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Fabricio Werdum says it was a ‘hard decision’ to take Walt Harris fight at last minute

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Fabricio Werdum celebrating his win over Walt Harris at UFC 216
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Pretty much everyone has crammed for a test at one point in their lives, but that pressure probably doesn’t compare to having almost no time to prepare to fight someone in a cage.

This was the dilemma facing Fabricio Werdum on Saturday.

Just hours before he was scheduled to face Derrick Lewis in a heavyweight bout on the main card of UFC 216 in Las Vegas, the former champion was told that he would instead be battling Walt Harris after Lewis was forced to withdraw due to a back injury. Given the extraordinarily short notice and the fact that he had a lot to lose and little to gain against the lesser known Harris, it wasn’t easy for Werdum to accept the change.

“It’s such a hard decision,” Werdum said at the UFC 216 post-fight press conference. “Imagine three hours before, I just have my room, I just come to the arena, and my manager Ali (Abdel-Aziz) calls me and says, ‘Your fight is canceled.’ Imagine everything is good coming to the arena — and at first I’m very sad, but my manager called me again. Two minutes later, he called me, ‘Werdum, I have one more guy,’ maybe one more fight for me. ‘Harris.’ I say, ‘Yes, just one second, Ali.’

“I (talked with my team). This is a very hard decision. Because you prepare your body, strategy, everything for one guy, for Derrick Lewis, for three months, and three hours (before the fight you) change everything.”

Werdum eventually agreed to fight Harris and he went on to record a quick victory, taking Harris down to the mat where he was no match for Werdum’s jiu-jitsu wizardry. Vai Cavalo needed just 65 seconds to make Harris tap out to an armbar.

It helped that Werdum was not unfamiliar with Harris’s work, having watched his fights while working for the UFC’s international broadcasts. That footage would turn out to be invaluable to Werdum and his team on Saturday.

“I saw him when I do commentary, when I work on UFC network,” Werdum said. “I just have a strategy when I’m on my way to the arena, me, Rafael (Cordeiro), my team, watching his fights and coming up with the strategy... 30-40 minutes to make the strategy, that’s it. You see the strategy, this is the strategy, I just make it.”

How the fight would have gone against Lewis is anybody’s guess, but Werdum is confident that he can beat anyone in the heavyweight division, including up-and-comer Francis Ngannou, who claims that he was also ready to step in for Lewis.

“Anyone,” Werdum said. “No problem. I say Francis, (Alistair) Overeem, Harris, whoever wants to fight me, that’s it. I’ve been waiting for a fight. I just have my bag on my back to walk to here, I fight. I showed today.”

Werdum has now won eight of 10 fights since returning to the UFC in 2012, with his only losses coming at the hands of Overeem and current heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. It was Miocic who knocked Werdum out to take the strap, and a rematch with the Ohioan remains at the top of Werdum’s wish list.

“When Stipe Miocic (asked for an opportunity), I give for him,” Werdum said. “Now, it’s his turn to give the opportunity for the belt again. Whenever he wants. Maybe next week, I’m ready for New York, for everyone. Just keep going in training, I come back to Los Angeles tomorrow with my family, a couple of days I go to vacation and after then I start to train again. I want to fight Stipe Miocic, this is my big goal.”