Bloody Elbow Judo Chop: Fedor Emelianenko’s Vaunted “Fight IQ” Failed Him in His Loss to Fabricio Werdum

Coming into last night's Strikeforce fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Fabricio Werdum, I kept seeing MMA analysts using the term "Fight IQ" to describe…

By: Nate Wilcox | 13 years ago
Bloody Elbow Judo Chop: Fedor Emelianenko’s Vaunted “Fight IQ” Failed Him in His Loss to Fabricio Werdum
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Coming into last night’s Strikeforce fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Fabricio Werdum, I kept seeing MMA analysts using the term “Fight IQ” to describe Fedor’s uncanny ability to make the right decisions during a fight.

I first saw that term used by Sergio Non at USA TODAY describing Fedor’s win over Andrei Arlovski. Arlovski made the fatal mistake of dropping his hands and coming in with a flying knee that Fedor greeted with a smashing overhand right. Fedor said at the time, “”I noticed that after he attacked he opened up and I was just waiting for his next attack to strike.”

Wins like that one and the victory over Brett Rogers last November have trained MMA pundits to expect Fedor to be the one capitalizing on the mistakes of others, not making them.

Here’s one of the best in the business, Sherdog’s Tomas Rios writing before the last night’s fight:

That is really what separates these two and generally separates Emelianenko from other fighters: the ability to quickly perceive weaknesses and capitalize on them. Such a massive difference in fight IQ leaves Werdum hoping to make a paint-by-numbers approach work against an opponent who will see it coming from the opening bell.

But as it happened, it was Fedor who made the mistakes last night and Werdum who planted a clever trap that drew Fedor down into his doom. Werdum seemed to tell Loretta Hunt that he was playing possum to a certain extent to get Fedor to the ground. The photographic evidence shows that Fabricio was bright eyed and alert when he fell to his back.

After the fight, Fedor acknowledged his errors, per Sherdog:

“Certainly there were several moments when I could escape, but I relied on myself too much and that’s why I paid for it,” said Emelianenko. “At the very moment that I had to escape, I stopped. I didn’t do that and that moment was used by Fabricio to lock his clinch, to finish locking up his legs.”

Josh Gross notes how this fight was a departure from all of Fedor’s past victories:

Supremely confident coming into the bout, Werdum, who also owns victories against Emelianenko’s brother Aleksander and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, seated cage-side Saturday, noted that the Russian was so dangerous because when he saw opportunities, he capitalized. For whatever reason, he froze when against Werdum when it was most crucial.

“At the every moment when I had to escape, I stopped,” Emelianenko said. “I didn’t do that and that moment was used by Fabricio to lock me in.”

Tonight “I got the chance,” said Werdum, who welcomed a rematch with Emelianenko or a shot for the Strikeforce belt versus Overeem. “I saw the chance. And I didn’t let it go.”

Dave Meltzer quoted Werdum talking about the brief window of opportunity he had to get the win:

Werdum said he wanted the fight on the ground, where as a two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, he felt he had the edge. But he also felt it was imperative if finishing to do so quickly.

“I think it had to be in the first round because you don’t have so much sweat,” he said. “Maybe the second round it wouldn’t be possible because of a lot of sweat. The first round was better for me.”

Bloody Elbow reader GotaHemmi aka Brian Hemminger of astutely noticed that the cage may have played a critical role in Fedor’s mistake. We’ll look at some gifs in the full entry.

Luke Thomas will be talking to BJJ brown belt and combat sambo blackbelt Joseph “Seph” Smith on tonight’s MMA Nation and he’ll be breaking down the fight further, hopefully that will make for a second Judo Chop.  

Gifs by Chris Nelson.

Rather than reinvent the wheel I’m going to cut and paste Hemminger’s astute analysis from his fanpost on BEand

After a brief exchange standing, it was obvious that Werdum was no match for Fedor on the feet.  Werdum was ducking his head and throwing sloppy looping punches and Fedor threw a wild right hook that either barely clipped Werdum’s chin, or made him lose his balance falling backwards to avoid it. (26 seconds into the fight).  Werdum immediately starts butt-scooting and appears to have all of his faculties.


This moment reminded me eerily of the Andrei Arlovski / Werdum fight.  Werdum dropped on his butt multiple times that fight, but Arlovski refused to take the bait.   He  smartly kicked at Werdum’s legs, got the crowd booing a little bit, and forced the fight back to standing where he clearly had  he edge.  Fedor, on the other hand, immediately jumped into Werdum’s guard throwing hammerfists and ground and pound but Werdum’s legs closed around him like a Venus flytrap.


What happens next is incredibly important and I can’t believe people are not noticing it.  Fedor has solid sub defense, when Werdum initially goes for the armbar, he spins out of it, shrugging it off easily and goes back to work with his punches.  In his excitement (37 seconds into the fight) Fedor spins to his right trying to avoid Werdum’s extremely active sub attempts and as Werdum does a forward roll into guard, Fedor gets pressed against the cage, stopping his momentum and giving Werdum the moment he needed to throw his left leg around Fedor’s head.  Werdum crosses his feet going for a brief armbar but then locks in the triangle.  From that point on, it was only a matter of time until Fedor tapped or went unconscious.

Great stuff from Brian.

It’s clear that Werdum is a very dangerous submission artist. Also, historically, Fedor’s biggest fights against BJJ stylists are his trilogy with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He won the first of those fights by leaping into Big Nog’s guard and devastating Nog with brutal ground and pound from the top. At the time this was seen as an audacious and daring approach since Nogueira was and is one of the most dangerous submission artists in MMA history.

In fact, Nogueira has a considerably higher finishing rate than Werdum. But the key difference, aside from the Nog fights happening in a ring, were that Nogueira tends to rely on sweeps from his back, not exclusively, but often. He’s also got shorter legs than Werdum. Clearly Fedor misjudged some things last night. 

Looking forward to more intelligent analysis in the comments.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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