’m still the underdog for a few people; not as many as when I fought Cain, but I don’t care. I know I’m the best in the world and I’ve shown it in the Octagon. I don’t talk – I show my skills in the Octagon.
“All that matters is winning this fight and keeping the belt.”