UFC 198 is right around the corner and current UFC heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum will be defending his title for the first time against No. 3 contender Stipe Miocic.
Werdum, No. 4 in the UFC pound-for-pound fighter rankings, is no stranger to tough fights. The heavyweight champ has wins over names like Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, Travis Browne, Antonio Silva, he owns a stand-out win over heavyweight titan Fedor Emelianenko.
Born in Brazil in 1977, Werdum turned to Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) after getting into a fight with his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. Only a teenager, Werdum was put into a chokehold by the ex who just so happened to practice jiu-Jitsu. Unfamiliar with the move, Werdum was choked unconscious. After that, he turned to the Winner-Behring Academy to learn the art of BJJ.
At the age of 17, Werdum moved to Spain with his mother. Hardly known for its martial arts, Spain was a wasteland when it came to training academies, especially ones that specialize in BJJ. What could have easily been the end to the young fighter's career before it even got started, Werdum kept hope alive by opening his own gym in the early 2000's. He quickly became one of Spain's most prominent coaches. He later expanded his "empire" by opening two more academies.
Werdum's professional mixed martial arts career began in 2002, when he debuted in a European organization called Millennium Brawl. He won his first fight by submission, submitting his opponent by what would become his signature move, the triangle choke.
After earning his black belt, Werdum continued to train and compete in BJJ. He won the gold medal at the IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championships twice as a black belt and won the silver and bronze medal as a black belt at the Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Eventually, he saw the writing on the wall and began to focus on MMA as the industry was starting to grow and become way more profitable.
To focus on his striking game, Werdum returned to his native home of Brazil. He joined the famed gym Chute Boxe in the fighting hotbed town of Curitiba, Brazil. In order to pay for his striking lessons, Werdum gave fighters private grappling classes to help them work on their ground game.
In 2005, Croatian fighter Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, who was a huge MMA star in Japan, was looking for the best grappler available to help him raise his skills to the next level. Werdum was his answer. Through his working with Cro Cop, Werdum opened yet another gym in Zagreb, Croatia.
As for his professional career, Werdum would get hotter than ever. He went on a five-fight win streak in Pride FC, one of the best MMA organizations of the 2000's. He lost the first fight in his professional career against Sergei Kharitonov in a split decision at Pride 30. Werdum continued to fight in Pride, going 2-1 in his final three fights before the organization fell in 2007. From there Werdum turned to the 2 Hot 2 Handle organization before signing with the UFC.
Werdum's start in the UFC was a bit of a rocky one. His first bout with the UFC took place at UFC 70 in 2007. That fight found the heavyweight squared off with Andrei Arlovski where he lost by unanimous decision. While Werdum would win his next two fights, it would be his knockout loss against Junior dos Santos at UFC 90 that would cause the UFC to reconsider his contract. Werdum didn't agree with the terms the UFC brought to him and was ultimately cut by the company.
He was quickly picked up by Strikeforce, an MMA promotion where he fared a little bit better, winning his first two fights against Mike Kyle and Antonio Silva, but it would be his third fight in Strikeforce that would get fans and media to sit up and pay attention. Werdum would face his toughest opponent to date: Fedor Emelianenko.
Emelianenko is thought by many as the Wayne Gretzky or Muhammad Ali of MMA. The heavyweight suffered one (some would say controversial) loss by TKO when the ringside doctor stopped his fight against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in 2000. After that Emelianenko would go on to win his next 28 fights before meeting Werdum in 2010. In that fight, Werdum would make the heavyweight icon tap out in what would be the Russian's first legitimate loss in MMA. It wasn't just his win over Emelianenko that would draw attention, but the fashion in which he won. He submitted the world heavyweight superstar in the first round.
Check out the fight below.
Werdum would lose his next fight with Alistair Overeem before the UFC would come back around with an offer to return. He would make that return at UFC 143 against Roy Nelson in 2012. That fight ended in a check in the win column for Werdum via unanimous decision. The bout was also marked as Werdum's first "Fight of the Night" award.
After a win at UFC 147, Werdum would find himself in a rematch against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who lost to back in 2006. The second time around would prove to go a lot more in Werdum's favor. The heavyweight contender submitted Nogueira via armbar in the second round.
Werdum's next fight would find him as the underdog once again when he was pitted against Travis Browne in a title eliminator bout. Werdum was at a bit of a striking disadvantage against Browne which put him in the role of the underdog for the night. The fight went the distance and Werdum dominated Browne in every round. Werdum was declared the victor in the end by unanimous decision.
After his victory over Browne, the UFC announced that Werdum and Cain Velasquez would act as coaches for the inaugural season of "The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America." The pair were supposed to face each other at UFC 180, but Velasquez would have to pull out of that fight due to knee injury. In his place, Werdum would face Mark Hunt for the interim UFC heavyweight championship.
In his fight with Hunt, Werdum was dropped early in the first round by punches and it didn't look as if he'd be able to battle back. Werdum would prove his naysayers once again, by defeating Hunt with a second-round TKO. His comeback that night would earn him his first "Performance of the Night" bonus award.
Werdum's chance to become the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion came on June 13, 2015 at UFC 188 against Velasquez. The two heavyweights went back and forth for two rounds before Werdum took Velasquez out in the third round by a guillotine-choke submission. His victory not only won him the championship, but also garnered him his second consecutive "Performance of the Night." Watch it here:
A rematch with Velasquez was supposed to take place at UFC Fight Night 82 in February, but Velasquez had to pull out due to a back injury (again). He was replaced by Stipe Miocic, but then Werdum had to pull out due to an injury as well. The matchup-up between Miocic and Werdum will finally take place this Saturday at UFC 198, returning Werdum to Curitiba, Brazil in front of a reported 42,000 spectators.
Will Werdum be able to defend his title against Miocic? Regardless of what you think, you can't deny one thing: never count Werdum out because every time he's underestimated, he finds a way to prove critics wrong.