Fabricio Werdum has looked like a different fighter since returning to the UFC. | Photo: Sherdog.com
When Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira shared the stage with Fabricio Werdum for the first time in July 2006, he was a healthy favorite against a man most viewed as a one-dimensional grappler. The situation has changed as the two world-ranked Brazilian heavyweights prepare for their rematch.
Werdum and Nogueria will lock horns in the UFC on Fuel TV 10 headliner this Saturday at the Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Brazil, nearly seven years after “Minotauro” captured a unanimous decision in their initial encounter under the Pride Fighting Championships banner.
Having showcased his improved standup in recent wins over Roy Nelson and Mike Russow, the 35-year-old Werdum will enter the cage as the man to beat in the eyes of most. Even Nogueira admits the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist has made significant strides as a mixed martial artist since their three-round battle in the 2006 Pride open weight grand prix.
“In 2006, I was a way more experienced fighter [than Werdum],” he told Sherdog.com. “I was in the best shape [of my career], but now a lot of people say Werdum is in better shape. He’s in the second-ranked position in the UFC. Obviously, he’s up in his career.”
Nogueira, who turned 37 on June 2, remains one of MMA’s most decorated and beloved figures. The former Pride champion last appeared at UFC 153 in October, when he returned from a horrific arm injury to submit Dave Herman at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Nogueira has secured more than half (21) of his 34 professional victories by submission and owns notable wins over Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Randy Couture, two-time Olympian Dan Henderson, 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic and former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett.
The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Werdum has recorded five wins in his past six outings, including his historic submission of Russian great Fedor Emelianenko in June 2010. He has not fought since wrecking Russow with punches at UFC 147 almost a year ago. In his last two appearances, Werdum has outstruck his opposition by a staggering 122-29 count.
“He’s improved his striking a lot, but so have I,” Nogueira said. “I’ve improved a lot. I’ve got heavy hands right now. We’re going to see a good fight. I’m training a lot. I know I’ve got a strong opponent. I’m going to be ready. I don’t think about him being the favorite. I’m going to do my best, and whoever works harder is the favorite in the fight.”
Nogueira exhausted all options in order to prepare himself for the rematch, training alongside his usual cast of stablemates: twin brother Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, longtime UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and former Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder Rafael Cavalcante.
“We have a lot of motivation,” Nogueira said. “When you’ve got a good team and everyone’s training and fighting and camping together, we can improve our technique a lot.”
Return of ‘The Kansas City Bandit’
Jason High has unfinished business with UFC.
Released by the company after just one appearance -- a decision loss to Charlie Brenneman at UFC Fight Night 21 -- in March 2010, “The Kansas City Bandit” has since rattled off seven consecutive victories. High will return to the Octagon at UFC on Fuel TV 10, as he replaces the injured John Hathaway and squares off with highly regarded Brazilian welterweight Erick Silva.
The 28-year-old Silva finds himself on the rebound following a unanimous decision defeat to the American Kickboxing Academy’s Jon Fitch at UFC 153 in October.
“Erick is very tough and explosive,” High said in his pre-fight interview with UFC.com. “He’s got great technique, and I’m looking forward to competing against him in his home country.”
This & That
UFC on Fuel TV 10 features three undefeated fighters: William Macario (6-0), Mike Wilkinson (8-0) and Leandro Silva (11-0-1) ... Because of two no-contests, Thiago Silva has not posted an official victory since he stopped Keith Jardine on first-round punches at UFC 102 in August 2009 ... Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts export Derek Brunson was a three-time collegiate All-American wrestler at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke ... Born on Aug. 21, 1982, Daniel Sarafian shares a birthday with six-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, country music icon Kenny Rogers and Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy ... Vaughan Lee was born in Birmingham, England, more than 4,400 miles from the venue in Fortaleza, Brazil ... Mizuto Hirota has held titles in Deep, Sengoku and Cage Force ... Karlos Vemola has competed in three weight classes since joining the UFC in 2010: heavyweight, light heavyweight and middleweight ... When Anthony Smith was born on July 26, 1988, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Coming to America,” “Die Hard,” “The Dead Pool” and “Midnight Run” were the top five movies at the box office ... Brazilian featherweight Godofredo Castro has delivered eight of his nine career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, seven of them inside one round.