On Saturday, just the fourth stadium show in the promotion’s storied history will take place when UFC 198 featuring a heavyweight title fight between reigning champ Fabricio Werdum and Stipe Miocic takes over Curitiba, Brazil for an event that’s loaded with local mma legends.
But while the event will also include a middleweight title eliminator between fellow Brazilians Jacare Souza and Vitor Belfort, the long-awaited UFC debut of Cris ”Cyborg” Justino, and a clash of light heavyweight contenders Mauricio Rua and Corey Anderson, all eyes will be on Werdum as he attempts to defend his heavyweight crown for the first time since taking the title from Cain Velasquez at last summer’s UFC 188.
”This will be a special night for me. It’s going to be a huge party. Brazilians love to party and there will be 100 percent energy in the stadium,” said Werdum. ”I’ve had a tough road and I’ve come up from the bottom, and I think the Brazilian people appreciate how I’ve done it. I’m going to prepare a special surprise for the fans, a special thank-you with my entrance.”
Now in his second tour of duty with the sport’s leading promotion, Werdum has yet to lose a single fight since returning to the UFC in 2012, and although he’s fought just six times in the last four years, the Brazilian will enter Saturday’s slug-fest with Miocic as one of the most accomplished heavyweights on the planet.
During a professional career that began in 2003, Werdum has racked-up victories over some of the most feared big-men in the business, defeating Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, and Fedor Emelianenko while plying his trade for Pride, Strikeforce, and the UFC.
But Werdum’s ascent to the top of the UFC’s heavyweight division didn’t begin until he dealt former title contender Roy Nelson a unanimous-decision loss in his return to the big leagues at UFC 143 in February of 2012.
Despite facing a very brief, yet equally obvious drop in level of competition against Mike Russow in his next bout, Werdum went on to submit the legendary Minotauro Nogueira, earn a unanimous-decision over Travis Browne, knockout veteran slugger Mark Hunt to win the UFC’s interim heavyweight title, and submit Velasquez to become the UFC’s latest heavyweight champion a month shy of his 38th birthday.
In January, a scheduled rematch between Werdum and Velasquez set for UFC 196 fell apart when an injury forced Velasquez to withdraw from the bout. But instead of facing Miocic as a late replacement opponent, Werdum chose to withdraw from the card with a foot injury less than 24 hours later.
Originally from nearby Porto Alegre, Werdum will be fulfilling a lifelong dream shared by many Brazilian mixed martial artists when he steps into the octagon in Curitiba’s Atletico Paranaense Stadium on Saturday. But without a victory, Werdum’s stadium experience will end in severe disappointment.
”Obviously, I want to win. It’s going to be massive seeing all the fans, this is something I’ve dreamed of my whole life,” said Werdum. ”He’s [Miocic] in for a surprise. I see myself finishing Miocic with a submission.”
Standing between Werdum and his first successful title defense, Miocic has been tagged as a legitimate threat to the heavyweight title since winning each of his first three UFC fights against the little-known likes of Joey Beltran, Phil De Fries, and Shane Del Rosario.
A knockout-loss to Stefan Struve in September of 2012 briefly stalled his charge towards a title shot, but since, Miocic has won five of his six octagon appearances including consecutive knockout-wins over Hunt and Andrei Arlovski.
With the way that things have been going in recent UFC title fights, nobody will be surprised if the heavyweight title changes hands this weekend.
But Werdum is no longer a one-dimensional threat who’s constantly looking to avoid going to war on his feet, and with over 40,000 Brazilians screaming for their fellow countryman while wearing his trademark ”Happy Face” mask, the current heavyweight king will undoubtedly enter the octagon as the odds-on favorite.