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UFC 188 Judo Chop – Fabricio Werdum: Efficiency in Action

VIDEO: Werdum shows us how efficient his triangle from close guard is. See below ….

Bloody Elbow’s Connor Ruebusch analyzes the brilliant performance with which Fabricio Werdum overthrew UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in Mexico City.

Cain Velasquez seemed a little off right from the get-go. Whether the result of so-called ring rust, or merely the accumulated effects of a multitude of injuries, there was a certain stiffness to Velasquez when he took to the Octagon opposite Fabricio Werdum last weekend, a choppiness in the movements of hips and legs that stood out right away. There was also, as Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg were happy to point out from the commentary booth, the considerable issue of altitude–or as swathes of well-meaning pedants have pointed out in the swell of post-fight evaluation, elevation. Mexico City, that is to say, sits over 7,300 feet above sea level, a far cry indeed from Velasquez’s home in San Jose, California, just a few miles from the shore of the Pacific.

All of this combined to give us a noticeably less efficient version of Velasquez than we expected to see, a somewhat slower, duller, more labored man than the one who had seized the heavyweight strap back from Junior Dos Santos in 2012.

But nothing sets a lackluster performance off like a stellar one; nothing renders a decline more apparent than rising to the occasion. And folks, Fabricio Werdum stepped like I would never have believed. And it was Werdum’s own efficiency in the face of danger that truly highlighted Velasquez’s looser approach.


Immediately after watching the fight, I was compelled to write about the efficiency of Werdum’s techniques: the almost effortless jab with which he wore down Velasquez over the course of the bout, and the subtle movements in the clinch that turned the champion’s favored position into an exhausting slog.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Werdum’s performance was its strategic efficiency. Nearly everything Werdum did played into his larger aim of grinding away at Velasquez until there was practically nothing left but a neck just waiting to be choked. And that strategic efficiency showed itself in the very first seconds of the bout. Just to emphasize the critical importance of these brief moments, let’s look at Werdum’s initial reactions in comparison to those of Junior Dos Santos in his aforementioned 2012 rematch with Velasquez, which turned into one of the most one-sided beatings in the history of UFC title fights.

1a. Werdum meets Velasquez right near the center of the Octagon.

2a. Velasquez forces Werdum into a short backward step, and immediately pounces with a right low kick.

3a. Which Werdum counters with a hard right hand on the chin.

And as for Dos Santos?

1b. Dos Santos tentatively circles the center of the Octagon as Velasquez charges forward.

2b. A double jab from Velasquez puts Dos Santos on the back foot.

3b. And he leaps back, describing a wide circle until his back hits the fence.

In the immediacy of the moment, you might say that Dos Santos’ response to Velasquez’s pressure was superior. After all, Werdum ate a solid leg kick from Velasquez even as he countered, while Dos Santos avoided punishment altogether. And beyond that, if you watch the GIF linked beneath the diagram you’ll note that Werdum was knocked down with a clean jab while throwing a kick of his own mere seconds after his counter right, while Dos Santos escaped punishment of any kind for several minutes following the start of the round.

Look at the two fights as a whole, however, and it becomes clear that Werdum’s was the far more efficient approach. For all that he found himself working harder and incurring more risk at the start, he set the tone for the bout by sending an unmistakable clear message: “I will not be bullied.” For all that he escaped early damage, Dos Santos gave Velasquez the assurance that he could be easily pushed back and controlled, if not easily hit in open space. And since Velasquez’s entire game is centered around pinning his opponent to the fence, one is about as good as the other.

Werdum, like so many other students of Rafael Cordeiro today, played the mental game from the get-go, and it paid off in the end. After all: what’s more efficient than a finish?


With all the talk of the elevation and air pollution affecting fighters’ performances, those whose abilities remained unhindered went overlooked and underappreciated. While Cain Velasquez fought like a man who couldn’t get tired (until he did), Fabricio Werdum fought like a man who refused to tire himself out. Everything the Brazilian did spoke of his strategy of energy preservation, and opportunity exploitation.

Like, for example, when Velasquez put him against the fence, as he loves to do.

1. Velasquez mashes Werdum into the fence with head pressure and a left underhook.

2. He starts drilling away at the Brazilian’s thigh with knees.

3. Werdum takes his thigh away from Velasquez’s attack and attempts a half-hearted takedown to stem the assault.

4. And as Velasquez regains his balance and looks to punch with his right hand, Werdum pops his head around to the other side.

5. Velasquez drives into him with more head pressure, looking to free the opposite arm now . . .

6. . . . and Werdum pops his head around to the other side, this time securing a collar tie in the process.

Almost every clinch exchange played out something like this. Prior to the fight I wrote extensively about Cain’s excellent use of head position and pressure to control his opponents against the fence. Neither I nor Velasquez expected Werdum to win the clinch game simply by not worrying about head position–at least not in the way that Velasquez did.

With his back to the fence, Werdum would’ve had to fight exceptionally hard to out-position Velasquez in terms of leverage, lowering his base and driving off the cage into his opponent, who was happily leaning into him to prevent just such a move. So instead, Werdum just moved with Cain’s head pressure, constantly sliding his head this way and that, keeping Velasquez’s own head between himself and Velasquez’s free arm, essentially protecting himself from the battering arm punches that Cain typically employs. When the champion tried to work knees, Werdum would off-balance him to take the weapon away without taxing himself by making any concerted effort to really finish those takedowns. And then, when the frustrated Velasquez began hunting for new grips, or looking for new openings, Werdum seized control his way.

So much of Velasquez’s success against the fence has to do with the fact that he uses his underhooks and head pressure to extend the body of his opponent, forcing him to stand tall and flattening him against the fence. Instead of trying to lower his base and push back against Velasquez, however, Werdum simply stood tall by choice, snuck his elbows in against Cain’s collarbones, and seized the double collar tie, which he would then use to spin the champion around and get himself away from the perimeter of the cage. Time after time, Fabricio outmaneuvered Velasquez in the clinch by refusing to fight like a wrestler or boxer, instead relying on the Thai clinch that actually favored his height advantage.

By the second round, Velasquez had already all but given up on the clinch, handicapping him severely. Not only was Werdum forcing him to work twice as hard for grips and positions only to easily take them away again, but Velasquez was finding it more and more difficult to even get to the clinch in the first place. He had Werdum’s well-timed jab to thank for that–and the right hand that followed it too.

1. Werdum has Velasquez right in range.

2. He steps into a jab, which Velasquez parries and slips, moving his head to the right.

3. So Werdum jabs again, prompting Velasquez to move his head the other way–just as he expected him to.

4. Timing Velasquez’s head movement, Werdum cracks him with a right hook mid-slip.

5. Velasquez pivots away, and Werdum follows him, stinging the champion with another jab.

6. Velasquez takes a step back, but now the habitual pressure fighter is out of his element.

7. He circles Werdum, looking for another angle of attack.

8. And Werdum takes full advantage of his hesitation with yet another sharp jab.

9. Velasquez begins circling again, and Werdum takes a side-step to stay with him.

10. Werdum appears to jab again, and Velasquez starts to move his head to the right . . .

11. . . . only to realize that the jab was merely a feint, and the half-beat right hand that comes after smashes into Cain’s jaw unimpeded.

Werdum put on a masterful display of timing–in fact, though his technique is far from perfect, you might call it a master class on the jab in general.

Werdum quickly caught on to a pattern in Velasquez’s defense: when he jabbed, Velasquez would almost always slip to his right. If he found more strikes coming his way, he would then sway his head back to the left, and pivot out. Here’s a little compilation GIF to give you the idea. As Werdum began to notice this pattern, he began working to time it, using a simple, energy efficient jab to keep Velasquez at range and on the defensive where his defensive flaws were more easily exploited. The jab also became the instrument by which the openings were created.

This is really the greatest kind of efficiency there is in combat sports. Werdum essentially beat Cain by using his own actions against him. With his jab, he let Velasquez think that he could use head movement to his advantage, only to have Werdum time those movements to land hard, clean shots. In the clinch, he burned away his stamina fighting for position against a man who refused to play by the same rules. And in the end, it was Velasquez himself who buried his head under Werdum’s arm during a takedown, throwing himself into the guillotine choke that ended the fight.


You can search through the long history of organized combat sports and you will struggle to find a high-profile upset that didn’t come prepackaged with excuses for the vanquished fighter, many of them justified. Buster Douglas bested an out-of-shape, uncommitted Mike Tyson in 1990. Likewise when Muhammad Ali battered Sonny Liston into submission in 1964, and there are still those who suspect that Liston threw the rematch a year later. Wilfredo Gomez was in sorry condition when the young Salvador Sanchez knocked the noted puncher out in eight brutal rounds. When wrestler Frank Gotch took the heavyweight championship from Georg Hackenschmidt in 1908, Hackenschmidt accused the American wrestler of having greased his entire body before the bout–Hackenschmidt too was out of shape, and ended up losing his title.

No king is toppled without controversy, but the fight is unforgiving. No matter how great the champion, every challenger could be the one to demand the very best of him and more, and there’s no explaining the belt back once it’s gone. And for every excuse on the part of the defeated, there are always accolades to be heaped on the victor: Buster Douglas fought the fight of his life; Muhammad Ali fulfilled every boastful promise he’d made and more; Sanchez picked Gomez apart with masterful precision; and Gotch battled Hackenschmidt on the feet for two hours before finally dragging him to the canvas.

And Fabricio Werdum? He was cunning, calculated, and cold-blooded on Saturday night. Cain Velasquez seemed like a less efficient version of himself, but we may never have noticed had it been anyone but Werdum standing across from him, taking his best shots, returning fire, and picking the master of attrition apart piece by piece. UFC 188’s Cain Velasquez may very well have bested any other heavyweight on Saturday night. The fact is: he couldn’t beat Fabricio Werdum.

For more on guillotines, ground & pound, and UFC 188, check out the latest episode of Heavy Hands, featuring an interview with UFC veteran Jason High.



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