The UFC will anoint its top heavyweight title contender this weekend, and Fabricio Werdum believes he has waited long enough for his shot at the belt.
Hawaii’s Travis Browne is equally certain he’s ready to cut in line.
Browne faces Werdum in the five-round main event at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., to determine who gets the next chance to take on champion Cain Velasquez.
“It’s been a while since I’ve fought, and I’m very happy to have the chance to show I’m worthy of this title,” Werdum said through a translator.
Werdum (17-5-1) has been the presumptive choice for a title shot for several months, but he elected not to wait around longer than a year while Velasquez recovered from surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Velasquez won’t be ready to return until late fall after getting hurt in his second victory over Junior Dos Santos last October.
Werdum already was far too inactive for his tastes last year while spending several months coaching on the Brazilian version of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s reality-show franchise. He has fought just once in the last 22 months, submitting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the second round last June.
“I didn’t want to be waiting around for too long,” Werdum said. “To wait for two years and never fight at all, that wouldn’t be the best decision. I want to fight at least three times a year, so it was a little bit hard in the beginning, but I have to keep motivated, keep training, so I took the fight.”
In a news conference held at UFC fan Shaquille O’Neal’s home gym Thursday, President Dana White confirmed that the winner of Saturday’s main event will fight Velasquez in the UFC’s long-expected debut in Mexico later this year, assuming injuries and the usual nuttiness of the heavyweight division don’t change the plan.
Werdum is taking a significant risk by stepping into the cage against the destructive Browne (16-1-1), who called him out in December after stopping Josh Barnett for his third straight victory.
While Werdum has a lengthy history of success highlighted by his victory over Fedor Emelianenko in 2010, Browne is a rising force in the heavyweight division after winning six of his last seven bouts, including five by stoppage.
“A chance to fight for the title is what we’re all in it for, but I’m not going to sell myself short,” Browne said. “This is part of my journey. I expect more of myself than to fight for a chance to fight for a title. My goal is to leave a legacy in this sport, so this is another fight on my road to my legacy.”
Browne is a native of Hawaii with vicious power and growing skill. His recent victories have featured spectacular highlights: A Superman punch to stop 6-foot-11 Stefan Struve, or the elbows that left Barnett limp on his feet last December.
He doesn’t have Werdum’s name recognition, but that would change with another big victory on a nationally televised show on Fox.
“It’s an honor to be bestowed with the responsibility of having the main event, of having your face up on the billboards and the posters,” Browne said. “I’m lucky to have a style that’s very crowd-pleasing.”
The Orlando card also includes a bout between bantamweights Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche, while crowd-pleasing lightweight Donald Cerrone meets Brazil’s Edson Barboza.