While it wasn’t a fight many were clamouring for ahead of time, you could do worse (read: Pat Miletich vs. Mike Jackson) than a Junior Dos Santos vs. Fabricio Werdum headliner in 2023.
Yes, the Gamebred Bareknuckle MMA 5 main event was comprised of two former UFC champs well past their prime — but the pairing at least felt like a fair fight, and was far better than feeding one legend or the other to some young up-and-comer. Which quite frankly is the usual MMA playbook.
The winner of JDS vs. Werdum might even get a chance to go on one last run, with a fight against the winner of next month’s Roy Nelson vs. Alan Belcher, for the inaugural Gamebred Bareknuckle heavyweight title, waiting in the wings.
Fabricio Werdum fired off a few chopping front kicks early in Friday’s heavyweight main event — but he belied his gameplan by shooting in on a takedown more than once in the opening two minutes of the fight. None of those attempts came anywhere close to getting the fight where he wanted it, while Dos Santos played more of a waiting game, refusing to commit to anything more than a few probing jabs. JDS did mix in a calf kick, while Werdum continued to fire kicks up high, and to the body.
In the final minute of the opening frame, Werdum finally latched on to a leg and dumped Dos Santos on his backside. JDS, however, was quickly back to his feet, firing another leg kick and catching Werdum with a right hand before the end of the round. Werdum went down, though it appeared to be more of a slip.
Round two saw Dos Santos pressing forward, right hand cocked more often than not. Werdum then took over, firing numerous kicks including a spinning attack. Near the midway mark, Werdum dropped to his knees for a labored takedown attempt, and was forced to roll through it. Not great body language, especially with JDS still looking relatively fresh. Still, moments later, Werdum appeared to find a second wind, going on the offensive. Dos Santos, meanwhile, was patient almost to a fault, landing his calf kicks but refusing to unload on combinations.
Werdum would shoot for a takedown late in the round, but Dos Santos fought that off and wound up on top — wisely backing off rather than engaging with “Vai Cavalo” on the mat.
In the third, Dos Santos caught a kick early, but couldn’t take advantage of the moment. Instead, they went back to trading single strikes, with Dos Santos adding a twist by doubling up on his jab. The only flaw in that approach, actually landing it. But when it did land, Dos Santos appeared to do some damage, with Werdum showing blood and swelling around one eye. A takedown attempt saw Werdum try to lure JDS into his guard, to no avail. With time winding down, JDS would fire one final spinning attack before the horn, then raise his arms in celebration, believing he’d tone enough to secure the decision win.
Two of the three judges agreed, sending Junior Dos Santos back to the win column for the first time since 2019.
Official Result: Junior Dos Santos def. Fabricio Werdum by split decision (28-29, 30-27, 30-27)