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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Sydney

Fabricio Werdum is one of several fighters who could be in the conversation for a shot at Stipe Miocic’s title, but the Dec. 2 winner of Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou seems to have the upper hand.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Sydney-Werdum vs Tybura
Fabricio Werdum picked up his second win in two months at UFC Sydney.
Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night's marathon event from Sydney, Australia featured only one fighter who would be in discussions for an imminent championship fight: Fabricio Werdum.

Werdum (23-7-1), a former UFC heavyweight champion, cruised to victory over Marcin Tybura (16-3) at UFC Sydney, clearly winning four of five rounds, and perhaps the fifth as well.

With heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic (17-2) in talks with the UFC about a return, Werdum could be one of the names under consideration for the next title shot.

Miocic won the title from Werdum on May 14, 2016, in Curitiba, Brazil, scoring a first round knockout win.

Werdum's goal on Saturday should have been to win in impressive enough fashion that people would clamor for him to get the next shot, even despite how the first fight against Miocic went. Werdum has won three out of four fights since dropping the title, but his lone loss was to Alistair Overeem. Overeem (43-15) could also be on the possible contenders list.

Overeem was also knocked out when he faced Miocic for the title on September 10, 2016, but he's won twice since. In addition, Overeem had Miocic hurt badly in that fight before Miocic came back with a first-round stoppage, something Werdum didn't accomplish in his loss to the current champion.

Overeem faces Francis Ngannou (10-1) on Dec. 2 in Detroit. A win by Ngannou, who has never faced the champion, would give him the edge in getting the next title fight. That's why it was imperative for Werdum not just to win, but do so in spectacular fashion. Now, it would probably take a lackluster fight on Dec. 2, or for the winner to get a serious enough injury to where they couldn't make a quick turnaround for Werdum to get the next shot.

And there's still the wild card in Cain Velasquez (14-2).

Miocic vs. Velasquez may be the most intriguing fight in the division, as both are strong strikers and strong wrestlers. Miocic is coming off consecutive knockout wins over Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Werdum, Overeem, and Junior Dos Santos, the latter four of which were finished in the first round — a run more impressive than anyone in the division has ever put together. That really leaves Velasquez as the only obstacle left in Miocic being indisputably the best heavyweight in the world at this time.

Velasquez, a two-time champion, hasn't fought since a July 9, 2016 win over Travis Browne, which ended via first-round knockout,. Granted, beating Browne today hardly makes one ready for a title shot, but Velasquez looked as good as he's ever looked on that night. He's taken time off since to heal assorted injuries, and has been waiting until his wife gives birth to get fully back into training.

"He is excited about his wife delivering a baby any day," said Velasquez’s trainer, Javier Mendes. "He comes in and trains with the team and I know he is itching to get back in and fight as soon as everything is okay at home."

The Overeem-Ngannou winner at this point would have to stand as the favorite for the next shot at Miocic. If it goes down like that, Werdum vs. Velasquez makes sense. Werdum won their first meeting by submission. The win was decisive, but a big question left unanswered after the fight was whether it was the Mexico City altitude that really beat Velasquez. Werdum traveled to Mexico months in advance to get acclimated. Velasquez tried to get acclimated in two weeks. Velasquez, historically, always has the advantage the longer and faster-paced a fight goes, but this was the night that his gas tank backfired.

The two were set to rematch on Dec. 30, 2016, on the Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey card at UFC 207, but the Nevada Athletic Commission pulled Velasquez from the card due to a significant back injury.

Saturday night's UFC Sydney show was the longest in terms of actual fighting in the 418 events over 24 years of UFC history. Of the 13 fights, 10 ended in decisions, including the five-round main event, totaling three hours, four minutes and 18 seconds of total fight time.

Somewhat lost in the news of the show was a legitimate Fight of the Year candidate where Frank Camacho (21-5) took a split decision over Damien Brown (17-11). Both fighters seemed to realize by the crowds reaction in the second round that the back-and-forth slugfest with little in the way of defense made for a tremendous sight. They went out and duplicated that in the third round, which was almost surreal in the Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama realm.

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five fighters after Saturday's show.

FABRICIO WERDUM Of course the big fight for Werdum would be Miocic, and given the frequency of heavyweight injuries, he still could wind up the prime contender. But the odds are against it, leaving two other prospective opponents that, should Werdum beat them, may very well get him a title shot. Those names would be primarily Velasquez, or if not, former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov (29-6).

Now 40, time is not Werdum's ally. Werdum showed he had enough speed and skill at that age, and stamina, to where he was easily in control for four rounds on Saturday night. But there is likely not a long period of time when he'll retain those attributes to a degree where he can win a championship.

BELAL MUHAMMAD Muhammad (13-2) took a split decision over Tim Means, and gave an impassioned speech about wanting Colby Covington (13-1) next. It's possible because of the callout, but that seems like a name too high in the rankings, and Muhammad doesn't have the cachet to leapfrog the rest of the division.

Names that are at his level that would make for good wins for him, and be also be good fights for him, would be Ryan LaFlare (13-2) or Leon Edwards (14-3).

ELIAS THEODOROU Theodorou (15-2) was far too fast for Australian favorite Daniel Kelly. Theodorou clearly won all three rounds, but the Sydney fans still heavily booed the decision going his way.

A good fight at this stage for Theodorou to advance would be against Johny Hendricks (18-8). Hendricks has gone 2-6 over his last eight fights and desperately needs a win. Theodorou probably couldn't get a fight — and still have a shot at winning — over anyone that would help raise his stock more right now.

ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI Volkanovski (16-1) sports one of the most impressive records in the UFC. His only loss was in his fourth pro fight.

Volkanovski competes as a featherweight, a far cry from the 214 pounds he carried as a rugby player, and has won championships at welterweight for some smaller Australian organizations. A good opponent for him to try to climb up the ladder faster would be Dennis Bermudez (16-7). Another person who can provide Volkanovski a real test at a higher level of competition would be Chas Skelly (17-3).

NICK LENTZ Lentz (30-8-2, 1 no contest) scored a major win on Saturday over former Bellator champion Will Brooks. A good fight for him next would be against name veteran fighters Jim Miller (28-11) or Clay Guida (34-17). Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2) is also a quality option.

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