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Fabricio Werdum respects Aleksei Oleinik’s ‘unorthodox’ grappling: ‘He does some crazy things’

Fabricio Werdum looks to score his first UFC win since a November 2017 decision over Marcin Tybura.
Esther Lin, Strikeforce

Fabricio Werdum’s first fight back in the octagon after a two-year USADA suspension will be a battle of experienced submission specialists on Saturday night at UFC 249.

In one corner stands Aleksei Oleinik, a 58-13-1 heavyweight that’s forced 46 opponents to tap over his 24-year career. In the other, there’s Werdum, who has a better grappling credentials, having captured several jiu-jitsu and ADCC titles before claiming the UFC belt. The Brazilian is 23-8-1 as an MMA fighter with 11 submissions.

Both fighters have a long list of impressive victims in MMA, with Werdum tapping the likes of Cain Velasquez, Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Alistair Overeem in rings and cages. Oleinik, “The Boa Constrictor,” choked out Mark Hunt, Travis Browne, Mirko Cro Cop, and Jeff Monson.

“You have to really respect him because of his experience, 42 years of age, has many different submissions: Ezekiel, neck crank,” Werdum told MMA Fighting. “I was in Russia and watched him submit Mirko with a neck crank. He has this different approach, things no one believes (will work), but he makes it work.”

In fact, Werdum views Oleinik as more dangerous than experienced grapplers he’s faced in the past in UFC and PRIDE – like “Minotauro” Nogueira and ADCC gold medalist John Olav Einemo – due to his “unorthodox” style.

“He’s not the guy that does a triangle – he does some crazy things,” Werdum said. “He’s done it in the UFC ... to hug (his opponent’s) head and pull him to mount. I’ve never seen that before. He submits while on half guard from the bottom.

“He’s a strong guy, and of course we have the right strategy. I spoke with [my coach] ‘Cobrinha,’ [and] he showed me, even before [the pandemic] and online recently, what we have to do to avoid Oleinik’s grips.”

Werdum has been working with jiu-jitsu legend Rubens Charles “Cobrinha” for years now, and he believes they have cracked the code to avoid dangerous situations on the ground with Oleinik.

With Kings MMA closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic in Huntington Beach, Calif., Werdum and his family drove up to their house in Big Bear. After training in high altitude for 40 days – “Which reminds me of the camp I did to fight Cain Velasquez in Mexico,” he said – the former UFC champion is confident he’s in great shape for his first bout in two years.

“Some people don’t think he wants to grapple me, but I believe he will,” Werdum said. “He wants to show he can. You have to respect him.”

A two-time Ultimate Fighter coach, Werdum expects UFC 249 to feel the same vibe as he did on that reality show, since fans won’t be allowed to enter the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. With few options available on TV during this global health crisis, the Brazilian predicts the pay-per-view event to be a huge success.

“I think it’s going to be great to show other sports that it really works with safety, testing everybody,” he said. “It will be the first step to show others they can open, too.”

And when all those fans tune in to watch him fight, Werdum expects to impress them once again.

“(Oleinik) only comes forward and throws that overhand to close the distance,” Werdum said. “He wants to grab your legs, pull half guard, but I see myself avoiding that early and knocking him out. I’m working really hard on the feet. But I have to submit him, go the distance, knockout, whatever. What matters the most is the victory.”

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