Fabricio Werdum has had a bit of a mercurial career as a fighter.
The elite grappler of the heavyweight division, Werdum has been fairly one-dimensional. On his feet, he's traditionally been average at best as a striker. His strength is his ground game; when the fight goes to the mat, Werdum excels and is perhaps the best grappler in the sport alongside Roger Gracie and Demian Maia.
Werdum's striking has improved, slowly but surely, and against a hard-chinned Roy Nelson at UFC 143, he showed something he hasn't shown in MMA: a complete and well-rounded game.
Nelson showed impressive defense early on when he staved off Werdum's attempt at a rear naked choke. The few times Werdum got the fight to the ground he was frustrated by Nelson. But when the fight stayed upright, Werdum showed remarkable standup prowess in cruising to a 30-27 decision.
Using a Muay Thai plum clinch to land a number of strong knee strikes, and using good head movement to set up some strong leg strikes, Werdum proved he had spent plenty of time working on his standup since a decision loss to Alistair Overeem in the quarterfinals of the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament last June.
The fact that Nelson wasn't stopped by any number of knee strikes that landed flush is remarkable; Nelson might have the toughest chin in the division right now. Any other fighter would probably have been knocked out by Werdum's knee.
The fact that Nelson stayed on his feet should take nothing away from how far Werdum's striking has come. He looked comfortable on his feet and, for the first time in his career, looked like a complete fighter. Werdum's been considered a top-five fighter in the division since he submitted previously dominant Fedor Emilianenko in a Strikeforce bout in June 2010, but it's been a hard sell for many. It became even harder when he lost to Overeem in poor fashion.
At that time, Werdum as a fighter was still one-dimensional, but had passable standup that allowed him to hang with the elite of the division. You couldn't argue that Werdum was a complete fighter; he was elite on the ground, and in the heavyweight division you can get away with being subpar in one aspect if you have one skill that's elite.
UFC 143 has changed all that.
Werdum looked comfortable standing up and now looks ready to assume the top-level ranking conferred upon him since the Fedor victory. Before Saturday night, he was a threat to guys like Overeem and Dos Santos if they took it to the ground, but not on their feet. Now Werdum looks like he's ready to be able to win a fight against an elite-level heavyweight no matter where the fight goes.