UFC 143: A Look At The Ground Games of Fabricio Werdum and Roy Nelson

Esther Lin, Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum, June 25, 2010.

Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum are Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts. The years of dedication, practice, competition and travel between gyms have allowed them to refine their grappling skills to the point where we expect greatness of them if a fight goes to the ground.

However, we are about to watch them in a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 143 - not a submission grappling event. The rules and the traditions of the cage are different and they are not conducive to grinding an opponent into submission. Remaining hopeful as to the appearance and quality of the potential grappling that could be on display is the best approach though.

Andrew Keller of MMA Mania has a good quick look at two of the better moments in the public eye in the careers of Nelson and Werdum: Nelson's Grappler's Quest match against Mir in 2003 and Werdum's submission of Fedor Emelianenko in 2010.

The Bloody Elbow crew has Judo Chopped the Fedor triangle before with the help of Seph Smith, a Fifty/50 instructor under Ryan Hall. Werdum himself explained the dramatic submission through video in typical hilarious fashion.

Keller likens both fighters to patient arachnids, setting multidimensional traps for their opponents and pulls it off:

Watching an experienced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) player set up a submission is a lot like watching a spider weave its web. If one is not careful, one will wander right into their own demise.

Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum are two of the best web-spinners in the fight game today, and grappling fans have the pleasure of watching them square off this Sat., Feb. 4, at UFC 143: "Diaz vs. Condit." Just as if two well-known knockout artists were facing off, I suggest as little blinking as possible during this potential grapple-fest.

Here's why: [Go read the article, as it has plenty of GIFs and Keller's take on the moves.]

My own complimentary thoughts after the jump:

Keller errs a bit in referring to Nelson's ground game as world class. Nelson is a difficult beastie to control or deny top position, but his forte is not in attacking for and seizing submissions. The early streak of submission victories in Nelson's career have given way to decisions and knockouts as the competition level ratcheted upwards. His game is that of dominant top control and excellent submission defense - and he may no longer want to use it much in the cage.

The last memorable submission attempt from Roy was back in 2008 against Andrei Arlovski. Nelson took the bout with just over a week's notice and nearly won the fight in the first round with a kimura attempt from side control - only to be denied as the referee, Jorge Ortiz, stood them up mid-attempt. Roy lost that bout in the second by KO. Since that fight and the subsequent Monson debacle it appears that Nelson has largely given up on his ground game and worked to improve his stand-up prowess. Knockout victories against Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve seem to have proven this decision wise, before the batterings he received at the hands of Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir left him on a two fight skid.

It is also possible that Keller underplays Werdum a bit in this article. Fabricio Werdum is the most decorated Brazilian jiu jitsu player to ever be in the UFC1. A freestyle wrestling equivalent could be Denis Tsargush (if he was a heavyweight and had Olympic medals to go along with his World titles). Werdum's multiple world titles, several ADCC gold, silver and bronze medals and lists of defeated opponents since the early 2000s make him absolutely one of the best submission grapplers in history. The success has transferred somewhat over to his MMA career, although his takedowns and top game, which hunts highly for the back take and submissions from the back, have not carried over so much. His game from the bottom is ferocious and many opponents have chosen not to engage him there.

Werdum has shown a pattern of flopping to his back against several prominent opponents and this habit seems to be boom or bust. The Fedor triangle was certainly a rousing success for the strategy, but the weird fight against Overeem showed how the strategy can go off the rails with an uncooperative opponent.

Nelson is more likely than Overeem to dive into Werdum's guard, but that certainly wouldn't happen with the abandon Fedor showed. Nonetheless, Keller's piece is a good examination at what both men are capable of and are likely to be doing when on the ground in Saturday's fight. If you go over and read the piece, let him know the quality of the article and support his future work.

1 Roger Gracie is the most decorated Brazilian jiu jitsu player to cross over into MMA thus far, although Alexandre Ribeiro is not far behind. Of course, Rickson Gracie has a comparable or better reputation than either of the three BJJ players, but his matches were generally not within the modern era of competitions.

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