The UFC is heading down to the Sunshine State to bring fight fans the first FOX card of the spring. Headlining the card is a fight between a pair of surging heavyweights in Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne in a bout that will reshape the top of their division.
Since making his return to the octagon back in 2011, Werdum (17-5-1) has put together a three fight-wining streak with wins over Roy Nelson, Mike Russow and the Antonio Nogueira. Prior to this impressive win streak, ‘Vai Cavalo' made waves under the Strikeforce banner when turned the mixed martial arts community on its head after he snapped Fedor Emelianenko's decade-long 28 fight unbeaten with a first round submission victory. This victory not only thrust Werdum into the pubic eye but also propelled him up the heavyweight ranking.
But Browne (16-1-1), whose only career loss came after tearing his hamstring against Bigfoot UFC on FX 5 in 2012, has racked up three straight first round knockout victories over former title contenders Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett.
As Browne puts it, "You've seen a boy grow into a man inside the cage."
It's a classic submission vs. striking matchup and with the winner being granted a shot at Cain Velasquez's UFC heavyweight championship in an upcoming pay-per-view in Mexico later this year, expect both men to leave it all on the line as they look to take the next step to achieving their goal of becoming the "baddest man on the face of the earth."
Browne has needed just 6:19 total cage time to finish off his last three opponents. Combine this with an average fight time of 5:40, the shortest among active heavyweights and fourth-shortest in modern heavyweight history, and chances are if Browne's has his hand raised at the end of this bout it will most likely come within the opening frame. In fact with 10 of his 12 career knockouts coming within the first round, Browne's explosive power has emerged as one of the most dangerous weapons in the entire organization.
But in his matchup against Overeem, a former K-1 kickboxing champion, Browne proved he was capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of damage. After being dropped by a barrage of vicious knees against the cage, Browne withstood hurricane Overeem, managed to make his way back to his feet and plant a perfectly timed front kick to the chin of the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion, which gave him yet another first-round knockout.
Werdum's striking game has grown leaps and bounds since he's made the transition to Kings MMA and more importantly began training with world-renowned striking coach Rafael Cordeiro. Landing an incredible 4.38 significant strikes per minute, the fourth highest rate among active UFC heavyweights and seventh highest in divisional history, Werdum's newfound aggression has paid off as he often catches his opponents off guard with powerful leg kicks and knees from the clinch. But this over aggressive attack has caught Werdum in some precarious positions. Werdum has often left his unprotected with his hands sitting near his waste, giving his opponents a wide-open window to strike. If Werdum takes the approach against on Saturday, his night won't last long as Browne's combination of speed and power will easily overpower his him.
Browne is not known for his ability to take the fight to the canvas, instead the Hawaiian uses his wrestling skills to keep the fight standing. In fact he has successfully defended all eight takedown attempts thrown his way inside a UFC octagon. Both Gonzaga and Barnett were attempting double leg takedowns against the cage until those vicious elbows from Browne knocked them unconscious.
Since 2003, Werdum has landed 26. But since returning to the UFC a takedown down from him has become a rare sight, as he has only been successful 27 percent of the time he attempts one. In his matchup against Nogueira, Werdum was successful in securing a single leg and relentlessly worked to bring the fight to the canvas. So if he does decide to attempt a takedown he will have to stay active or else he leaves himself open for another attack from Browne. Werdum is 11-3 in fights in which he lands at least one takedown, so if he can survive the early onslaught from Browne and throw in a takedown or two he should have no problem securing a win. But If Werdum is sloppy with his wrestling this will not end well for him as Browne is a master of taking advantage of his opponent's mistakes.
There are very few fighters in MMA who can compete with Fabricio Werdum if the fight ends up on the canvas. As a multiple time gold medalist in the Pan American Jiu-Jitsu championship, The World Jiu-Jitsu Championship and the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships, Werdum has already established himself as one of the greatest submission artists in all of MMA. In his last fights, the Brazilian has attempted 22 serious submission attempts so it's a safe bet he will throw in an armbar or a triangle from the bottom. If he can get a hold of one of Browne's limbs, Werdum should have no problem adding to nine career submission victories.
Brown has stressed that he is more than just a strike but with his last few fights lasting less than one round, fans just haven't seen much of his groundwork. He does have two career submission victories, including one over Chad Griggs at UFC 145 and has shown tremendous scrambling ability as he has been controlled on the ground for just 45 total seconds during his UFC career, the third shortest amount of time in UFC heavyweight history.
However, he just simply cannot hold a candle to Werdum in the jiu-jitsu department, as Werdum will run circles around him if this fight ends up on canvas.
Browne finds himself the underdog yet again, a role he gladly embraces. If he can keep this fight and use his towering 6-foot-7 frame to pick apart opponent with his unorthodox striking game, this fight should not make it out of the second round. Werdum on the other hand should look to take this fight to the ground as soon as possible in order to use his jiu-jitsu to secure yet another submission victory.
So the key to this matchup will undoubtedly be Werdum outwrestle his opponent. All it takes is one mistake and he will end up in dangerous waters with Werdum on top of him. Browne has been perfect with his takedown defense and he has performed well against better wrestlers than Werdum. So in the end expect Browne to keep this fight standing en route to earning his fourth straight first round knockout and his shot at the UFC heavyweight championship.
Browne via Round 1 K.O.
Here are the rest of my predictions for the main card and preliminary bouts:
Main Card, FOX, 5 p.m. PST
- Miesha Tate def. Liz Carmouche
- Edson Barboza def. Donald Cerrone
- Yoel Romero def. Brad Tavares
Prelim CARD, FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m. PST
- Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Rafael dos Anjos vs.
- Seth Baczynski def. Thiago Alves
- Pat Healy def. Jorge Masvidal
- Estevan Payan def. Alex White
- Caio Magalhaes def. Luke Zachrich
- Jordan Mein def. Hernani Perpetuo
PRELIMINARY CARD, UFC Fight Pass, 12:30 p.m. PST
- Ray Borg def. Dustin Ortiz
- Mirsad Bektic def. Chas Skelly
- Derrick Lewis def. Jack May