UFC 147 will house a heavyweight clash between Fabricio Werdum vs. Mike Russow on the main pay-per-view card. The show takes place in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and his headlined by hometown favorite Wanderlei Silva vs. Rich Franklin.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Fabricio Werdum (15-5) was just starting rise up in Pride Fighting Championships when the promotion fizzled out. Debuting undefeated with 4 wins and a draw, Werdum came out strong in the white ring with 1st-round submissions, as advertised, over veterans Tom Erikson and Roman Zentsov. He ended with a 4-2 clip, latching a kimura on former Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem along the way, dropping only a tight split decision to bruiser Sergei Kharitonov and a unanimous decision to freshly unseated champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Post-Pride, Werdum picked off Fedor Emelianenko's brother, Aleksander, with a 1st-round arm triangle before making his Octagon debut against former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski; a lackluster kickboxing match he lost by decision. "Vai Cavalo" flaunted his A-list ground game against Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera, carving them up with brutal top-side pounding for definitive and consecutive TKO stoppages. His stock would plummet after some "no-name Brazilian" hammered him for a quick and one-sided knockout and then Werdum, unable to come to terms on a contract renegotiation, left the UFC.
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Nowadays, Werdum's re-established his clout with a 4-1 pace that includes what is arguably the most shocking upset in MMA history -- a 1st-round strangulation of Fedor Emelianenko --and a commanding striking performance over Roy Nelson to earn a unanimous decision in his UFC return. Since the aforementioned "no-name Brazilian" turned out be the world's #1 heavyweight, Junior dos Santos, and both he and fellow top-ranked slugger Alistair Overeem account for his only flaws in the last 4 years, Werdum's back in the mix of world's elite.
Chicago police officer Mike Russow (15-1) also took his first career step in the Pride ring, suffering a submission loss to Kharitonov that remains his sole career blemish. Russow responded with a vicious string of 7 straight stoppages, one of which was a north-south choke on Roman Zentsov in Japan's ephemeral Yarennoka promotion, to earn a UFC contract. Though he's only competed once per year in the Octagon from 2009-2012, Russow has picked up wins in each, putting him at the apex of an 11-fight, 5-year streak going into tonight's bout.
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Werdum and Russow share 3 common opponents: Kharitonov (who submitted Russow and decisioned Werdum), Roman Zentsov (who was choked out by both) and Jon Olav Einemo (who lost to both by decision). Despite those similarities, Werdum has the substantially more impressive record even though the numbers are prettier for Russow.
While Russow's rap sheet is far from weak, there's a noticeable absence of top-level strikers and submission artists: besides Kharitonov, the best striker he's tackled is Todd Duffee, who was blasting Russow around the ring for 3 rounds before the well documented comeback via Hail Mary punch. As far as proven ground specialists, Russow's gutsy performance against Einemo is all we have. Though Einemo is an ADCC champion and holds an outstanding win over Roger Gracie, he never transferred that prowess to the cage and fell to every high-level heavyweight he encountered.
So, while Russow's effective wrestle-boxing style could potentially allow him to recreate Arlovski's sprawl-and-brawl routine against Werdum, it's hard to be optimistic about his chances when he's so inexperienced against the best of the best.
The tool that could pay major dividends is Russow's wrestling. Werdum has made phenomenal strides with his Muay Thai arsenal under Rafael Cordeiro at Chute Boxe and now Kings MMA. Russow seems much more comfortable dueling from outside, as the timing and accuracy of his boxing is sound, but Werdum has become increasingly effective at in-fighting and imposing his leverage in the Thai clinch.
What I envision as a possible sweet spot for Russow is stationing himself on the fringe and trading hands with Werdum in open space. He's a big guy, but Russow uses pivots and angles well to side-step his opponent and ping counter punches. As we saw against Overeem and Arlovski, Werdum is not helpless when striking in the Free-Movement Phase, but it's easily his weakest aspect. Other than that, there's always a chance that Russow can randomly scorch a nasty left hook, overhand right or uppercut through Werdum's guard -- but dos Santos is the only fighter to stop him with strikes and no one can mimic that terrifying onslaught.
Werdum's not a traditional wrestler but holds a black belt in Judo. He's quite adept at manipulating trips and throws from the clinch, where his knees and control from the Thai plum grip are formidable. On the mat, I feel quite confident that Russow will be thoroughly unable to fearlessly engage Werdum like he did against Einemo -- Werdum is simply a different kind of animal with astronomical submission grappling, with or without the kimono.
Werdum's size, respectable chin, enhanced kickboxing and stellar submission acumen make him an easy pick for having many more avenues to victory. Russow's punching power is always a threat and his wrestling could foster a decision by out-hustling the Brazilian, but the odds strongly favor Werdum by decision or submission.
My Prediction: Fabricio Werdum by decision.