Fabricio Werdum, Mexico's unlikely hero, knocks out Mark Hunt to win interim UFC title
When heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez went down with in jury during training, UFC 180 became Fabricio Werdum's show.
And Werdum took full advantage of his opportunity, beating his replacement opponent Mark Hunt to capture the interim UFC heavyweight title Saturday night.
Werdum is from Brazil and spent a long period of his childhood in Spain. But this week, he was an adopted Mexican in the UFC's first trip to Mexico.
Werdum spoke to the fans in Spanish, led them in song and even did a little bit of dancing. When it was all said and done, he didn't leave them disappointed, either.
After losing the first round, Werdum baited Hunt into dropping his hands. When the time was right, Werdum landed a booming, jumping knee and finished Hunt on the ground with strikes at 2:27 of the second round in the main event of UFC 180 on Saturday night at Arena Ciudad de Mexico.
Having claimed the interim title, he is expected to meet Velasquez to unify the belts in the spring.
"He punched me very hard," Werdum told Joe Rogan afterward. "But I've been waiting for this moment."
Indeed. For all that Werdum (19-5-1) has accomplished in MMA, including breaking the incredible, decade-long streak of legend Fedor Emelianenko, he has never won a title in a major organization. This one is just an interim title, but UFC president Dana White has said that if Velasquez is not ready to go by the spring, the interim title could come off.
Velasquez, the UFC's biggest Mexican-American star, was supposed to be in this fight against Werdum. But three weeks ago, he injured his knee and needed surgery. Velasquez has a partially torn MCL and meniscus. He was in attendance Saturday night, just unable to compete.
Hunt (10-9-1) filled in on short notice and faced a steep weight cut. When he got the call from White, he was nearly 50 pounds over the 265-pound heavyweight title limit. The New Zealand native flew here two weeks ago and finished losing the weight at altitude, which was very difficult. But Hunt could not say no to the opportunity.
"This was Fabricio's shot anyway," Hunt said. "I was just trying to take his spot."
He could not do it, but came close in the first round. Hunt dropped Werdum once and hurt him at least one other time. "The Super Samoan" even spent time in top position, a situation many thought would be very dangerous against Werdum, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist.
Werdum looked a little off in the first round and still out of rhythm in the second. But perhaps he was just playing possum. Werdum shot in for a few takedowns and Hunt stuffed them. That opened the door for the very unexpected jumping knee. Few saw that coming. If anyone was going to win by TKO, most figured it would be Hunt.
But like Hunt said, this was Werdum's event -- at least as soon as Velasquez fell injured. The media and fans embraced him over the last week. Werdum spent the last two months in Mexico training and getting acclimated to the altitude. He took this title fight extremely seriously.
It didn't end up being the one he or the Mexican fans expected. But with Werdum's victory, the country should get a reprieve when Velasquez is healthy in the spring.