Not all that long ago, Brandon Vera was fond of saying he slept with Fabricio Werdum under his pillow every night. It’s an uncomfortable thought, but Vera couldn’t get his mind off the quick stoppage at UFC 85 in London, when Werdum was bringing hellfire down on him from the mount and referee Dan Miragliotta, anxious and looming, simply didn’t have the stomach. Vera understandably wanted a do over.
But it wasn’t to be. Werdum crawled out from Vera’s pillow long enough to get knocked out by UFC newcomer Junior dos Santos four months later at UFC 90 and was then cut.
As these things go, it was without much ceremony. And as these things go, when somebody that we write off like that comes surging back into relevance -- especially a jiu-jitsu player who keeps freaking beating up guys on the feet -- it takes a long while to finally see they are real. We want to use words like "fluke" or "yeah but" or "he’ll be killed by the next guy though," which by now becomes part of Werdum’s magic.
That’s where he’s after outclassing Travis Browne at UFC on FOX 11 on Saturday night in a heavyweight title contender. The old "Go Horse" Werdum just keeps upsetting people’s expectations, just as quietly as a 6-foot-4, deceivingly well-built man can do it. The performance against Browne, even after 10 months of inactivity, was right in line with the Werdum that beat the hatches off of Roy Nelson (brutally), and dominated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (submission), and laid waste to the Chicago cop, Mike Russow (uppercut). In fact, he looked better than he ever has, even if those watching remain in a denial state of disbelief.
It’s not Werdum marching towards Cain Velasquez in Mexico; it’s Werdum advancing like a shadow on the wall.
Werdum is a lot of smoke and mirrors, a hypnotist with spinning spirals for eyes. He’s also a cunning grappler who just happens to have developed his stand-up game to the point of confusion. And he has a chin, a good one that can get socked by Travis Browne full force and not cave in. He can do the kip. He scrambles well and has speed. When he hits a guy back, it’s like a gong-crash jolting the groggy.
About the only thing the Brazilian’s done wrong since getting knocked out by Dos Santos is plead with praying hands for Alistair Overeem to come to the ground with him in Dallas. That was the bit of telegraphy that got him his only other loss in the last six years. In 2011, when the Strikeforce Grand Prix was kicking off, he didn’t trust his hands. Now he does. And since then he’s been all subliminal; we don’t see him coming, we just know he’s there.
Now he’s earned a title shot.
And as Werdum gets ready to face the charging bull Velasquez, already the default notion is that he will be creamed. This began to occur just moments after he got his arm raised against Browne, who was supposed to cream him, too. Velasquez is so far above the nearest heavyweight contender that Werdum, who emerges after three years of slow materialization, is already being cast in the role of sacrifice. Just as he was against the unbeatable Fedor Emelianenko back in San Jose 2010, when he was installed as a long shot underdog.
You should have seen the train of Werdum and his merrymakers singing in the HP Pavilion corridors after he tapped the Russian with a triangle armbar. Now Emelianenko is sleeping with Werdum under his pillow, too.
In fact, just about everybody’s sleeping on Werdum, which has become a sort of fight game tradition. A better nickname than "Vai Cavalo" might be "Sealy Posturepedic" -- for whatever reason, we just don’t like his chances in big spots. It’ll be no different against Velasquez. In fact, it’ll be all the same doubts times five, even as Velasquez comes back after a year of inactivity of his own post-labrum surgery. Velasquez will be a big favorite to win the fight. No way Werdum can match that pace. Mercy go with him.
In other words, Velasquez should use caution -- these are the perfect conditions for Werdum to play spoiler, even as we protect the right to be duped.