The co-main event of Saturday's UFC 143 features Fabricio Werdum returning to the UFC and attempting to secure his place in the division at the expense of Roy Nelson. Both men are capable in both phases of the game, meaning this fight could be over quickly.
Nelson is the third TUF-alum to make an appearance on the main card of UFC 143, but despite high expectations of both Josh Koscheck and Ed Herman on their seasons, was the only one of the three to claim the giant glass trophy. Nelson is perhaps most famous for his look, with a large gut that Nelson is adamant is both useful and does not harm his cardio in any way, "Big Country" often celebrates his victories by giving that big belly a good rubbing.
After claiming the International Fight League heavyweight title, Nelson was given a spot on The Ultimate Fighter 10, most famous as the season with Kimbo Slice. Nelson dominated Kimbo on his path to the finals, where he knocked out Brandon Schaub to claim the TUF crown. Nelson followed up by knocking out Stefan Struve in a fight which saw the fighters spending more time standing in the cage with the lights out due to a power loss than time spent fighting each other. The wins earned Nelson consecutive bouts against current champion Junior Dos Santos, then former champion Frank Mir, and while Nelson showed impressive durability, both were dominant defeats. Nelson got back on the good side of .500 with a third round TKO of Mirko Filipovic in his most recent fight.
Strengths and Weaknesses
While Nelson appears at first glance to be your run-of-the-mill rolly-polly heavyweight who is around more for his durability than his skill set, the big man proves looks can be deceiving. Although Nelson is no doubt able to withstand a pounding without saying uncle, he also possesses dangerous skills to threaten those outside of the division's elite. On the feet, while not a threat to chain together combinations for fifteen minutes, Nelson hits hard and can shut off an opponent's lights quite capably when he finds the button. On the mat Nelson is a dangerous grappler, adept at using his large body to provide pressure and make things difficult when working from on top.
Although Nelson is an accomplished grappler in his own right, Werdum is an ADCC world champion. While the recent Frank Mir vs. Big Nog showdown proved you can never say never in MMA, it's a safe bet that if Big Country is taking this fight it will be because of his work on the feet. Werdum is hard to knock out, but Nelson hits hard, so if you're backing the underdog, take a knockout victory early in the fight. In two of this week's prior entries I mentioned the value of the card's seven close fights (where no fighter is more than +/- 170) particularly in parlays. This is one such fight, though Big Country is offering slightly worse odds at the books as, though still a dog at -105, the pros put the gap wide enough that Nelson has a plus-sign before his number.
Fabricio Werdum analysis after the jump.
Werdum is a PRIDE veteran who has faced many of the best heavyweight fighters in the game. The Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt has never managed to string together a winning streak longer than three fights in the major promotions, however he has also never suffered back-to-back defeats in his career. Against Nelson, Werdum will be looking to maintain his perfect record coming off of a defeat.
Werdum was released from his first stint in the UFC after suffering a quick knock out to some debuting chump named Dos Santos, and decided to take his talents to Strikeforce. In his Strikeforce debut, Werdum made short work of Mile Kyle, winning by guillotine choke, then moved to 2-0 in the promotion with a decision victory of Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. The two wins set up the biggest fight of Werdum's career, as he took on the essentially-undefeated Fedor Emelianenko. Werdum appeared to be dropped by a Fedor punch, but proved to merely be playing possum, drawing the Russian into his guard where the BJJ black belt locked on a fight-ending triangle choke. Following the win, Werdum was paired with Alistair Overeem in the opening round of the Strikeforce Grand Prix, and their fight went interestingly. Werdum was expected to need it on the ground, Overeem on the feet, and it was that simple. Instead, Werdum actually appeared to be outlanding the timid Overeem, who was so afraid of Werdum's takedowns he was forgetting to throw strikes. For his part, Werdum got so frustrated with failed takedowns he failed to realize he was winning on the feet and threw away the decision by constantly flopping to his back in failed guard pulls.
Strengths and Weaknesses
To get the weakness out of the way right off the bat, Werdum wants to spend as little time as is absolutely required on the feet during his fights. Werdum is a muay thai black belt and more capable on the feet than many, including himself in his last outing, seem to give him credit for, but ultimately it comes down to doing something you are able at and something you are world class at. Werdum has been on the podium in the heavyweight division of ADCC, the premier no-gi grappling competition, in each of the past five competitions. In addition to a third place finish in 2003 and runner-up showings in 2005 and 2011, Werdum has twice won the tournament in 2007 and 2009.
At the end of the day, Roy Nelson is a great grappler while Werdum is world class. Although Nelson has shown that he is tough and able to withstand a beating without succumbing, he has also had very little to offer in his two losses against top opposition. The best bet is for Werdum to win, and if he does so by a unanimous decision victory with Nelson proving too tough to finish, but rarely threatening his Brazilian opponent. Werdum is a -130 and one of the better options as a "safe" pick in your parlay, and not the worst way to dispose of any extra dollars you have lying around.