Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos exploded into UFC heavyweight title contention last night when he knocked out highly touted Fabricio Werdum in what could easily be described as one of the years biggest upsets. Upon browsing through many of the popular pre-fight predictions I couldn’t find a single person that hadn’t expected for Werdum to win fairly easily and really, it’s hard to blame them. In so many ways this fight was meant to be something to tide Fabricio Werdum over until the current four way elimination between Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir played itself out but as we’ve so many times in the unpredictable world of mixed martial arts, things don’t always play out according to plan.
Fabricio Werdum has come so far in establishing himself as one of the sports premier heavyweights, it’s hard to imagine that not very long ago he was popularly referred to simply as “Cro Cop’s Jiu-Jitsu coach”. Easily one the heavyweight division’s most dangerous submission grapplers, this Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Brown Belt in Judo is a European Jiu-Jitsu champion, two-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion and 2007 ADCC world heavyweight champion.
Werdum made a name for himself over in Japan fighting for PrideFC where he lost hard fought decisions against top heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov and current UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and picked up decisive wins against highly ranked Alistair Overeem and Aleksander Emelianenko. Upon the collapse of PrideFC, Werdum made the move to the UFC in 2007 where he ran into problems in the form of a close decision loss to Andrei Arlovski before compiling back to back victories over Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera. It was those subsequent wins that led most insiders to feel that a title shot for Fabricio was right around the corner. Little did they know that around that corner was a match up between Randy “The Natural” Couture, eager to put his legal troubles with the UFC behind him and re-establish himself as the best in the division, and monstrous former WWE superstar turned mixed martial artist, Brock Lesnar. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for his turn, Werdum decided he wasn’t about to sit around and gather dust and that was a decision that ultimately cost him.
Well it was one of the decisions that ultimately cost Werdum. One of the notable differences many noticed almost immediately in Werdum for this fight was his decisive difference in weight. While Fabricio normally fights and looks good right around the 230 pound mark, he came into this fight visibly heavier at 256 pounds which translated into a jump of 26 pounds for Werdum. The reason for the drastic jump in weight could easily have come from the pressure of competing with bigger and bigger guys that have to cut down to the 265 pound weight limit like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. Whatever the reason, it didn’t seem like the move in weight was beneficial to Werdum in any way. Although the fight with Dos Santos didn’t last very long, while it did last, Werdum looked slow and sluggish.
However, Werdum’s loss didn’t have everything to do with his rise in weight. A lot of it had to do with a crushing right uppercut thrown by a fighter that fellow heavyweights will soon be scrambling to find footage on, Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos.
Junior Dos Santos trains with one of the most impressive camps in the business. Fighting out of a team that top fighters like Anderson Silva, The Nogueira brothers, Paulo Filho and Rafael Feijao call home, Junior Dos Santos’ resources to learn from are endless. Dos Santos is known as a dangerous striker coming into the fight with Werdum sporting a 7-1 record with five of those wins coming by knockout. A relative newcomer in the fight game, Dos Santos began his journey into mixed martial arts just two years ago and got his start with Jiu-Jitsu just one year prior to that. Self admittedly, Dos Santos ground game is a little sketchy at this point early on in his career and his main focus in the fight is to stand and deliver but grappling with the Nogueira’s and company is sure to change that in no time.
Junior exuded confidence in the moments leading up to the bout.Speaking on Werdum just prior to the fight, Dos Santos had this to say, “He wishes to fight for the belt but tonight I’m going to stop that and knock him out.” In what almost seemed like a reference to Werdum’s noticeable weight change Dos Santos said, “He better be prepared or he’s gonna get messed up”. Just the usual tough talk before the bout but somewhat prophetic in retrospect.
The opening moments of the fight saw Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum circling each other and doing the usual sizing up. Dos Santos was keeping his distance and utilizing his leg kicks but not much was going on early in the first until about one minute into the contest when Dos Santos landed a hard compact left hook on the chin of Werdum that went widely unnoticed by the crowd. The punch did not go unnoticed by Werdum. When Werdum backed up to regroup from the initial left hook it seemed as if he was looking for it again when Dos Santos switched up and threw a crushing right uppercut that instantly shattered Werdum’s nose. Fabricio went limp and fell to his knees with his face slumped against the mat and Dos Santos seized the opportunity, kneeling over Werdum and landing five hard right hands to the side of the head before referee Marc Fennell called a halt to the contest and saved Werdum from any further punishment just 1:20 into the first round.
So was anything determined by last nights fight? Not really. If anything it has just produced a ton of questions that will be answered with both of these Brazilians upcoming bouts. Is Junior Dos Santos the real deal? Did Werdum just have an off night? Only time will tell.