If you’ve become a fan of MMA recently, you may not realize that Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1) is in the midst of his second UFC run and is doing significantly better this time around. When he first came into the UFC, Werdum was like most other Brazilian heavyweights at the time: a beastly submission artist with limited tools on the feet. Combined with the fact that most heavyweights are slow and plodding and you understand why he was removed from the UFC after a 2-2 stint.
Then Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA got a hold of him, and Werdum turned into one of the more exciting heavyweights to date.
Rather than relying on his grappling directly to win fights, Werdum uses his submissions to strike confidently. That doesn’t mean he strikes well mind you; he pushes his punches rather than snapping them and his kicks are easy to counter. But fighters are (justifiably) terrified of going to the ground with him, so they won’t follow up after they score a knockdown allowing Werdum to get right back up and continue volume striking. He has tree trunk legs, so his body kicks hurt, as evidenced by Travis Browne’s broken rib in their first meeting.
The problem is that Werdum can be shut out by opponents with who are well-rounded enough.
On the ground, Werdum’s success varies wildly depending on whether he’s on top or bottom. From top position, he can use his hulking weight to pin an opponent and rip a limb. On his back though, he can only catch fighters that are inexperienced or reckless. Remember that both Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem were able to survive Werdum’s guard with little trouble.
Speaking of which, Werdum’s striking defense is atrocious.
He doesn’t move his head off the center line, doesn’t tuck his chin and will often wade forward with his head past his hips. His knockout loss to Stipe Miocic was the most dramatic example of these weaknesses, but other fighters have been able to exploit it as well. In their rematch, Overeem picked Werdum apart for the first two rounds while avoiding the latter man’s clumsy combinations. Before getting knocked out by an earth-shattering counter knee in the second round, Hunt was able to counter Werdum at will because he always knew where his head would be.
When Werdum can’t impose his will on the feet or wrestle, he becomes infuriatingly passive. He’ll try to pull guard, throw wheel kicks, try anything to get the momentum going but usually fails at everything but drawing the ire of the crowd.
Heavyweights carry so much natural power that fighters have to hit crazy hard to stand out. Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis (18-5 with 1 NC) is one of those fighters. Out of his 18 wins, a whopping 16 have come by knockout.
It’s not just the proportion of knockouts, but the quality that sets Lewis apart.
When Lewis punches, he swings his arms with the elbows nearly locked and all his body weight behind them. The result is like getting clotheslined by a baseball bat. Lewis hits so hard that he can broadside opponents through the guard and still get a reaction. When he connects cleanly, the result is more akin to a low impact car crash than a punch. He’ll mix straight punches, hooks and uppercuts so simply covering up isn’t an option.
This is starkly contrasted against his sharp ground and pound.
Instead of winging punches, he throws them straight down like a mining probe. He can put his fist through the gap of a grounded opponent’s defense with such accuracy that he can often bounce their heads on the canvas. A Lewis knockdown is scary not because of the power he has on the feet, but because what follows on the ground is so much worse.
But no matter how terrifying those wide punches look, they’re still wide punches.
The men who have beaten Lewis have gotten inside his long punches to beat him up. Matt Mitrione and Mark Hunt used short counters while Jordan got a takedown to inflict massive damage with elbows. Lewis has competent takedown defense, but a man his size cannot afford to waste gas in the clinch.
The question is whether or not Werdum can hurt Lewis and/or take him down.
If Werdum can rattle Lewis as he wades forward with punches and kicks, he can probably get him to the ground and submit him. If he can’t, then Lewis is eventually going to catch him and put him down for the count. I also don’t know how viable it is to pursue a straight wrestling match with Lewis, as the Black Beast is incredibly strong.
The fact is that too much has to go right for Werdum not to get knocked out. He could still wear Lewis down with volume or land the one takedown he needs to submit him, but I think Lewis is a safe bet for the upset win.
Lewis via TKO
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