Once champs, UFC heavyweight vets meet again in bare knuckle MMA

Two longtime UFC heavyweight veterans and former champions will meet under the Gamebred FC banner for some bareknuckle MMA.

By: Zane Simon | 3 months ago

The lure of bare knuckle fighting has grabbed another couple of yesteryear’s stars. Back in 2018, bare knuckle boxing made a sanctioned return to the US on a big stage for the first time in over 100 years. What seemed like it might be nothing more than a passing fad, here for a couple quick cards before everyone remembered what they don’t like about bare knuckle fighting (the injuries and the blood), instead became a fundamental part of the modern combat sports landscape.

In large part, it seems like the continuing interest in bare knuckle fighting is buoyed by a large pool of talent from MMA. Fighters who have found themselves worn out by the years of wrestling and grappling, but with a striking toolkit that doesn’t necessarily leave them well equipped for Queensbury rules boxing. The allowance for more clinch work, collar ties and other infighting modifactions in the bare knuckle game seem to be just the edge longtime mixed martial artists need for striking-only competition.

As an offshoot of the unexpected popularity of bare knuckle boxing, it’s a little ironic then that we’re also now getting bare knuckle MMA. The sport that moved to 4oz gloves just 26 years ago is losing them again, thanks to former UFC title contender Jorge Masvidal and his Gamebred FC promotion.

Ex-UFC heavyweight champs Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum get rematch

Well before either man ever won UFC gold, Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum met at back in 2008 on the main card of the UFC 90 PPV. The bout marked the Octagon debut for JDS, who brutalized ‘Vai Cavalo’ with a huge uppercut for the first round knockout. That loss also marked Werdum’s exit from the promotion, and a jump to Strikeforce that would lead to the most iconic victory of the Brazilian’s career—a triangle choke over Fedor Emelianenko.

Werdum returned to the UFC four years after his release, after the then-Fertitta owned promotion purchased Strikeforce from Showtime. Despite an eight-year stretch from 2012 to 2020 that saw both JDS and Werdum compete for (and in the latter’s case, win) the heavyweight strap, they never got the chance to run back their 2008 meeting. Now, it appears they will.

Sherdog reports that JDS vs. Werdum 2 will act as the main event of Gamebred Bareknuckle MMA 5. The event is set to go down at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL. No other bouts have been announced for the fight card at this time.

Recent history

Despite their fantastic credentials and long resumes featuring numerous accolades, recent history has been far less auspicious to these former champs. Dos Santos last fought for UFC gold back in 2017, after which he went on a 3-fight winning streak, culminating in a 2019 FOTN win over Derrick Lewis. That victory led him into a bout against future divisional king Francis Ngannou, who knocked ‘Cigano’ out just 1:11 into the first round.

Dos Santos lost his next three fights via TKO, resulting in his exit from the UFC. After two years on the sidelines, he returned to action at Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC promotion, losing to Yorgan De Castro, the result of a shoulder injury suffered late in the bout. His fight against Werdum will be the first time JDS has stepped in the cage since that injury.

For Werdum, fight results haven’t been nearly so unkind to the 45 year old, but his career hasn’t seen much success lately either. After a 2018 loss to Alexander Volkov, Werdum was suspended for two years for a violation of USADA’s drug policy. That sentence was eventually reduced due to “substantial assistance” provided by the fight, and the Akhmat Fight Club rep returned to action in 2020, losing a split decision to Alexey Oleynik.

Werdum only fought once more in the UFC, defeating Alexander Gustafsson, before entering free agency and signing for the PFL. That marriage was short lived. Werdum competed only once for the PFL, in 2021, where he was knocked out by Renan Ferreira. The result was eventually overturned, but Werdum withdrew from future competition due to injury and eventually appears to have negotiated an exit from the organization. His fight against JDS will be his first in more than two years.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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