The first time Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira met nearly seven years ago, they were two different fighters.
Nogueira was an established commodity, a former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titlist and one of the best big men in the sport. Werdum, by contrast, held just a third of Nogueira’s pro experience and relied almost exclusively on his world-class jiu-jitsu game. “Minotauro” outmaneuvered Werdum at Pride “Critical Countdown Absolute,” picking up a unanimous decision victory to advance in the promotion’s 2006 openweight grand prix.
Now, “Vai Cavalo” will square off with Nogueira once again in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 10, which takes place this Saturday at the Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Brazil. Almost seven years after his initial defeat to Nogueira, Werdum says their rematch will tell a new story.
“I think this fight will be a lot different than our last fight in 2006. I was a newcomer, but ‘Minotauro’ was already a champion in the event. He was already very famous in MMA. I was purely a jiu-jitsu fighter,” Werdum recently told UFC.com. “He used his experience against me as a young, new fighter. I lost to him, but I learned a lot from that loss.”
Werdum believes the strides he has taken in recent years toward becoming a truly well-rounded fighter will pay dividends on Saturday. Specifically, Werdum cites the development of his striking game under respected trainer Rafael Cordeiro as a major source of confidence.
“The main difference for me in this fight is that I’ve specialized and evolved in my career. Today, I’m a more complete fighter, and I’m specialized in muay Thai, as well,” said Werdum. “I’ve been training with Rafael Cordeiro for five years now. That completely changed my game. I’m not saying that I’m a striker now, but I gotten better in everything, like how it should be.”
The upcoming clash with Nogueira marks the second time in as many bouts that Werdum has fought in his home country, a fact that has the jiu-jitsu ace excited to put forth a memorable performance.
“I think it will be great to fight in Brazil again. I will always say that I am proud to represent Brazil. I want to put on a great fight for the fans. All I want right now is to have a beautiful fight with ‘Minotauro,’” said Werdum. “I want this to be an impressive fight. I want to show everyone that I am ready to be the world champion, and I think it will be a great fight because both [of us] will show our will to win.”
For Werdum, Nogueira simply represents the next challenge in a long line of obstacles he has overcome as a competitor. While “Vai Cavalo” unquestionably respects his countryman, he is also aware that his path to the UFC heavyweight title runs through Nogueira.
“I’ve always had great willpower to get what I really want. Every time I set my mind to something, I go and get it, and now I am so close to that belt after so much has happened in my career,” said Werdum. “I’ve been on top and fell. Now I am climbing back up. I have this great dream of becoming the UFC heavyweight champion. In the beginning, my dream was to become a jiu-jitsu world champion, and I did it twice. I am dedicated, and I am doing the right things.
“I know I have a big obstacle in my way with ‘Minotauro,’ but I will give my best to defeat him and to achieve my goal to get that belt. I’ve always chased my dreams, and I’ve always achieved them. That’s why I know I will be UFC champion.”