No one would have blamed you back in 2008 if you thought you saw the last of Fabricio Werdum.
The Brazilian heavyweight was dismissed as a one-trick pony, a former world jiu-jitsu championship gold medalist who was lethal on the floor but couldn't compete with elite strikers.
He was knocked out fast in the first round by some guy no one had ever heard of back at UFC 90 in Chicago and was promptly cut by the promotion.
Well, that nobody who knocked Werdum silly turned out to be Junior dos Santos, who went on to hand Cain Velasquez his only career knockout and win the heavyweight title just three years later.
And it also turned out that Werdum's career obituary was written far too soon. The Orange County transplant's redemption tale was completed Saturday with his dominant win over Travis Browne in the main event of UFC on FOX 11 in Orlando.
The victory marked his seventh in eight fights since the notorious loss to dos Santos and his fourth in a row since his UFC return. It also earned Werdum the next title shot at Velasquez's title.
"I saw that people thought Travis Browne would win this fight," Werdum deadpanned. "But what do I know? I'm just a jiu-jitsu guy."
Far from it. Werdum proved that he's become one of the heavyweight division's most well-rounded fighters. Going up against a opponent who has a reputation as a vicious, quick-strike finisher, Werdum got the best of things on the ground, as expected. But he also picked Browne apart in the standup, landing filthy knees in the clinch, heavy hands in center of the Octagon, and even throwing spinning back fists and kicks in a manner you'd expect from a featherweight, not one of the big boys.
It was an impressive performance, one that left Browne with a broken hand, possibly a broken rib, and a bloody and battered face. The only person who seemed nonplussed by Werdum's performance was his boss, UFC president Dana White, who harped on the lack of a finish against a guy who had only lost once in his previous 19 pro fights.
"I think he could have finished the fight," said White. "I think he played it safe. He knew he was winning. So, it leaves questions. How much more could he go, how much more could he give? ... I don't think we saw all of Werdum's tools tonight."
But even White acknowledged Werdum's chin has come a long way since the dos Santos loss, as he withstood a brutal Browne right in the opening round.
"Any question about Werdum's chin should go away after that big shot he took in the first round," White said. "He got hit with a big right hand. I thought he was done, I thought the fight was about to be over, but he came back and fought great."
The Browne fight, of course, wasn't the first time Werdum has been discounted by the intelligencia. In the most famous example, Werdum was practically an afterthought when he was matched up with Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce in 2010. But Werdum barely needed a minute to submit Emelianenko, end his near-decade-long win streak and forever shatter his aura of invincibility.
So ruining Browne's planned coronation barely elicited a shrug.
"It was part of my game plan to exploit his cardio situation," said Werdum. "Now I knew going in that it would be tough to submit him and that he would be a tough opponent even going into the deeper rounds. I knew that cardio was the way to do it. It's hard to fight a big guy like that."
The fight also set up one of the UFC's biggest international events of 2014 -- the company's expected debut in Mexico City on a date to be determined. Velasquez, of course, is the company's big draw in Mexico, but Werdum has played his part too. The trilingual Werdum is fluent in Spanish and has served as a commentator on the UFC's Latin American broadcasts.
"I expect that to be a big fight," White said. "I'm very excited about Mexico, all the people from Televisa were here tonight and they're excited about it, we're excited about it. Latin America and Mexico are a part of the world we've been dying to get to, and it's finally all coming together, and I'm very excited about it."
Of course, beating Browne is one thing. Beating Velasquez, a tenacious striker and wrestler and a cardio freak of nature, is something altogether different (and that doesn't even take into account an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet if the fight does end up taking place in Mexico City).
"You know what Cain's going to do," said White. "Cain's going to go a hundred miles an hour, he comes forward, he does damage and never stops damaging you until he finishes you. So we'll see, we'll see how it goes."
It sounds like Werdum is again being viewed as the underdog. But if you think that's going to bother him, you haven't been paying attention.
"I trained a lot for this fight," said Werdum. "I knew this was my chance for my title shot. Improving every day. I never stop the training. I'm going to fight for a long time. ... my dream is the belt, and I'm just, when I train for the guys, I train, Tuesday and Thursday, six, seven hours in the gym just by myself."
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @DaveDoyleMMA.
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