Posted by MMA Junkie on January 20, 2008 at 3:34 pm ET
With his come-from-behind victory over Gabriel Gonzaga at Saturday's UFC 80 event, Fabricio Werdum -- who owns a mere 1-1 record in the UFC -- has been granted a heavyweight title shot. He'll take on the winner of an interim title fight between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Tim Sylvia that headlines next month's UFC 81 event.
UFC Dana White confirmed Werdum's upcoming shot at the belt during UFC 80, according to our partners at Yahoo! Sports. (The UFC, of course, is assuming that estranged heavyweight champ Randy Couture, who announced his resignation from the organization in October, will turn down the fight.)
Werdum (10-3-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) is no doubt a top-10 heavyweight. In fact, in my rankings for FIGHT! Magazine and the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts, I had him in the seventh spot -- just behind Gabriel Gonzaga. (He'll go up a spot or two with Saturday's victory, though.)
However, is Werdum really ready to fight for the title? Will UFC fans consider it a legitimate main event if the UFC gives the fight headliner status?
Your casual UFC fan has seen Werdum fight twice. He dropped a unanimous decision to Andrei Arlovski back at UFC 70 in a hugely disappointing fight. In fact, the winner of that fight was considered a lock for an immediate title shot, but the fight flopped so badly that Gonzaga got the fight instead. The other time UFC fans saw Werdum fight? On Saturday -- in a fight he was losing pretty badly. Gonzaga chopped down Werdum with a series of leg kicks, but the 30-year-old rebounded with a stunning TKO in the second round.
So does that body of work warrant a title shot? Not on its own. In fact, even when you take into consideration Werdum's PRIDE Fighting Championships resume (which includes a 4-2 record), he fought only three really significant opponents -- and he went 1-2 in those fights. He secured a second-round submission of Alistair Overeem, but he also dropped a unanimous-decision to Nogueira and a split decision to Sergei Kharitonov.
So, why does he get a title fight so soon in the UFC?
Honestly, there aren't many other options. Couture appears finished with the UFC, Gonzaga already got his shot, Arlovski could be fighting for the final time in the UFC in March, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic has been struggling and is unsure about his future in MMA (according to White anyway), Brandon Vera is coming off a loss, the world's other top heavyweights (Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett and Aleksander Emelianenko, for example) don't fight for the UFC, and the UFC's other heavyweights (such as Jake O'Brien, Eddie Sanchez, Justin McCully and Antoni Hardonk) are far from ready.
Other than Werdum, there are two other options: the winner of a UFC 81 fight between Frank Mir and UFC newcomer Brock Lesnar (who are both at least a couple fights away from a title shot), or the winner of a UFC 82 fight between Cheick Kongo and Heath Herring (who are legitimate, if not optimal, options).
So basically, aside from maybe Kongo and Herring, Werdum's the only heavyweight left to fight for the title.
Werdum's a hugely talented fighter. He has an array of skills and has demonstrated remarkable resiliency, and he has the skills to beat Sylvia or Nogueira on any given Saturday. But as far as his upcoming title shot, it appears to be more about good timing and a lack of viable options.