Fabricio Werdum: How an ADCC Champion Beat the Pressure


Bar the fact that I liked the 7/1 odds of a multi time BJJ Champion winning by submission I’d be hard pressed to come up with any other reason why I put money on “Vai Cavalo” over Cain Velasquez. The former baddest man on the planet had, other than a few occasions, looked everything like the MMA world’s Terminator. He marched you down and pounded you out until it was all over and you were looking up at the lights and listening to Bruce Buffer announce your loss.

Following this weekend’s upset let’s take a look at the styles of these titanic warriors and how they matched up to bring another belt to Kings MMA and Rafael Cordeiro. In the following article I hope to help more casual or curious fans learn some of the ins and outs involved in the sport we love, showing some of the intricacies involved in setting up, executing and finishing a plan of attack.

The Pressure

Cain is the definition of a swarm style fighter in the vein of boxers Joe Frazier and Rocky Marciano. Also known as a crowder or an infighter the key to the game plan is constant pressure in order to overwhelm the opponent and move the fight to a range where that allows a lot of clinch work and close range shots. This style is defined by a good chin, solid power, high output (and thus stamina and conditioning) and generally a good ability to bob and weave. This style favours closing inside an opponent, overwhelming them with intensity and flurries of hooks and uppercuts. They tend to be fast on their feet which can make them difficult to evade for a slower fighter. They also tend to have a good “chin” because this style usually involves being hit with many jabs before they can manoeuvre inside where they are more effective. In Cain’s case this is against the fence with head pressure and an underhook leaving the knees and free hand to dish out the punishment, all the while waiting for the chance to take it to the floor and continue the non-stop punishment.

Cordeiro Style

Werdum doesn’t fit the typical mold of a general boxing style, his goal is to use straight punches to set up a double collar tie, tee off with knees and reset for distance, with the occasional body and high kicks thrown in for good measure. While he doesn’t back up well, with forward pressure or holding steady his 1-2 combination is sharp and if it connects great, but if not and the opponent slips or covers up you’d better believe there is a kick or knee following up behind it in short order. His double collar tie isn’t typical Thai boxing style either which is characterised by controlling the opponents movement into the knee or a sweep, he just wants to go to work with knees, as is typical of Cordeiro’s teaching from Chute Boxe to Kings. This style just builds and builds as the fight wears on and the opponent slowly breaks down; as we saw in the Roy Nelson and Travis Browne fights. In addition to all of this, need I remind you of his Jiu Jitsu? I didn’t think so.

The Fight itself

Round 1:

As expected Velasquez comes out in top gear pressuring Werdum with stiff jabs and throwing a Marciano style overhand right in order to push the forward pressure and more importantly wind up in the clinch against the fence. Coupled with leg kicks in order to take some pep out of Go Horse’s “Go”. As stated above Werdum while back pedalling is not the best counter striker as he often has to plant his feet moving straight back and gets in wild exchanges which favour the swarming, clinching style allowing Cain to let rip with hooks and uppercuts as well as mixing low and high clinch knees. However Velasquez is committing a cardinal sin of striking by leading with his head, especially on the overhand. No doubt due to his love of head pressure and years of wrestling enforcement this habit allows Werdum to connect over and over with a pumping jab and his own right hand, as well as threatening with knee attacks and body kicks. Werdum also focuses on the teep kick to the diaphragm which can hurt a fighter’s ability to breath even when not 7000 feet above sea level.

Round 2:

Javier Mendez is requesting angles, which is at odds with the normal style of Cain and will impede with his high pressure gameplan. Cordeiro points out that Cain is leading with, and dropping his head, typical of his style also. Every time Velasquez is pressuring forward he is forced to endure straight punches to his face which as we saw will take their toll. By comparison any attempts Fabricio makes at starting offense are shoulder rolled off by Velasquez, who would do well to combine that skill to set up his punches better. The reason for Werdum’s success with striking in this round is twofold. One, obviously the altitude is taking its toll on the cardio heavy style of Velasquez. More importantly however, in order to pressure forward Cain is eating knees, body kicks and punch combinations to the face, all of which sap your energy and mess with a fighter’s ability to focus. This is the reason why a shoulder roll and the ability to bob and weave was essential to boxers of this style like Joe Frazier and Jack Dempsey, they never walked straight forward to enter the range they wanted, reason being you can’t walk through a solid object, in this case a fist. This beginning of exhaustion has allowed Werdum to gain control in the clinch using his skill at the double collar tie, thus eliminating fence pressure i.e. Cain’s best weapon.

Round 3:

It all comes full circle here, Cain can’t hack it standing so he’s ordered to take him down. Cordeiro wants body kicks to sap the last of the oppositions’ power. With more of the same striking Cain goes for the takedown and is nearly rolled with ease, and each straight punch forces Cain’s head back until he considers a takedown. Unlike his normally explosive power doubles, here Velasquez just ducks his head in an effort to bowl Werdum over, lacking all the typical set ups taught in wrestling i.e. the penetration step, the timing or the straight back and strong neck. With such a perfect opportunity the multi time world and ADCC medalist takes the arm-in guillotine and gets the tap.

What We Learn

Was it the altitude, the ring rust or was Fabricio Werdum just the better fighter? In this writer’s opinion styles make fights and unfortunately for Cain and AKA Werdum’s style and gameplan were committed and played to perfection. He weathered the storm and wore Cain down with punches to draw out a sloppy shot and capitalised. Make no mistakes about it, regardless of what is said on various forums this wasn’t luck. That submission was planned from the beginning until such a time as it became available and we now have a new “Baddest Man On The Planet.”

By Ian Holland

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.

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