After a short retirement, Alexander Gustafsson is making his UFC return, this time in the heavyweight division. After 13 months away, he will make the jump up in weight class against the legend, Fabricio Werdum. Werdum himself only returned in May, from a 26-month lay-off. Can either man give the UFC title one last push? We will be taking an in-depth look at Alexander Gustafsson v Fabricio Werdum!
Fabricio Werdum is one of the greatest heavyweight fighters the UFC’s octagon has ever seen. In 2015, Werdum became the UFC heavyweight champion of the world. However, his road to the UFC was by no means easy.
Fabricio’s road to becoming a UFC champion came using the same base martial arts as most of the other Brazilian fighters on the roster to date, Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu(BJJ). Jiu-jitsu is a self-defense martial art based around the aspect of grappling. BJJ involves controlling your opponent and gaining a dominant position before forcing their submission with a lock or a hold. This is something we have seen throughout Werdum’s career, with 11 of his 33 fights ending in a submission victory for the Brazillian. His most famous stoppage, a beautiful Triangle Choke against the ominous Fedor Emelianenko.
Growing up Training BJJ
Fabricio’s jiu-jitsu coach is Sylvio Behring a 9th degree black/coral belt. Behring’s father was also a grandmaster in jiu-jitsu and has instilled his skills into his family, thus, making the Behring’s one of the most respected families in the jiu-jitsu world. Coach Behring used to travel back and forth from Porto Alegre to take care of young jiu-jitsu world champion Marcio Corleta. That is where he met a young Fabricio Werdum. Behring noticed Werdum’s eagerness to learn and gave him some private lessons. Two weeks later he asked Marcio who the young boy was and alerted Maicio of Werdum’s potential before he left Porto Alegre to return home.
Werdum was told that if he wants to continue training at the gym in Porto Alegre, he would need to pay for his lessons. Fabricio explained that he could not afford lessons but told Marcio that he would pay for it when he became a fighter. Werdum was told that the only way this would be possible is if he trained every day and spend all day at the gym helping out. Fabricio accepted this offer and continued his eagerness to become a fighter.
At the age of 20, Fabricio was a world champion in the blue belt division, vice-champion in the purple belt division, and 3rd place in the brown belt division. These kinds of placements had everybody taking notice in the BJJ community. Fabricio then went onto fulfilling his first dream, in becoming a black belt World Champion.
This sudden halt, if sorts, made Fabricio consider MMA more seriously. He had already amassed a 3-0 record but wanted more. He signed for Pride, leaving with a 4-2 record inside the promotion, including facing some future legends. Fabricio submitted Alistair Overeem and lost to Rodrigo Nogueira(Big Nog) by decision. After this, he went on to defeat Alexandre Emelianenko via submission.
UFC, STRIKEFORCE AND UFC AGAIN
Werdum was finally snapped up by the UFC, but not impressing initially. Losing his debut to Andrei Arlovski via Unanimous Decision. Werdum then went 2-2 in the UFC and was released.
After signing for Strikeforce, Werdum managed to pick up wins over Mike Kyle, ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, and the iconic Fedor victory. His only loss in the promotion came to the hands of an old foe, Alistair Overeem.
After this loss, the UFC picked the Brazillian back up. Werdum went on a 5 fight winning streak, before facing Cain Velasquez for the title. This fight is by far Werdum’s most dominant victory, over a man some still consider to be the heavyweight GOAT. Unfortunately for Werdum, he lost his title in his next outing and his record since beating Cain is a disappointing 3-4.
Alexander Gustafsson is a Swedish fighter, most notable for his iconic fights with Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Whilst never actually capturing the gold, ‘Gus’ is one of, if not the best fighters to never win Gold. Unfortunately for him, the 2 greatest Light-Heavyweights of all time were reigning over his division.
Whilst Werdum has adapted his striking and has elite grappling, Gustafsson is like a flip of the coin. He worked hard on solidifying his ground game, whilst polishing his already good boxing. Gustafsson started out in boxing, with youth-junior-level Boxing national championships to his name.
Gustafsson started boxing around the age of 10 and found quick success. With a long reach and a large frame, Gustafsson could use his physical gifts to his advantage. Out-jabbing his opponents, and keeping them at range, whilst tagging them on the outside. This early success brought an amateur boxing match against the men’s National Champion, and 17-year-old Gustafsson won, by decision. Whilst racking up local tournament wins and national amateur championships, Gustafsson also started competing in ShootFighting. Shootfighting is a hybrid form of martial arts. Its main 2 components are Wrestling and Kenpõ.
By the time of his MMA debut, Gustafsson had a record of 5-1 in Shootfighting. Whilst maybe not identical and perfectly compatible experience, it’s still similar enough to take knowledge from. Gustafsson has shown it to be a useful starting point.
Signing for the UFC
Gustafsson had amassed a perfect 8-0 record going into his UFC debut and facing Jared Hamman, he wasn’t ready to lose yet. Finishing the fight in the first, the Swede burst onto the UFC scene. However, his first loss was to come next. Facing experienced UFC veteran, Gustafsson was softened up on the ground with some ruthless ground and pound. Davis took the Swede’s back and submitted him.
Following his loss to Davis, Gustafsson went on a 6 fight winning streak, earning himself a title shot. When a title shot comes along, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Especially against someone with the reputation of Jon Jones. Going into the fight with nothing to lose in the eyes of the fans, however, the Swede was about to show that he wasn’t ready to get rolled over like the rest of Jon Jones’ opponents. After a grueling 5 rounds, Gustafsson lost by split decision. Since then, Gus’ career has taken some dips and some other highs, however with a jump to heavyweight, he seems reinvigorated.
The fight will be a tough one for Werdum as Gustafsson should have the advantage on the feet and uses his frame brilliantly whilst defending takedowns, making it difficult for Werdum to get it to the mat.
On the feet, Werdum is more scrappy than his opponent but has deceptive power. If there’s any style that describes Werdum on the feet, it’s probably Muay Thai. Or something close to it. He uses a lot of flurry punches to get into range, not reminiscent of Thai Boxers, however its the clinch work that earns him that moniker.
The ironically named ‘Thai Clinch’, isn’t all that common in Muay Thai, despite the name, however, it’s gained a reputation of being a staple of any Muay Thai based MMA fighter, therefore, Werdums ‘Thai’ clinch work is phenomenal. He brings a brilliant pace in the clinch, as well as fantastic control. It’s not just a relentless pace that Werdum brings, it’s powerful strikes also. Knees, elbows and short punches are his weapons of choice, as well as being consistent with trying to clip opponents leaving the clinch, as demonstrated against Cain Velasquez below-
Werdum lands a crushing knee into the body of Cain, dropping him, then looks for the follow-up shots and tags him with a straight right exiting the clinch.
Werdum’s control, whether it be on the feet or on the ground in any grappling scenario, is always his strong point. He’s a heavyweight but moves like a bantamweight on the ground. He has the typical flexibility that BJJ players are known for. As well as a delicate subtlety to his set-ups that are often missed by heavyweights. Against Minotauro ‘Lil Nog’ Nogueira, he took the back of Lil Nog, whilst isolating the arm instead of going for the Rear Naked, and quickly shifted his weight forwards and rolling into an armbar.
Here you can see Werdum taking the back. Instead of putting both hooks in, he isolates the left arm with his left arm.
After isolating the arm, he rolls into it. Locking up the armbar, under the full weight of his opponent, and his own force. Even a world champion black belt like Minotauro Nogueira couldn’t escape.
Keys to victory.
The key to victory for Werdum is to get it to the ground. If not, get Gustafsson against the fence, grind him out in the clinch. Werdum’s ability to find shots from any angle in the clinch could be vital in this fight if he can’t get it to the ground. He has the significant advantage on the ground, and an edge in the clinch, but can’t stay in Gustafsson’s way on the feet, or it could end sour.
Following a short lay-off, ‘the Mauler’ is back for a pop at the heavyweight division. A longtime wish for UFC fans everywhere, Gustafsson has seemed tailor-made for the Heavyweight division since his UFC debut. At 6ft 5 and with a 79′ reach, he’s a giant.
In his last loss, Gustafsson looked good. He was definitely winning the fight until he gave up his back to one of the most underrated grapplers on the roster, Anthony Smith. Losing in his hometown, to a guy he thought he was beating, it was all a bit too much for the beloved Swede, retiring in his post-fight interview. 13 months later and we have the much-awaited return.
Gustafsson will have a significant advantage on the feet in this fight. With solid MMA boxing, good teep kicks to maintain range and solid movement. He will need to maintain range, utilizing his expert jab, and avoiding any of his teeps being caught.
As well as using his boxing, it would be nice to see some elbows from Gus. His rise to prominence came fast and furious, but the similarities to Jon Jones were there for all to see, minus the extensive range of kicks and better boxing. He would box his way into range, and unleash ferocious elbows, from downwards angles to Jon Jones-esque spinning elbows. Whilst often flashy strikes that don’t land, Gus has the level of accuracy to land, and do serious damage. These are things that have seemed to desert him recently, as he’s turned into a very boxer-heavy style with a lot of lateral movement.
The most well-known knockout from Gustafsson is definitely his one on Glover Texiera. That fight was vintage Gus. He picked apart the crafty veteran from range and entered the pocket with power strikes before exiting beautifully. He cracked Glover with a perfect elbow down the center, in the second that was reminiscent of his prospect days.
After stunning the veteran, he doesn’t rest on his laurels, he patiently stalks his opponent, landing a clean 1-2 and then an uppercut that was a glimpse of things to come.
This carried on, until the start of the 5th round, where Gustafsson landed 3 brutal consecutive uppercuts and a straight right to finish. One of the cleanest KO’s in UFC history.
Grappling for Gustafsson is most likely off the table for this fight. He will want to avoid the mat, wherever possible. Facing a multiple-time BJJ champion, Gustafsson is a mere purple belt. Whilst impressive usually, its nothing compared to the grappling prowess of Werdum.
Formidable takedown defence has always been a tool in the arsenal of Gustafsson, but he’s going to need to be savvy to inside trips in the clinch. As well as standing guillotine attempts, all things he should be able to avoid with the correct drilling and technique.
I think Gustafsson takes it. Werdum’s enforced break has done more damage than good for his career. Whilst Gustafsson still has a few years left in the tank.
I can see Gustafsson keeping range, out-jabbing Werdum, and finishing him late in the 2nd or 3rd. After some scrappy attempts to get the fight to the ground from Werdum, I think Gustafsson will stun him. Follow him down with the ‘Mauling’ style of shots he’s been known for, and end the fight. Can Alexander Gustafsson v Fabricio Werdum deliver a fight of the night?