Surprisingly little has changed in the Heavyweight division throughout Cain Velasquez's twenty-month leave of absence.
A lot of shuffling has occurred about the UFC rankings, but not with many new names. The likes of Frank Mir, Mark Hunt, Antonio Silva, and Roy "Big Country" Nelson have had losing streaks of two fights or greater, yet three out of four remain in the thick of the top ten rankings of a Heavyweight division full of size but emaciated in talent, youth, and mobility.
Only the top two or three Heavyweights may be worth some afterthought. #2 ranked Junior Dos Santos and #3 Stipe Miocic put on a convincing demonstration of class in their December 2013 battle; one in which Dos Santos fought hard and effectively at the same time, while Miocic proved he belonged in the cage with the very best Heavyweights. Despite this, no one else -- not even a resurgent Andrei Arlovski -- looks competent enough to withstand UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez's vicious ground n' pound, except potentially this next opponent.
#1 ranked UFC Interim champion Fabricio Werdum won't be dismayed by Cain Velasquez's physicality alone. For Dos Santos, Silva, and the man he took the title from in October 2010, Brock Lesnar, Velasquez's might and valor was all too much to keep up with. Silva and Lesnar fell early, while Dos Santos lasted almost fifty minutes in two bouts before accepting his prerogative. It would take a thinking fighter, a strategist, to defeat Velasquez. Werdum is the best of his kind in the Heavyweight division.
He champions black belts in Judo, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A twenty-five fight veteran, he's been through all there is to be in the cage, and wins over Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, Travis Browne, and Mark Hunt to win the UFC Interim Heavyweight title support the fact that Werdum can, indeed, win big fights. He is currently riding a five fight winning streak, and has never looked more focused than he does as he nears his thirty-eighth birthday.
Is he too old?
His body is a negation if this ought to be true. He's fighting like a mature fighter -- wasting little energy -- and not tempting fate as he has inevitably became slower to respond with age, but better when the moment comes for him to unload strikes or work towards a takedown. He can fight and do so properly for five rounds; that's enough to become champion.
What will Velasquez do?
He'll try to overpower Werdum and do damage on the ground. The first round could be very even-keeled although Velasquez usually doesn't let it be that way. A decision will need to come as soon as the fight begins -- does he take the fight to his senior, at risk of making a mistake on ring-rust -- or does he let it slip by to atone to some unsureness he might have in his technique after a long break? That could have a great impact on this fight, as Werdum is a committed strategist and five minutes to study Velasquez could be just what he wants in there. He also wants Velasquez to make some mistakes, and to compromise himself early on could bring plenty of them.
Cain Velasquez is undoubtedly the favorite in Mexico, and he would be the favorite anywhere. That doesn't mean that Werdum should be overlooked. He has earned his crest as the interim champion -- the best in the world while the other is not around. He is a champion and, if he's given twenty-five minutes, he'll spend every moment lurking, and threatening to stop this fight in its tracks.
Cain Velasquez isn't going to find Werdum a willing participant in a triumphal homecoming, but I don't think he'll have much of a choice as the fight progresses. Velasquez is a beast when he finds top position and whether the Brazilian volunteers it or not, behind an enthralling Mexican crowd, Velasquez will shake off his rust early and batter Werdum into submission in under three rounds. Cain Velasquez wins by T/KO in three rounds.