MEXICO CITY -- Fabricio Werdum has relished the underdog role his entire career.
And while his legendary 2010 victory over Fedor Emelianenko was unforgettable, he’s never faced odds like he faced Saturday night, going up against Mexican-American star Cain Velasquez in front of a screaming throng of 21,000 fans at Arena Ciudad de Mexico at UFC 188.
Just like five years ago, Werdum proved undaunted. The 37-year-old Orange County resident by way of Brazil overcame a slow start and turned up the heat against a fading Velasquez.
In the third round, Werdum got the job done, as he turned a Velasquez takedown into a guillotine choke. At 2:13 of the third round, Velasquez tapped, making Werdum, who had once been cut by the UFC, the new UFC heavyweight champion.
"I am very happy," Werdum (20-5-1) said. "I had a great camp. I felt strong and I have a great team."
Velasquez got the best of the exchanges in the opening round. Velasquez dropped Werdum on several occasions, but refused to engage Werdum, a four-time world jiu-jitsu championship gold medalist, on the ground.
By the second round, though, the effects of Mexico City’s 7,000-foot altitude kicked in, as Velasquez, who had been in town two weeks, noticeably slowed. Werdum, who had trained for a month in the 10,000-foot altitude of Toluca, Mexico, began to pick Velasquez (13-2) apart with jabs, opening multiple cuts on the champ’s face. Werdum really laid it on late in the round and Velasquez appeared to be saved by the bell.
The doctor checked Velasquez’s cuts between rounds and cleared him to continue. Velasquez, fighting for the first time in two years, started throwing bombs again in a desperate attempt to turn the tide. He then made his fatal mistake of shooting for a takedown, and it didn’t take Werdum long to score his winning submission, seizing the ninth win of the Brazilian's past 10 fights.
It was the culmination of a remarkable run for Werdum, who was cut from the UFC after a 2008 knockout loss to Junior dos Santos.
"I had a good strategy," Werdum said. "I had a big dream, and I got it today."
Velasquez offered no excuses for his loss.
"I’m sorry," said Velasquez, whose second title reign came to an end. "It wasn’t my night."