Thursday June 11th, 2015

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum.

Overview

Pete was the baddest man on the planet. “Big Pete,” some called him. But the “big” was relative—there were guys who were heftier than him—and the “on the planet” part was even more of a stretch, since we were taking into account only our little grammar school in our little New Jersey neighborhood.

But here’s the thing about Pete that makes me think of him all these years later: None of us ever saw him fight. Pretty much every one of us had tussled on some school-day afternoon behind the town library. But not Pete. Never. No one dared challenge him. We just knew he was as bad a man as there was among us 12-year-old boys. 

Nowadays, the baddest (grown) man on the planet is Cain Velasquez. Tough guys from Wladimir Klitschko to Chuck Norris to Mike Ditka shudder at the prospect of getting in his way. Everyone knows that the UFC heavyweight champion is not someone to be messed with.

Yes, it’s true that there are big fellas willing, even eager, to stand across from Cain in a locked cage—for the challenge of facing the best, for the glory and prize money waiting to be seized. But luckily/unluckily for them, persistent injuries have transformed Velasquez from a monster we see with our very own eyes into a mythical beast we’ve merely heard tell of. If you came upon your mixed martial arts fandom within the last year and a half, you’ve never seen Cain Velasquez do battle. If your interest is going on five years, but came about only after you heard about the larger-than-life Brock Lesnar being dethroned, you’ve never seen his conqueror, Cain, fight anyone other than Junior dos Santos and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.

When healthy, Velasquez (13-1) has been a wrecking machine, the most domineering heavyweight in the sport’s history. Despite having not competed since an October 2013 destruction of the second-baddest man on the planet, Junior dos Santos, he remains No. 1 in the SI.com heavyweight rankings and No. 5 pound-for-pound. That’s because his trail of annihilation has withstood the test of time. Other than one blemish—a big one, to be sure, that 64-second KO at the hands of Dos Santos in their first fight, on the first UFC telecast on big Fox back in 2011—Velasquez, 32, has bulldozed everything in his path.

On Saturday night, in the main event of UFC 188 (10 p.m. ET, PPV), the champ will face a man who, curiously enough, also owns a UFC championship belt. Fabricio Werdum was scheduled to challenge Velasquez back in November in the UFC’s first foray into Mexico City. But Cain had to pull out after tearing the meniscus and straining the MCL in his right knee—injuries that brought both physical and emotional pain, since the fight was to take place in his family’s ancestral homeland. The show went on without him, and Werdum knocked out Mark Hunt and had an interim title belt wrapped around his waist.

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Now the UFC is back at Arena Ciudad de Mexico, with Velasquez and Werdum both out to show that there’s only one heavyweight worthy of wearing a shiny brass-and-leather strap.

Werdum (19-5-1) is not one to shy away from wrecking machines. Long before he put out the lights on Hunt, he handed the stoic legend Fedor Emelianenko his first defeat in a decade. The 37-year-old Brazilian, who is on a five-fight winning streak since returning to the UFC from a rejuvenating stint in Strikeforce, ranks No. 3 in the SI.com big boy tally.

In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of Saturday night’s five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on FX (not the usual Fox Sports 1), starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s first three bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 6:30. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at movie theaters nationwide.

Background

It was the autumn of 2009, and one man was tearing it up while the other was picking up the pieces.

Cain Velasquez was 27 and the hottest prospect in the UFC heavyweight division. He was operating under the radar, however, because back then Brock Lesnar was massive enough in both physical and promotional stature that he filled the entire spotlight. The former pro wrestler had just defeated Randy Couture for the champtionship belt, and just five fights into his MMA career he looked indestructible.

But Velasquez was all about destruction. He was 7-0, having knocked out all but one of his opponents. His latest conquest was Ben Rothwell, and that victory had set him up for a wintertime showdown with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, with the winner promised a shot at Lesnar and the belt.

At this same time, Werdum wasn’t even in the UFC. He’d been released from his contract a year earlier after being starched by Junior dos Santos in barely a minute. He’d been signed by Strikeforce, and won his debut with the second-fiddle promotion. Now Werdum was preparing to take on Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva on the undercard of a Fedor Emelianenko bill, and there was some prophesy in that pairing, since after both men won in November, they were slated to fight each other next.

Werdum and Emelianenko met in June 2010, and the fight lasted all of 1:09. The Russian legend, who hadn’t lost in a decade, got caught in a triangle choke, escaped, but inexplicably dove right back into Fabricio’s guard. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt finished the job with a triangle armbar, etching his name into the sport’s history and, at the same time, resuscitating his career. He would lose his next bout, in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, but by early 2011 was back in the UFC.  

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By that time, Velasquez was heavyweight champ, having vanquished Lesnar. Cain would stunningly lose the belt to Dos Santos via a 64-second KO in November 2011, but he would seize the belt back a year later with a beatdown of Junior, and would dominate him even more—and finish him—when they met for a third time. In between, there were quick decimations of “Bigfoot” Silva. Velasquez has been untouchable.

So has Werdum. Since rejoining the UFC, he’s gone 5-0 with three finishes, including a submission of fellow jiu-jitsu ace Nogueira and his most recent beauty, a second-round KO of Mark Hunt via flying knee. Fabricio was supposed to fight Velasquez on that night back in November, but the UFC injury bug scoffed at that expectation. Now he gets his chance.

Last five fights

Velasquez
10/19/13 Junior dos Santos W TKO 5
5/25/13 Antonio Silva W TKO 1
12/29/12 Junior dos Santos W UD 5

5/26/12 Antonio Silva W TKO 1
11/12/11 Junior dos Santos L KO 1

Werdum
11/15/14 Mark Hunt W TKO 2
4/19/14 Travis Browne W UD 5

6/8/13 Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira W Sub 2
6/23/12 Mike Russow W TKO 1
2/4/12 Roy Nelson W UD 3

Tale of the tape


Velasquez
 
Werdum

July 28, 1982

BIRTH DATE

July 30, 1977

Salonas, Calif.


BIRTHPLACE

Porto Alegre, Brazil

San Jose, Calif.

RESIDENCE

Los Angeles, Calif.

13-1

RECORD

19-5-1

240*

WEIGHT

232*

6'1" 

HEIGHT

6'4" 

77"

REACH

77"

 * Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2)

Other numbers to count on

4.52: Strike differential (his strikes landed per minute, vs. his opponents') for Cain Velasquez, which is No. 1 all time in the UFC, according to FightMetric statistics. Fabricio Werdum is also in the Top 10, at 2.32, which places him eighth. 

6.21: Strikes landed per minute by Velasquez, putting him No. 2 all time (behind Jessica Andrade). Werdum lands 3.04. 

85: Percent of Cain Velasquez's UFC victories that have come via KO. Forty-seven percent of Fabricio Werdum's wins in the promotion have come via submission. 

88.89: Percent of opponent takedown attempts fended off by Velasquez. 

58.1: Significant striking accuracy percentage of Velasquez, fourth best all time. Werdum is right behind, at No. 5, with 57.4.

1,694: Number of days it will have been since Cain Velasquez fought someone not named Junior dos Santos or Antonio Silva. (That's 4 years 7 months 21 days.)

6: Number of opponents Fabricio Werdum has faced when Cain Velasquez fought someone not named Junior dos Santos or Antonio Silva. 

Greatest hits

Cain Velasquez becomes champion (for the first time):

Fabricio Werdum defeats a legend: 

Matchup

Velasquez is an explosive wrestler with a relentless ground-and-pound. Werdum is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, generally thought of as the best heavyweight submission artist in the business. So something’s got to give, right?

It would appear that Cain holds the cards. His 88.89 percent takedown defense suggests that this fight is going to be fought where he wants it fought. He has the more polished standup, too, though Fabricio has shown more and more on his feet with each fight. Still, a stand-and-trade fight favors Velasquez, whose tireless assault produces the second-most strikes per minute (6.1) in UFC history.

But the champ has said he’s not afraid of tussling with Werdum no matter where the fight goes. He didn’t go into specifics, but it stands to reason that Cain will try to hurt or wear down Fabricio before taking him to the canvas. That would be a sound strategy.

Then again, Velasquez might simply do what he always does: impose his will, right from the start. Is there anything so demoralizing as an opponent venturing right into your wheelhouse and beating you at your own game?

Werdum will take his chances. He’d love for this fight to hit the mat early. But you get the sense that, even more than that, he’d love to be the one turning the tables. In the Hunt fight, he knocked out the one-punch KO artist with a booming strike of his own. He sure would get a kick out of knocking out the American Kickboxing Academy whiz.

When the blood starts pumping through the veins, of course, we revert to what we are, not what we aspire to. Cain Velasquez is made for beatdowns. Fabricio Werdum wants you to quit.

The odds

Velasquez is the heavy betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -450 (bet $450 to win $100) to -545 (best $545 to win $100) at various sportsbooks. The line on Werdum ranges from +429 (bet $100 to win $429) to +310 (bet $100 to win $310). 

Prediction

Unless 20 months out of the cage has rusted or atrophied Cain Velasquez's ferociousness, he is simply too much for anyone in the fight game to handle. Period. Is Fabricio Werdum going to catch him with a striking flurry, surprise him with a submission? Don't hold your breath. Before the first round has run its course, Werdum will be a beaten man and Velasquez will be the only one emboldened to call himself the UFC heavyweight champion. Velasquez by TKO. 

Fighting Words

“If he takes down me, I say thank you, I’m good. It’s my home. I think he’ll stay there. I’ll finish him.”

 Fabricio Werdum on Fox’s UFC Tonightaddressing Cain Velasquez’s wrestling aggression

“UFC didn’t give him the real belt because they didn’t think he was the champ.”

— Velasquez, speaking to MMAmania.com about the interim champ’s claim on a UFC promo video that he owns the “real belt”

The Rest Of The Card

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Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez, lightweight; Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nate Marquardt, middleweight; Yair Rodriguez vs. Charles Rose, featherweight; Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill, strawweight.

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, FX): Henry Cejudo vs. Chico Camus, flyweight; Efrain Escudero vs. Drew Dober, lightweight; Alejandro Perez vs. Pstrick Williams, bantamweight; Francisco Trevino vs. Johnny Case, lightweight.

Online prelims (6:30 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Augusto Montaño vs. Cathal Pendred, welterweight; Gabriel Benitez vs. Clay Collard, featherweight; Albert Tumenov vs. Andrew Todhunter, welterweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on FX (not the usual Fox Sports 1) and the UFC Fight Pass. (Because of other programming commitments, Fox Sports 1 will not have a postfight show for this event.)  

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