If ever there was proof that it’s mileage, and not age, that should be the discussion point on the future of an older fighter, it was in Saturday night’s main event with Fabricio Werdum’s win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
The win was not a surprise, even though Nogueira had won a clear-cut decision in their 2006 fight. And their ages weren’t all that different, with Werdum being just 14 months younger.
But you’d never guess it watching the two of them in the cage. Nogueira, with his wars dating back to the primitive days of the sport, was largely outgrappled on the ground and submitted in the second round. He lost at the part of the game he was once was the best in the world. He lost to a fighter who had never taken the years of beatings he had.
At almost 36, Werdum (17-5-1) seems to be on borrowed time by age, but he hardly looked or moved like someone whose best days were behind him. Instead, he appeared to be a man at a career peak, who, if he can turn the game into a grappling match, may be able to beat any heavyweight in mixed martial arts.
But what would be keeping him from the UFC heavyweight title is two men who are going to be difficult to get to play his game in champion Cain Velasquez (12-1) and No. 1 contender Junior Dos Santos (16-2). Werdum came in as the No. 3 contender, and a submission win against a submission master can only help his argument for a title shot. With Daniel Cormier ready to relinquish his spot and move to 205 unless training partner and friend Velasquez loses his next fight, Werdum looks to be next in line.
He’s now won six out of his seven fights since being knocked out by Dos Santos on Oct. 25, 2008. His dominant wins flank a loss to Alistair Overeem in a fight where he strategically lost a decision by continually flopping to his back. He was hoping to trick Overeem to fall for the bait that he was hurt. The trick worked wonders against Fedor Emelianenko, allowing him to submit the former Pride champion in Werdum’s career shining moment. But Overeem wasn’t going to fall for it. When Werdum actually tried to stand and strike, given he wasn’t able to take Overeem down, he did well for himself, particularly late. But his game plan was something different, and he lost the decision.
Since Velasquez vs. Dos Santos appears to be the next title fight, does Werdum take another fight, perhaps against the winner of either Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne (Aug. 17 in Boston) or Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett (Aug. 31 in Milwaukee)? Or does he sit it out and wait for a title shot?
Werdum even offered an idea of his own, noting he’s brought up to UFC management that since he speaks Spanish, he could coach the first season of The Ultimate Fighter in Mexico against Velasquez to build up a future fight.
While no season has been announced, with the new UFC Network, in Spanish, for Latin America debuting in the fall, a reality show geared for that market can’t be far away. Velasquez would be the obvious choice as a coach. And it’s not like there is a long list of viable heavyweight contenders who can speak Spanish.
But the question is, Would UFC want to put Velasquez on ice for such a long period of time because of having to coach, and then sit out until the season airs months later? And there is no guarantee Velasquez beats Dos Santos.
“I mentioned doing an Ultimate Fighter in Mexico,” said Werdum through an interpreter after the show Saturday. “For those of you who don’t know, I’m a commentator for UFC in Spanish. I can talk Spanish because I lived many years in Spain. I gave UFC the idea of doing Ultimate Fighter in Mexico against Velasquez, but I don’t know if he’s going to beat Dos Santos. I’m going to be observing them. I already spent one year not fighting, and I wouldn’t like to do that again. But if they tell me to do the Ultimate Fighter and then fight, I think it’s a great idea to show our sport in Latin America.”
As far as how he matches up with the top two, he was knocked out quickly by Dos Santos, a protege of Nogueira. The story of that fight would be whether Dos Santos could avoid the fight going to the ground. He’s never faced Velasquez. Velasquez’s game plan always involves mixing takedowns with striking and going at a fast pace for a heavyweight. Even in winning, it did appear Werdum got tired against a much slower paced fighter in Nogueira as he was looking at the clock late in the first round. Still, if the fight hits the ground, Werdum has a good chance to beat anyone.
For the Fortunes changed for Five from Saturday’s show, let’s look at another four from Saturday’s show.
ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA – The sentimental favorite on the show, Nogueira (34-8-1, 1 no contest) has a long list of younger and less battle-worn opponents he could face. He didn’t get hurt badly in this fight, and his arm was fine. With the emergence of the Brazilian market and plans on doing seven or so events annually, there is still a spot for Nogueira on those events. He’s 3-3 since his late 2008 loss to Frank Mir, which he went into with knee and hip problems and he looked like a shot fighter. While his knockout of Brendan Schaub was a highlight of UFC’s debut in his home town of Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t figure to be in the championship picture. There are no natural match-ups for him. With the exception of Barnett, all the rivals of his prime are gone. If he’s going to stick around, it’s in the role of being someone to see if prospects on the way up are worth investing in.
THIAGO SILVA – Due to failing drug tests in two of his previous three fights, Silva’s career had sputtered the past two-and-a-half years. But not only did he finish Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (11-4, 1 no contest) in the first round, but collected $ 100,000 in bonus money for the best fight and the best knockout.
Silva is 15-3, with two more wins being overruled and two suspensions coming from test failures in 2011 and 2012. His only losses have been to the top fighters in the division, a decision loss to Rashad Evans while being bothered by serious back problems, a decision loss to top contender Alexander Gustafsson, and he was finished by former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. This win likely gives him one more shot at beating one of the best in the division.
ERICK SILVA – Silva’s 3-2 record in UFC competition is one that hardly tells the story of one of the most popular fighters on Saturday’s show. Silva has one legitimate loss, a decision to Jon Fitch in one of last year’s most exciting fights. The other loss, a disqualification against Carlo Prater for blows to the back of the head, was in a fight he seemed on the verge of winning 20 seconds into it.
Saturday’s win over Jason High, using an armbar from a triangle in 1:11, gave him his third first-round win.
As far as a shot at the welterweight title, Silva (15-3, 1 no contest), dismissed the question quickly when it was brought up.
“I think it’s too soon,” he said through a interpreter. “I’m not very worried about the title belt right now. To be honest, I’m not at all worried about it.”
He said he just wants to take a week or two off, and wait for UFC to schedule him in another fight.
“If it takes 20 fights until a shot at the belt, I’ll do 20 fights. When I get a chance for the belt, I want to be experienced and have a lot of knowledge. I want to get a lot of experience. It’s (a title match) not part of my plans now. Not at all.”
RONY JASON – In what will go down as UFC’s supreme night of submissions, with eight, the most on a show since 1994, it only took the TUF Brazil season one winner 1:24 to finish previously unbeaten Mike Wilkinson (8-1) with a triangle.
With his expressive face, the Jason mask gimmick and what appeared to be a gift of gab in Portuguese, Jason (14-3), appears to be the company’s most popular Brazilian new generation star. Jason is riding an eight-fight win streak, which doesn’t include three other fights that don’t count on his record during the TUF season. Testing him with a name fighter seems the next step.
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