We have an absolutely epic feature fight this weekend at UFC on ESPN 14, as former three-time UFC light-heavyweight title challenger Alexander Gustafsson returns from his retirement to face former UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum. This is such an interesting match up! We’ve never seen ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson at heavyweight, and Werdum just returned himself in May after a two year suspension. It’s one hundred percent certain, anyone that’s a hardcore fight fan is going to love this match up.
Werdum has done it all in this sport. From defeating a few of the best heavyweights ever, to winning a UFC title, to having some of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu we’ve ever seen in the sport, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion is one of the best to ever do it. He came to the UFC back in 2007 with a 9-2-1 record, having already defeated Gabriel Gonzaga (TKO), Aleksander Emelianenko (arm-triangle choke) and Alistair Overeem (kimura), with his only losses coming to Sergei Kharitonov (split decision) and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (unanimous decision).
Werdum lost his UFC debut to former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski via unanimous decision, before TKO’ing Gabriel Gonzaga again, and then Brandon Vera. He then got knocked out by the surging Junior dos Santos, before leaving the UFC to make a run in Strikeforce. Werdum won his first three fights under the Strikeforce banner, defeating Mike Kyle (guillotine choke), Antonio Silva (unanimous decision), and Fedor Emelianenko (triangle armbar).
It shook the entire MMA world up when he submitted Emelianenko, no one expected him, or anyone else to beat him. Emelianenko had a record of 31-1 (1 NC); he’d avenged his only loss, which was a TKO to a cut, and he defeated the man he had a no contest with twice. This improved Werdum’s record to 14-4-1, he had a win over both Emelianenko brothers, and he was set to face Alistair Overeem for a second time following the biggest win of his career. He lost the rematch to Overeem via unanimous decision, and shortly thereafter made his return to the UFC.
Upon returning to the UFC, we saw all the improvements he’d made since leaving the promotion the first time. He fought The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner Roy Nelson in his return fight, and it was a one sided battering from start to finish. He couldn’t get the finish, considering Nelson’s one of the toughest fighters ever, but his Muay Thai was on point all night, and some of those knees he landed on Nelson’s face would’ve finished literally anyone else.
He then won his next five fights in a row, TKO’ing Mike Russow, avenging his loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (armbar), and handily battering Travis Browne for five rounds in a title eliminator bout, before getting a crack at the title. Then champion Cain Velasquez injured himself in training and was forced out of the fight, so Mark Hunt stepped in to face Werdum for the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship. Werdum TKO’d Hunt in round two with a flying knee, and he was now the interim UFC Heavyweight Champion.
About half a year later, Velasquez versus Werdum happened, and what a fight that was! It went down in Mexico City, Mexico, where the elevation is much higher than most other places on earth. Werdum went out a month in advance to prepare, Velasquez didn’t, and for the first time ever we saw the cardio machine exhausted in a fight. Ultimately, Werdum submitted (guillotine choke) Velasquez in round three to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion. His reign was short lived however, as he was knocked out in the first round by Stipe Miocic in his first title defense.
He’s gone 3-3 since this, defeating Travis Browne (unanimous decision) again, this time in a three round affair, Walt Harris (armbar), and Marcin Tybura (unanimous decision), and losing to Alistair Overeem (majority decision) in their trilogy fight, Alexander Volkov (KO), and now Aleksei Oleinik (split decision). He didn’t look too great in his return fight with Oleinik, but that could be chalked up to having not competed in two years, the longest absence of his career.
Gustafsson is one of the best MMA boxers we’ve ever seen, meaning he has the perfect boxing style for MMA. We first got notice of him in 2009 when he KO’d Jared Hamman in just 41 seconds in his UFC debut. He lost his next fight to Phil Davis (anaconda choke), and then won his next six straight, with his two most notable victories coming over Thiago Silva and Mauricio Rua. This granted him a title shot against Jon Jones, a fight he surprised everybody in.
No one expected Gustafsson to give Jones that tough of a fight, and most people even believe he won it. He was the first man to ever take Jones down, and he just boxed him up for the first 19 minutes of the fight, until Jones landed that spinning back elbow late in round four. Jones dominated the last six minutes of the fight and walked away with the unanimous decision victory. ‘The Mauler’ returned about half a year later to face Jimi Manuwa, who he KO’d in round two. He then fought Anthony Johnson, and this was not a good fight for him, as he was TKO’d midway through round one in his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden.
After Jones got suspended, Daniel Cormier ended up being the face of the light-heavyweight division for a little while there, and considering there weren’t other worthy contenders at the time, Gustafsson was matched up with him for the UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship. This was a very close fight, but he ended up losing via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 49-46). At this point, he’d gone from 15-1 to 16-4, he needed to take some time off to reassess his career. He returned eleven months later to defeat Jan Blachowicz via unanimous decision, it wasn’t a fight we were used to seeing from him though. He didn’t want any possibility of losing that fight, so he out-wrestled Blachowicz all three rounds until the final bell sounded.
Gustafsson then fought Glover Teixeira, and this was perhaps the best performance of his career. They’re the two best boxers in the 205 lb division, but the long straight punches of Gustafsson beat the shorter hook-like punches of Teixeira. Gustafsson ended up TKO’ing Teixeira in round five with one of the most beautiful boxing combinations we’ll ever see in MMA. He sat at the No. 1 contender spot for 19 months before again challenging Jones for the belt, but this time it was vacant, considering Cormier went up to heavyweight, and Jones also making a return of his own.
Everyone made a big deal of Jones being out for so long due to his suspensions, but Gustafsson had actually been out two months longer than him. This fight wasn’t anything like their first however. Jones came in with a completely different gameplan, Gustafsson didn’t. Jones used his footwork and a very wide variety of leg kicks, which injured Gustafsson’s leg pretty early on, before securing a takedown in round three and getting the TKO victory. This was followed up by a fight with Anthony Smith that next spring, where he was defeated in round four with a rear naked choke. After this, ‘The Mauler’ announced his retirement, and we of course haven’t seen him since.
Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (18-6)
This fight is so compelling, many of us have been waiting to see ‘The Mauler’ at heavyweight for quite some time now. Since he retired, it looked like we may never get to see it happen. His footwork is a thing of beauty to see, not many guys that are as big and tall as him can move like that. At heavyweight, that’ll only help him even more, not to mention his boxing. He throws punches like someone that’s been hitting pads their whole life, they just roll right off his shoulders. He also has some good kicks to go with it, and his wrestling is incredibly underrated. His high crotch single leg is one of the best in the game, he can take just about anyone down with it. With that being said though, he may not want to do that with Werdum.
The former UFC Heavyweight Champion is one of the best grapplers we’ve ever seen in the sport, he can submit just about anyone, off his back or on top. Eleven of his twenty-three wins come via submission, and by seven different methods. He’s incredibly creative and clever with them, and he boasts a 2nd-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Between the ADCC World Championships, World Jiu-Jitsu Championships, and Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Championships, he has ten gold, four silver, and five bronze medals, being a four-time world champion in the black belt division.
Gustafsson isn’t a slouch on the ground by any stretch, he’s a purple belt himself, but he certainly wants this fight on the feet. As previously mentioned, Werdum is a well rounded fighter, his striking is very good too, but he probably wants this fight on the mat where he’s at his best, especially against a guy of Gustafsson’s caliber on the feet. ‘The Mauler’ is actually the bigger man as well, standing 6’5”, while Werdum is 6’4”. Gustafsson also has a 79” reach, whereas Werdum’s is 77”.
It’s going to be so interesting to see how ‘The Mauler’ does at heavyweight for the first time, especially after being out almost fourteen months. Werdum shouldn’t be rusty this time around like he was in May when he fought Oleinik either. Despite Gustafsson being out for a year however, he’s had extended breaks in his career before, we’ll have to wait and see how and if that effects him. Age is also on Gustafsson’s side, as he turned 33-years-old in January, where Werdum will be 43 at the end of this month.
Who do you see winning this incredible heavyweight feature fight?