Mixed martial arts contest are, in essence, put in place to determine one thing: combative dominance. Two fighters of generally equal size locked inside of a cage with nothing but 4-ounce gloves and a referee to protect them from the dangers that are likely to ensue.
It’s not always pretty, nor is it always exciting, but fights have a tendency to erase what mystery existed beforehand.
Does Holly Holm really have a chance against Ronda Rousey? We got a clear yes.
Can Conor McGregor use his power to knock out one of the more durable fighters at 155 and 170 pounds with what ease he showcased at featherweight? A pretty emphatic no to that one.
Outliers do exist, however — contests that force us to raise our hands sky-high as we look for more answers to questions that were only cultivated from the contest itself; the sort of fights that demand a second run to provide us with a better understanding of how the dust would truly settle if circumstances were different.
What if Anderson Silva didn’t have a broken rib prior to his first match against Chael Sonnen at UFC 117?
What if Silva didn’t clown around against Chris Weidman at UFC 162?
What if Weidman didn’t throw that terribly ill-advised spinning back kick against Luke Rockhold at UFC 194?
What if Cain Velasquez had taken his preparations more seriously and didn’t gas out against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188?
The last question will receive its fair share of the spotlight come UFC 207, as Velasquez will receive his opportunity to exact revenge against the second man to offer him defeat inside of the Octagon.
As noted, the two first met at UFC 188. Also noted is Velasquez’s performance that night.
Recognized as one of very few big men who was capable of going 100 mph for five full rounds, Velasquez was expected to stroll past Werdum in Mexico City just like he’d done against just about every other fighter he’d faced in his career. Better cardio, better wrestling and greater durability, this was Velasquez’s fight to win.
But, as it often happens to anybody fighting in high altitude for the first time, Velasquez tired quickly into the championship contest. Mouth agape, hands lower than normal, pace sluggish and technique depleted, the champion left many of his supporters in astonishment as he looked like a fraction of the fighter who crushed Junior dos Santos, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Ben Rothwell.
Werdum peppered the champ with stiff jabs and straight right hands. Looking for a way to stop the challenger from pouring on the damage, Velasquez shot in for a poor double-leg takedown and left his neck exposed for a fairly easy guillotine choke from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Just 12 minutes into his first fight in nearly two years, Velasquez was no longer the UFC heavyweight champion.
Easily considered the peak of Werdum’s success since the Octagon since returning to the UFC in 2012, “Vai Cavalo’s” dominant five-fight run culminated in a dominant performance against a man considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time.
Despite the performance, however, the verdict was still out.
While not set in stone as fact, it’s widely believed that Velasquez exhausted his reserves at UFC 188 as a result of the altitude in Mexico City. Had the fight taken place at sea level, some believe the outcome would have been different.
Whether or not it’s true remains to be seen, but nobody can doubt there’s, at the very least, an argument to be had. Fortunately for those entertaining the debate, Velasquez and Werdum will provide an answer by year’s end.
Dealing with a back injury for much of the year that followed, Velasquez returned to the Octagon at UFC 200 13 months removed from his championship loss. Only, this version of the American Kickboxing Academy standout looked far closer to the man who sprinted his way to the throne all those years ago. He ran roughshod on Travis Browne, stopping “Hapa” in the waning seconds of the opening round.
While only in the cage for five minutes, Velasquez never seemed to tire.
Werdum, meanwhile, has taken a step back. Looking to solidify his championship reign with a much-needed title defense, “Vai Cavalo” was knocked out less than three minutes into Round 1 against Stipe Miocic at UFC 198. Werdum returned four months later, earning a unanimous decision victory over Browne.
Momentum clearly favoring the two-time heavyweight champion, the narrative will soon replay itself come UFC 207. All things equal, including both fighters’ ability to compete in the climate at hand, the world may soon find relief as it continues to wonder on Werdum vs. Velasquez.