It’s been 590 days. That’s how long since UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez last stepped into the Octagon.
Perennially-injured Velasquez has proved to be nearly unstoppable when coming into the cage, but those moments have been few and far between.
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He possesses incredible cardio for a man his size, and his wrestling and boxing are nearly unrivalled in the UFC’s heaviest division.
The man he faces this Saturday at UFC 188 is also a champion, although his carries the dreaded “interim” tag.
Fabricio Werdum, the Brazilian with two Abu Dhabi Combat Club championships to his name, has made an astonishing career transformation since his last professional loss against Alistair Overeem way back in June 2011 under the Strikeforce banner.
He has put together five straight wins against high calibre competition and his once labelled “pillow fists” have recorded two knockouts in his last four fights.
Head coach Rafael Cordeiro has done a wonderful job teaching Werdum to be a more fluid and technical striker, and the results have been overwhelming.
Having said all that, facing Velasquez is unlike any other matchup in the UFC. His style is, in a word, ‘smothering’. His ability to bring maximum pressure from the moment the bell rings until the moment a hand is raised has proven virtually unbeatable.
Although Werdum’s biggest strength still remains his world class Jiu-Jitsu, being on the ground with Velasquez in bottom position is not where he wants to be.
Velasquez, once he establishes position, has been able to unleash ground and pound that take the wind out of even the most well conditioned athletes.
It seems unlikely that Werdum can hold his own against Velasquez if the fight remains standing, but that is perhaps his best chance.
Velasquez is deservedly a heavy favourite but the best part about combat sports is its unpredictability. As the saying goes, Werdum may only have a “puncher’s chance”, but in the heavyweight division all it takes is one punch.
PREDICTION – Cain Velasquez by TKO
In the co-main event, two former lightweight champions square off.
No, not UFC lightweight champions, but former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez versus former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez. This fight has been years in the making, although it was unclear which promotion it would take place under. Now that they’ve both found a home in mixed martial arts’ premier organisation, it remains a fight with heavy implications.
Melendez has already had two opportunities to win the lightweight strap, and in both cases he was trumped in exciting fashion.
However, with the revolving door that has been the UFC lightweight championship over the past few years, there remains the possibility that with one or two more wins against top contenders he will get a third chance. As for Alvarez, he was talked up as a potential title contender had he won his last matchup against current lightweight contender, Donald Cerrone, and a win versus Melendez will bring him closer to that goal.
This fight is likely to be an entertaining stand up war between two guys who refuse to give up. Both are outstanding movers in the cage.
Both are known to provide heart stopping action that can eat an opponent’s best shot, clear the cobwebs and come back for a win.
Moreover, each possess phenomenal striking abilities, particularly dirty boxing, and although Melendez has great wrestling skills, Alvarez presents a 90 per cent takedown defence. This, combined with both competitors’ flare for the dramatics, should make this a fight of the night favourite.
PREDICTION – Gilbert Melendez by decision
MMA is experiencing a boom in popularity with men, women and children signing up for classes around the world at an extraordinary rate.
Sport360 spoke to Brazilian ex-MMA professional turned UFC coach Alex Nacfur at Dubai's world-class FitRepublik training facility in Sports City, who explained why the sport is becoming increasingly mainstream.
Additional film credit: MyAbuDhabiLife
Join Sport360 on Friday night for live streaming of the Glory 22 MMA event in Lille. Rico Verhoeven takes on Benjamin Adegbuyi in the main event.
Here's the full line-up of fights:
Heavyweight Title Fight: