2008 was shaping up to be Fabricio Werdum's year. With two straight TKO wins over Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera, the Brazilian grappler was thought to be next in line for a shot at the heavyweight title. The twin colossi of Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin ruled the division at the time, and Werdum was an equally sizable man, standing 6'4" and weighing 256 pounds, which made him more than 20 pounds heavier than his next opponent, an unknown UFC rookie named Junior dos Santos.
When the two men met at UFC 90 in October, 2008, it’s possible that Werdum didn’t put much stock in the 24-year-old who stood before him. Werdum was a Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, and Dos Santos' lone loss had come via armbar. Besides, Werdum had been a professional fighter since 2002. Dos Santos was still just a kid.
What transpired that night would become the stuff of legend and then a familiar scene to UFC fans. Dos Santos displayed a crisp jab and footwork that vastly outpaced his opponent's. Werdum managed a few glancing leg kicks and one failed takedown attempt, but little else. With just over a minute into the fight dos Santos suddenly closed the distance and caught a ducking Werdum with a crushing uppercut. Werdum crumpled like an accordion and Dos Santos finished him with ground and pound. The ecstatic young man raced around the ring screaming with a look of genuine shock on his face.
Werdum would subsequently be released by the UFC, but that fight was just the beginning of dos Santos' meteoric rise. The Brazilian would dominate his next six opponents, including Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, before taking the heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds on November 12, 2011. Though dos Santos would give the belt back to Velasquez a year later and go on to lose the rubber match this past weekend, his win over Fabricio Werdum will always be known as one of the most impressive and portentous debuts in heavyweight history.
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