Tudo mudou mas nada mudou. I’ve discussed before in this column the unique headspace in which a fighter enters, upon preparing for over two months to visit legislated violence upon a specific individual harbouring similar grievous intentions. That’s exactly the same timeframe given to UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum and the formerly vanquished Champion Cain Velasquez ahead of their rematch on February 6th in Nevada. That was, in a unique turn of events until the latter withdrew from the bout due to injury on Saturday before the former did the very same on Sunday. The only notable event median that Saturday night was the announcement of Stipe Miocic as Velasquez’s replacement which seemed to prompt Werdum overnight to nimbly reconsider the severity of his back and toe pain.
By way of disclaimer, I’ve always treated overvalues of Heavyweights in combat sports and media crap about pedigree racehorses as a total crock out of personal preference for faster athletic divisions. But the most tedious weight-class of the UFC was looking chipper of late with the onset Indian Summer of Werdum, a crack jiu-jitsu deity. While I can wax lyrical about his full-contact grappling it was a pinpoint left jab and knees inside the clinch that set-up the third-round submission dethronement of an oxygen-depleted Velasquez in the rarefied 7,350 foot altitude of Mexico City last June.
What makes the gaúcho’s ascent to the sport’s aerie apogee particularly remarkable was its godwit long-haul. Taking-off on a Mixed Martial Arts career fourteen long years and twenty-six fights ago, including wars that were against an almanac of the most infamous facial deconstructors in the history of the sport, Fedor Emelianenko, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Andrei Arlovski, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga, Brandon Vera, Antônio Silva, Roy Nelson, Travis Browne and Mark Hunt, he emerged with an incredible 20:5:1 record and still remains the only fighter to have submitted Emelianenko. And yet after coming through it all, Werdum finally won his first, only and current title last year at the Arena Ciudad de México. The rematch with Velasquez was a golden opportunity to seal his legacy following a six-fight winning streak during this current UFC tour of duty, and to convince the last doubter inhabiting some obscure crevice on the planet that his foe’s poor altitude acclimatisation weren’t the sole grounds for glory.
Following the dominoes of injury announcements this past weekend it was Werdum, not Velasquez, who found himself responding to the digital devotees of duelling’s disdain who’s mass ignorance mistook pragmatism for trepidation;
“If Cain was going to fight, I was still going to face him,” Werdum said. “There’s a history between us due to our previous fight. Our fight was canceled three times…It’s not his fault. It’s no one’s fault. It happens. We train a lot. Injuries always happen. It can’t be avoided. When you train hard, there will always be injuries. What weighed a lot was that, in my career, it took a long time to get here, to get the belt, to be the champion. I can’t throw it all out the window if I’m not 100 percent confident. I can’t think about things the same way as when I was 20. It’s not like that anymore. Everything has changed. I’m 38 now. I’m the champion. I’m feeling great in this moment of my life. But I can’t risk a 20-year career due to my pride. I can’t.”
The interfreaks insistence that athletes should be prepared to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime has no bearing on the reality of being a professional fighter and certainly not one who has been through such warfare and bloodshed as Werdum to finally be able to contribute caratage to Cordeiro’s cabinet. And at the age of 38 I very much doubt that his back and toe are neither minor nor unaccompanied maladies. So Werdum is merely applying standard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique beyond the mat. One of the golden rules in Jits is position over submission. It takes a lot of technique to establish a dominant position over your opponent from which you can control the bout and rushing the submission attempt may result in an inferior position. It’s much better to patiently control your opponent and methodically block their exits before looking for the tap. Whether its Velasquez, Miocic or Joe Silva, the champ is ensuring he remains in dominant position which is not to say in the near future he’ll be unwilling to tap n’ snap all three when the time is more opportune. And with the winds of change blowing across the Irish Sea to the Coast of Ceara, yet another employee is rolling through the transitions with Zuffa.
Everything has changed. Tudo Mudou.
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