Though he'd already been bouncing around in the sport for a half-decade, Roy "Big Country" Nelson (16-6) finally made it to the UFC with a slot on the TUF 10 roster. By far the most experienced competitor on the show, Nelson went right to work, starting off by eliminating the hype surrounding backyard brawler Kimbo Slice. Nelson employed his crafty grappling and showed why he's a virtual master of position by knifing through the guard and bombing unanswered blows from the crucifix, which is the exact same method he finished James McSweeney with in his third fight.
Oddly enough, that was the last bit of ground work we'd see from Big Country. Uncoiling his gargantuan overhand right would account for each of his victories inside the Octagon, beginning with Brendan Schaub at the live finale to win the show and followed by Stefan Struve in his sophomore outing. Meeting top-flight heavyweights Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir resulted in consecutive decision defeats, but Nelson's right hand retired Mirko Filipovic in his last fracas at UFC 137.
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Fabricio Werdum (14-5-1) emerged in Pride FC undefeated after five fights (with one draw) and accompanied by his resounding grappling credentials as a two-time ADCC champion. He put his name on the map with his seven-fight stint in Pride, winning five overall -- punctuated by a submission (kimura) over Alistair Overeem -- and accruing two respectable defeats to Sergei Kharitonov and legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He laced another submission on Aleksander Emelianenko in the 2 Hot 2 Handle promotion before getting the call from the UFC.
His Octagon debut was admittedly a bit of a dud. The uneventful three-round stand up affair with former champion Andrei Arlovski ended in a dismal decision loss and failed to raise his stock, but the two commanding TKO stoppages over Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera that followed certainly did. It was then that Werdum would welcome an unknown newcomer to the UFC by the name of Junior dos Santos, who ignited his devastating journey to becoming the UFC heavyweight champion by blasting Werdum with an uppercut jackhammer. The shocking TKO loss is still the only time Werdum has been finished in his five career defeats.
Unable to come to terms on a new contract with the UFC, Werdum ended up leaving the promotion on a sour note. His remaining four fights transpired under the Strikeforce banner: he ensnared Mike Kyle in a first round guillotine, out-battled Antonio Silva to a unanimous decision, then rocked the very foundation of the sport by fitting Fedor Emelianenko with a triangle choke, handing the omnipotent Russian the first legitimate defeat of his career. Werdum's stint in Strikeforce culminated with a long awaited rematch against Overeem, and the decision loss was another unfortunately forgettable flop.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Might as well get this one out of the way, since it accounts for 100% of Nelson's offense in the UFC.
This is basically an extra large impersonation of Dan Henderson's infamous H-bomb. Noticing that Schaub kept retreating in a straight line, Nelson stutter-steps forward to measure the distance and throws his right hand just like an outfielder throwing to home-plate.
Good times were had and high-fives were given, but the luster has dulled now that Nelson has relied on the same strategy in each showing.
Granted, Nelson pursued takedowns to no avail and has only lost to the cream of the crop in Mir and dos Santos, but the vast majority of his video bytes consist of him slinging this exact punch in between slices of covering up and absorbing counter-fire.
The results, however, are indisputable and it is what it is. Simple, predictable and wholly effective when it connects -- not so much when it doesn't.
It's a shame that the stellar skill of Nelson's black belt level grappling remains locked out of reach.
I don't mean to give a harsh review, but doesn't the sequence to the right aptly portray what we've come to expect from Nelson?
If his missile of a right hand doesn't implode, he generally holds still, covers up and waits for a pause so he can rinse and repeat. Perhaps it's his lack of a distinguished wrestling acumen that prohibits his ability to enforce what is undoubtedly a razor-sharp and elite level ground game. I'm being critical through tough love, because I'm a Big Country fan and just feel he isn't fighting to his true potential.
Fabricio Werdum made history with the submission over "The Last Emperor" to the left. The Brazilian was ultra-crafty in using the fence to his advantage during the scramble leading up to the catch, which was his eighth submission overall, but easily the most prominent of his career.
Werdum's grappling prowess has never been questioned, so the focus turns to his stand up, which was rather unremarkable until he dueled with Nogueira in a bout that showed signs of improvement. His stance and punching form looked better and his iron chin compensated where defense was amiss.
The basic roots of his boxing sprouted into a functional Muay Thai format under the tutelage of the great Rafael Cordeiro. He started to peck away with inside low kicks and roundhouses from outside and honed his clinch into a more offensively inclined onslaught.
The most frustrating aspect of his snoozer with Overeem was that Werdum was actually holding his own and pressing the action in the stand up. His desperate attempts to coax the K-1 kickboxer into a grappling match by invitation rather than force took all the sizzle out of the fragments of momentum he built with short flurries.
Here Werdum goes on the attack with his best offering, which is leading with a quick one-two. Always welcoming the opportunity to clinch as one step towards implementing his ground work, Werdum draws attention by committing to a combination and then slips into contact-range to initiate a tie-up.
Like Nelson, Werdum doesn't have a strong wrestling background but does hold a black belt in Judo. The lack of grips without the gi reduces his breadth of options yet he's been fairly effective in the takedown department.
While Werdum might have a more versatile stand up arsenal than Nelson, his defense is far from impenetrable. Punching power is the great equalizer to superior technique and Nelson has power aplenty. They both have a high level of submission grappling, the key differences being that Werdum boasts a loftier set of sport BJJ credentials and vigorously chases after submissions and Nelson's geared more toward positional dominance and ground-and-pound.
From a big picture standpoint, Nelson's chances seem to be dictated solely by landing his monster right hand. Even without Werdum's kitchen sink for a chin, that's a bleak outlook -- with it, in addition to his sophisticated grappling and more diverse striking, he deserves the nod in this one.
My Prediction: Fabricio Werdum by decision.
Nelson vs. Schaub gif via MMA-Core.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com