“At this moment now, yes, that was the best moment in my career,” Werdum told MMAjunkie. “It was a great moment for me.”
So great, in fact, that it’s second only to the birth of his daughter on the list of the greatest moments in his life, Werdum said. It was also nearly four years ago, and it’s not enough. Not for Werdum, who’s been swirling in an around the heavyweight top-10 for what seems like an eternity, yet has never captured a major MMA title.
That’s what makes his fight with Travis Browne at the UFC on FOX 11 event in Orlando on April 19 so crucial, Werdum said. A win makes him the top contender for Cain Velasquez’s UFC heavyweight title. A loss leaves the 36-year-old Brazilian on the outside looking in, with time likely running out on his physical prime.
“I know how important this fight is for my next goal,” Werdum said. “My next goal is the belt. I want to fight Cain Velasquez, so it’s very important for me, this fight. I’m just going in there, and he kills me or I kill him. That’s it.”
But when the person standing between you and your goal is a 6-foot-7 heavyweight on a three-fight knockout streak, it’s not quite so simple. In recent outings Browne has made short work of fighters like Josh Barnett and Gabriel Gonzaga, who are not so unlike Werdum in both skill and experience.
Only when they tried to get Browne to the mat, all they got was an ear full of elbow strikes. Both suffered first-round knockout losses, as did Alistair Overeem, who made the mistake of letting Browne back into a fight he was clearly losing in the early going.
Werdum has studied these examples, he said, but instead of leaving him concerned about his own chances against Browne, they mostly just left him confused.
“Barnett has good experience, a veteran of the sport, but it’s like he [went] crazy,” Werdum said. “He tried to take down Travis Browne right away in the first round, in the first two minutes. Why?”
The way Werdum sees it, too many heavyweights are in too great a hurry. In their impatience to get the fight where they want it, they make crucial mistakes. They end up playing right into a guy like Browne’s hands, which is a mistake Werdum insists he won’t make.
“For my fight, I have five rounds,” said Werdum. “I have 25 minutes to get takedowns. Why would I go crazy right away? I don’t know why guys do that, but me? I don’t know, maybe I’ll have a big surprise for him. I know he has good elbows. He has two elbows. But I have two elbows, too.”
According to Werdum, he also has a more well-rounded game than many people give him credit for. It’s something he made a concerted effort to prove in his 2012 return to the UFC against Roy Nelson. His Strikeforce run ended with a lackluster performance in a decision loss against Overeem, a bout Werdum says he overtrained for, leaving him too weary to battle on the feet. But against Nelson he showed off a kickboxing game that few fans knew he had, and that was no accident.
“Before that fight, people would say, ‘Oh, he’s just a jiu-jitsu guy, he only fights on the ground.’ I didn’t like that,” Werdum said. “I wanted them to know, Werdum has good standup.”
Now he has a new goal, and it involves getting Velasquez in the cage in order to prove that he’s more than just the guy who, on that one magical night in San Jose back in 2010, caught the great Fedor by surprise.
It’s a goal that was delayed by Velasquez’s injury layoff, which Werdum originally considered waiting out, he said. But when UFC executives explained that, with only three fights since 2012, he was in danger of fans forgetting who he was or why he was there, Werdum said he jumped at the chance to remind them against a rising young heavyweight like Browne.
“I don’t want to talk too much about it,” Werdum said. “I just want to show it in the cage. On April 19, I have the chance to show the UFC fans, again, why I’m there.”