UFC on Fox 11: Fabricio Werdum vs. Travis Browne Head-to-Toe Breakdown
The next heavyweight title challenger will be determined when Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne meet at UFC on Fox 11 on Saturday.
Since making his return to the Octagon, Werdum has won three in a row. Dominating Roy Nelson, stopping Mike Russow and submitting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Werdum once again established himself as one of the top heavyweights in MMA.
Browne, meanwhile, has been getting it done with his striking. After recovering from an injury sustained during a loss to Antonio Silva, Browne has scored opening-round knockouts against Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett.
While Werdum and Browne bring very different styles to the Octagon, one of them is almost certain to be the next to challenge champion Cain Velasquez. As this title-shot eliminator approaches, here is a closer look at how the heavyweights match up in all areas.
With 12 knockout wins in 17 MMA bouts, Browne is one of the more dangerous strikers in the heavyweight division. Consecutive knockout victories over Gonzaga, Overeem and Barnett earned him this fight with Werdum.
Should Browne get his hand raised again on Saturday, it will likely be his striking that carries him once again.
That said, Werdum has developed into a capable striker since his lone knockout loss to Junior dos Santos, a defeat that led to him leaving the UFC for three years. Now back inside the Octagon, Werdum brings some solid muay thai to those who force him to stand.
Although he failed to score a takedown against the heavy-hitting Nelson, Werdum was able to pick Big Country apart with a varied arsenal. The Brazilian's knees caused the most damage, but Werdum was also able to land some solid leg kicks, even forcing Nelson to the ground with one in the opening round.
Working with Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA has helped Werdum to grow by leaps and bounds. At the same time, Cordeiro's aggressive striking teachings have caused some of the holes in Werdum's striking to become even more glaring.
Aggressive striking can pay off in MMA, but there needs to be a controlled chaos. Werdum gets too wild at times and leaves himself wide open for counters against skilled strikers. Before scoring his epic submission win over Fedor Emelianenko, Werdum was blasted by multiple hooks from the Russian when he was caught swinging with his head down.
Werdum hasn't completely tightened the holes in his striking defense since that fight in June 2010. At UFC 147, Vai Cavalo stopped Mike Russow with strikes, but he displayed some weaknesses before doing so. In the opening minute, Werdum looked to close distance and clinch, but he showed poor form.
In addition to leaving his lead hand extended while moving forward, notice below how long Werdum's right hand remains at waist level before he throws a telegraphed uppercut that is partially blocked.
Despite the shortcomings Werdum still has in his stand-up, he's still capable of causing problems for Browne this weekend. Against Overeem, Browne was battered with knees in the clinch. Though Werdum is no Overeem, his knees are probably the strongest weapon in his striking arsenal.
If this fight does stay standing, Browne's power is likely to be a bigger factor, though.
While Werdum could frustrate his opponent in the clinch, Browne only needs to land once to bring this bout to an end. Considering the openings Werdum leaves as he moves forward, there is a good chance Hapa will eventually touch the Brazilian's chin.
He's known as a striker, but Browne might be the last person UFC fighters want to try to take down.
In two of his past three fights, the Hawaiian has blasted opponents into unconsciousness while they were looking to take him down. Both Gonzaga and Barnett were in on double-leg attempts only to see their nights come to an end with a few well-placed elbows.
The best way Werdum can avoid suffering the same fate Gonzaga and Barnett did would be to keep moving when he attempts takedowns. If he rests for a second, Browne is going to widen his base and blast away at his skull.
Vai Cavalo might also attempt single-leg takedowns while being sure to keep his head on the inside, meaning his ear would be on Browne's abdomen rather than his hip. This would provide Browne with an angle that would be more difficult to generate full power behind his elbows.
In the first round of his bout against Nogueira, Werdum did a solid job at maintaining motion through a single-leg takedown. This is how he'll need to attack Browne in order to get the fight to the ground.
At the same time, takedowns like the above have been rare for Werdum. This is actually the only takedown he has scored since returning to the UFC roster. Overall, Werdum has been successful on only 27 percent of his takedown attempts.
Browne's offensive wrestling isn't really worth detailing in this matchup, as he'd be making a very poor decision to attempt takedowns against one of the best heavyweight grapplers in MMA history. However, his defensive wrestling will be an important key to his success on Saturday.
The Jackson's MMA fighter has never been taken down inside the Octagon. Gonzaga and Barnett are both arguably better wrestlers than Werdum, but neither was able to get Browne to the canvas, and both paid the price for attempting.
Werdum might score a takedown or two, but he has to take advantage of them because they aren't going to come often.
Since he hasn't been taken down inside the Octagon, Browne has not showcased his grappling much.
He submitted Chad Griggs from the top position, but that isn't a position he'll want to be in on Saturday—not to mention Griggs shouldn't even be brought up in the same sentence as Werdum when talking about grappling.
Werdum has never been submitted. And with submission victories over Emelianenko, Nogueira, Overeem and others, he's among the best in the world on the ground.
Browne could surprise everybody and be able to hang with Werdum on the ground, but we haven't seen anything to suggest he has that ability.
Browne might not be as experienced as Werdum, but he's had enough big fights at this point and is ready to make a serious run at the heavyweight championship.
The 31-year-old has remained active lately, picking up three wins in 2013. Meanwhile, Werdum competed only once in 2013 and hasn't fought in the 10 months since his submission victory over Nogueira at UFC on Fuel TV 10.
Fuel TV isn't even a thing anymore, so rust could be a factor for Werdum. Although the Brazilian hasn't had major problems with conditioning recently, a slow start is a possibility, and that is the last thing he needs against a quick finisher like Hapa.
In all likelihood, Browne wins this fight as long as he keeps it standing.
Considering he's shut down better wrestlers already, Browne should be able to avoid going to the ground with Werdum. If it were up to Werdum, he'd hit the canvas in all his fights, but he may not have the ability to get there in this matchup.
Werdum has only been stopped by dos Santos, one of the heaviest hitters ever to step into the Octagon. Browne isn't exactly carrying pillow fists, though. He finished Barnett, who had also only been knocked out once heading into that meeting.
All it takes is one mistake for Browne to end up on bottom, where he'll be in huge trouble, but this is his fight to lose when he's standing.
Prediction: Browne defeats Werdum by (T)KO in the first round.