Following the lowest point in his career, Fabricio Werdum began the long road back to the UFC.
Prior to facing the debuting Junior dos Santos at UFC 90 over three years ago, the two-time ADCC submission wrestling champion was on the cusp of a title shot. Little did Werdum know, he was in the same cage as the future heavyweight champion.
Dos Santos would go on to flatten Werdum with a vicious uppercut, handing him his sole TKO loss.
“I learned a lot from that fight,” Werdum said over the phone from Las Vegas. “It’s always harder to learn from a loss than a victory. At that time, I was not a very professional fighter. Now I’m much more professional and focused on my goals.”
Following the loss, Werdum was cut from the UFC roster due to a contract dispute and immediately scooped up by Strikeforce.
The move proved to be the best thing for him. After putting together two straight victories, Werdum became the first fighter to decisively beat Fedor Emelianenko, submitting the former PRIDE heavyweight champion with a triangle armbar in only 69 seconds.
“Strikeforce was an important time in my life,” Werdum said. “The fights I had there improved my game and my value a lot.
“I had to do it this way — the longer road — to be able to have the most important fight of my life against Fedor. I had to do that to be here today.”
After Strikeforce signed a new TV deal with Showtime in December, it was announced the heavyweight division would be eliminated. With the exception of grand prix finalists Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, all contracted fighters have since been moved to the UFC’s heavyweight roster.
Lavar Johnson kicked things off for the Strikeforce alumni with a devastating KO victory over Joey Beltran at UFC on FOX 2 last weekend. Werdum is now next in line, as he meets Roy Nelson in the co-main event of UFC 143 in Las Vegas on Saturday. The card will be headlined by an interim welterweight championship fight between Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit.
Werdum said now that the two rosters have been combined, fans will get to find out who is truly the top heavyweight in MMA.
“I’m happy to be back in the UFC,” Werdum said. “I’m ready to prove my value and to show all the work I have been doing the last couple months. I think I deserved to return after a few fights in Strikeforce. I’m thankful for the opportunity.
“This way we can all be in the same division. Everybody gets to fight in the same place to really prove who is the best in the world.”
A former IFL heavyweight champion and winner of 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter, Nelson sports heavy hands and a stellar top game on the mat.
Werdum said his opponent doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses.
“Roy Nelson is for sure a dangerous fighter,” Werdum said. “He’s a good striker and a (jiu jitsu) black belt under Renzo Gracie. He’s good on the ground, good at striking and I have been training everywhere so I can be ready to fight.
“Every time I have a fight coming up, I try not to put too much focus on the other guy’s game. I train so my game can improve and be ready to fight everywhere. That’s how I’ve been training for this.”
Though Werdum has his eye on a future title shot, and potential rematch with dos Santos, he admitted a win over Nelson doesn’t improve his spot in the heavyweight division.
“I don’t think this fight is going to change things as far as rank position,” Werdum said. “Today, I’m ranked fourth in the world and Roy Nelson, I think, is No. 8. But for sure this is a very important fight. This is my first step on the road to a title shot.
“I want a rematch. My main goal is a title shot. If Junior is still the champion when I get the title shot, I will be happy to do the rematch.”
Werdum knows he needs to put together an impressive run in order to earn a title opportunity. There’s also no way of knowing how long dos Santos will remain heavyweight champion. But at the very least, Werdum expects him to run through No. 1 contender Alistair Overeem.
“100%, it will be Junior dos Santos,” Werdum said. “By TKO in the first round.”