Fabricio Werdum had once been promised a shot at UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, but once Velasquez was sidelined with an injury, Werdum had to decide whether to sit out and wait or keep busy.
He opted for the latter, stepping into the Octagon opposite rising star Travis Browne in the UFC on FOX 11 main event on Saturday night at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
Browne was swinging for the fences from the opening bell, but Werdum showed strong counters. Browne landed a few punches that sent Werdum to the mat, but the Brazilian recovered and took Browne down, putting him in trouble early.
As the opening stanza wore on, Browne kept swinging big, but it was Werdum that was doing the better work in the stand-up game, landing a thunderous kick to the Browne’s ribs, and landing well with his punches, hurting him in the waning seconds.
Werdum picked up in round two where he left off in round one, landing several kicks and punch combinations, taking Browne out of his game and again getting him to the mat. Werdum quickly moved to side control where he chipped away with punches, elbows, and hammerfists.
Werdum gave up position to attempt a Kimura and Browne deftly used the opportunity to regain his feet in the final minute, which he used primarily for recovery.
Opening the third round, Werdum seemed to lose almost all respect for Browne’s power, opening the stanza with a flurry of punches, continually pressuring him and landing punch combinations. Werdum was pushed to the ground a couple minutes in, but he got up and smiled, rushing at Browne with more punches and kicks, again backing the bigger man to the fence.
Browne clinched on the fence, but Werdum turned him and unloaded with a blizzard of knees and punches. The stand-up game was supposed to be Browne’s world, but midway through the bout Werdum had masterfully executed a coup, taking ownership of every facet of the fight. He employed his jab with newfound authority, and blended a wider variety of strikes with an aggressiveness we’ve never seen from him before.
Browne landed the occasional blow, but with none of the fire he showed in knocking out Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem, and Josh Barnett in succession.
The fight nearing an end, Werdum played it a little safer in the final few minutes. But there was no doubt that he dominated from bell to bell, earning a unanimous decision victory, looking every bit the No. 1 contender for the UFC heavyweight championship.
Having defeated Browne, Werdum should next set foot in the Octagon to challenge recovering titleholder Cain Velasquez for the belt later this year in Mexico.
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