With domination of Browne, Werdum sets up date with Velasquez

Sunday April 20th, 2014

Fabricio Werdum (right) surprisingly dominated Travis Browne, setting up a UFC heavyweight belt fight against Cain Velasquez.
Reinhold Matay/AP

Cain Velasquez has been on Twitter a lot lately, posting updates on the baby blue '71 Torino he's having rebuilt. And there he was a couple of weeks ago in a San Jose Sharks sweater, standing at center ice at the SAP Center between two NHL players for a ceremonial pregame puck drop. These are the spoils of being the heavyweight champion of the world. Opportunities and sweet moments come your way.

When you're rehabilitating from shoulder surgery and out of the octagon until the fall, you'll take any distraction you can get. Maybe you take up a hobby. With so much down time thrust upon you, you've got to have things to occupy your mind.

Well, the champ got something new to think about on Saturday night. Fabricio Werdum, who as a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion is generally accepted to be the most dangerous submission fighter among UFC heavyweights, turns out to be a pretty sharp striker as well. He demonstrated as much in a blowout unanimous-decision victory over Travis Browne at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

It was a fight between the top two viable challengers for the belt, which is to say that in the SI.com rankings, the media-voted UFC tally and any other right-thinking mixed martial arts Top 10, Werdum and Browne are below only Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. And with Junior's two thrashings at the hands of the champ exiling him from another shot at Cain, it will be Werdum (18-5-1) who'll welcome Velasquez back to the cage.

Werdum earned that honor by beating Browne (16-2-1) at his own game thoroughly, assuredly and a bit unexpectedly. The appraisal going in was that if the fight went to the ground, it would be all Werdum, but if it stayed on the feet, the striking range of the 6-foot-7 Browne would carry the day. And that latter scenario was the expected result, in part because Browne had never surrendered a takedown in 19 career bouts and has the length to keep at a safe distance while remaining dangerous himself. Even though Werdum was ranked a spot higher, most had Browne as the favorite.

But Werdum let it be known right from the start that he was going to make this his fight no matter where it was fought. Midway through the first round he got the takedown he coveted, and even though Browne managed to get back to his feet before being threatened, a precedent had been set. Browne proceeded cautiously. Werdum didn't. Late in the round, after Browne landed a solid kick to the body, the Brazilian slapped his side tauntingly and attacked, putting Browne on the defensive until the horn sounded.

It only got worse for Browne, which shouldn't be such a surprise if you consider how his career has unfolded. Each of his last five bouts had ended in the fist round, as had all but five in his career. Travis's pace slowed considerably as the fight wore on, making him a stationary target for Werdum's sharpened striking and his grappling, too. Werdum got another takedown in Round 2, going right into side control for a kimura attempt. Browne defended well and got up again, but it took a lot out of him. The rest of the way, he had the footwork of Lurch from The Addams Family.

By the end of the night, according to FightMetric statistics, Browne had landed but 60 significant strikes, while Werdum had more than doubled that production with 121 -- the fourth-most by a heavyweight in UFC history. That's something for Cain Velasquez to think about.

Of course, Werdum has something to occupy his mind as well. Velasquez is going to be far, far quicker than Browne. He'll be a crisper striker. He won't be afraid to take the fight to the canvas. And he's not going to slow down. The champ has shown himself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the heavyweight division.

The Brazilian can't wait for the challenge. His first run among the big boys ended unceremoniously, when he was released by the UFC following a first-round knockout loss to dos Santos back in 2008. Since then, he's gone 7-1, including four straight wins in his return to the world's biggest MMA promotion. Just before rejoining the UFC, he shocked the MMA world by submitting Fedor Emelianenko, who hadn't lost in a decade. Is Werdum ready for another shocker?

"I'm looking forward to fighting Cain Velasquez," he said. "That championship means everything in this sport, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to show that I can win the title."

The usual rejoinder to that, especially when it involves a date with Velasquez, is "be careful what you wish for." But there's also wisdom in this cautionary edict for the champ: Do not underestimate Fabricio Werdum.

Notes from the undercard

Fighting to be seen: The women's bantamweight division is not too deep, so this was not a loser-leaves-town fight. But with Ronda Rousey's stiffest competition seeming to be outside the UFC (Cyborg Justino, Holly Holm) and therefore no more than a gleam in the eye of Dana White, the Miesha Tate vs. Liz Carmouche co-main event was an important date for both in the pursuit of continued relevance.

It was a rugged fight, but the result didn't exactly create intrigue. Miesha, who took a slim split decision, has lost to Rousey twice, so she's not getting a third shot anytime soon. And Carmouche, who gave Ronda her toughest fight, saw this one turn around after a strong start. (I thought she won the first two rounds before being dominated in the third, but two judges gave the nod to Miesha.) Both women showed grit and will continue to be roadblocks for any others who fancy themselves championship contenders.

Cowboy up: A jab did the job. Donald Cerrone flicked a crisp one into the face of Edson Barboza a little over three minutes into their lightweight fight, and there was enough on it to drop him to the canvas. "Cowboy" didn't hesitate, jumping on the stunned Brazilian's back, clamping on a rear-naked choke and getting the tapout at 3:15. It was an efficient, explosive performance, handing Barboza only his second loss in 15 career bouts and running Cerrone's win streak to three fights, all finishes.

Silver shines: Yoel Romero's first takedown was so quick that viewers at home might have thought the TV was in fast-forward. There's a reason for that: The Cuban was a freestyle wrestling silver medalist in the 2000 Olympics. That would make him the most highly decorated male wrestler in the UFC. He sure put those chops on display against Brad Tavares, tossing him off his feet to the tune of four first-round takedowns (on four tries) and seven overall. He was an accurate striker, too, landing 65 percent of the leather he threw. It all added up to a dominant and unanimous decision win, his fourth straight win since joining the UFC's middleweight division last year.

Twenty-two and oh: Hear the buzz? It's been going on for quite a while for Khabib Nurmagomedov, the 25-year-old Dagestani with the relentless wresting drive. He was 5-0 in the UFC, 21-0 for his career, when he stepped in with Rafael dos Anjos, who was on a five-fight run and getting his own buzz buzzing. Nurmagomedov was all over his fellow Top 10 lightweight from the get-go, and while he didn't break his own UFC takedown record -- he had 21 against Abel Trujillo last year -- he controlled the fight everywhere it went and earned a lopsided unanimous-decision win.

Welcome home: Thanks to injuries to himself as well as scheduled opponents, Thiago Alves hadn't fought in a little over two years. And before his layoff, he had lost four of six fights. (Of course, that slide began the way a lot of UFC losing streaks do: on a date with Georges St-Pierre.) But maybe fighting MMA is like riding a bicycle, because Alves (20-9) jumped right back on and rolled past a game but beaten-to-the-punch Seth Baczynski via unanimous decision. And just like that, the 30-year-old Brazilian is once again someone for the stacked welterweight division to worry about.

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