Heading into UFC 188 many MMA fans and analysts, including myself, thought that Cain Velasquez would make a triumphant return to the Octagon. After all, Velasquez had shown time and time again that his blend of speed, power, aggression and cardio was a recipe for disaster for the rest of the UFC heavyweight division. But apparently someone forgot to tell that to Fabricio Werdum.

During the first round it became apparent that Werdum was more than just a game challenger to the title. The interim champ consistently found a home for his combinations and he refused to back down. After the round ended and Velasquez went to his corner fans witnessed something new; Velasquez was noticeably winded.

A fighter known for his impeccable cardio, Velasquez looked exhausted heading into the second round. That’s where Werdum took full control of the fight, continually landing combination after combination. Velasquez showed a lot of grit and toughness making it through the second round, but it was clear that he was fighting on borrowed time at that point.

Midway through the third round Velasquez looked to secure a takedown and Werdum did what he does best; he sunk in a deep guillotine choke. Moments later Velasquez tapped and Werdum became the new undisputed UFC heavyweight champion of the world.

Immediately after the bout, the excuses started rolling in from Velasquez apologists. The performance was the result of his 20-month layoff. It was because of another injury. It was the elevation.

Perhaps there is some truth there, but don’t diminish what Werdum accomplished by making excuses for Velasquez. Both fighters knew the venue they were going to be competing at, they knew that the bout would be fought above 7,000 feet and they both had ample time to properly prepare. And that’s where Werdum won this fight.

Werdum won on Saturday not because he was the more athletically gifted fighter, but rather, the more prepared fighter. Unlike Velasquez and his “World Class” team, Werdum understood the importance of acclimating your body to the specific environment you would be competing in.

With Mexico City it’s not just the elevation, it’s the air quality. Training to compete at 7,000 feet is one thing but training to compete at 7,000 feet in a city with major air pollution issues is an entirely different animal.

Werdum moved his training to Mexico City a full month ahead of the fight to acclimate his body to the conditions while Velasquez chose to train at home in San Jose at AKA. Then two weeks out, he and he team traveled to Mexico City for final preparations. This was a monumental mistake that likely cost Velasquez his biggest weapon heading into UFC 188.

Stylistically Werdum was already a dangerous matchup for Velasquez. Werdum has a much improved technical striking game and he is arguably the most dangerous heavyweight submission artist of all-time, especially off of his back. The one weapon Velasquez seemingly had that would prove to be the difference was his unheard of cardio and pace.

While Velasquez has good technique, he’s truly dangerous because of his motor that simply doesn’t quit or slow. Against fighters with better technical ability Velasquez could smother them with wrestling and break their will with his pressure. But that motor wasn’t there against Werdum because he and his team failed to prepare.

Being a champion isn’t just about being the best fighter in the world. There are absolute beasts out there who will never wear UFC gold because they will never fully get the mental side of the fight game. Werdum gets it and that’s why he is the UFC heavyweight champion today.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.