Fabricio Werdum could soon join the hunt for the UFC heavyweight title. | File Photo: Sherdog.com

Following 50 days of taping for “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2,” Fabricio Werdum returned to Los Angeles to begin preparing for his highly anticipated rematch with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the UFC on Fuel TV 10 main event on June 8 at the Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Nogueira defeated Werdum by unanimous decision under the Pride Fighting Championships banner in July 2006. The two heavyweights are coaching opposite one another on the reality show.

“You know, ‘Minotauro’ only has entertaining fights, and they are always marked by his resilience,” Werdum told Sherdog.com, “so I’m training hard to avoid it this time and come out with the victory.”

Though his focus remains planted on Nogueira, Werdum will keep an eye on a pair of high-stakes UFC 160 matchups that will help shape the landscape at the top of the heavyweight division: Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva and Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt.

“I strongly believe in ‘Bigfoot’ in this rematch against Velasquez,” Werdum said. “He has evolved as a fighter since their first fight [at UFC 146]. By following the right strategy and not being worried about just takedowns, like he was the first time, he has every chance to knock out Velasquez. I fought [Silva], and I know the weight of that giant hand. That juggernaut coming at you ... I think he’ll win. I’m hoping for that. ‘Bigfoot’ is now a great friend.”

Werdum also stands behind dos Santos, a man with whom he has traded public barbs in the past. Dos Santos knocked out Werdum at UFC 90 in October 2008, and “Vai Cavalo” has done nothing to hide his desire for a rematch. Still, he finds himself pulling for his countryman against the resurgent Hunt.

“I’m rooting for ‘Cinago,’” Werdum said. “I believe he will win, but you have to respect Hunt. He lures you into range and hits you, and he’s beaten several big names from K-1. I believe in ‘Cigano’s’ hands, but if I was his coach, I would advise him to go for the takedown.”

A victory over the beloved Nogueira could conceivably vault Werdum into position as the number one contender for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown, though the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist believes chances of an immediate crack at the title remain remote.

“Looking at the UFC schedule, I think it’s unlikely,” said Werdum, who has forged an alliance with Fabio Gurgel, one of his coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” series. “‘Bigfoot,’ Cain and dos Santos fight on May 25, and I fight on June 8. I think whoever is champion will have to fight one more time before I have a right to a title shot -- if I win.

“Right now, I’m focused on my fight with Rodrigo, who’s a tough opponent,” he added. “If I beat him and need to fight another fight before a title shot, no problem.”

Werdum enjoyed his time on “The Ultimate Fighter,” watching fellow Brazilians vie for a spot in the UFC.

“I can only say you will see great fights from new fighters with great skills,” he said, “and you will laugh more than you did during the first season.”

Coaching opposite Nogueira gave Werdum a deeper respect for the revered former Pride champion.

“I’ve heard people talk about how great a person ‘Minotauro’ is, but over these 50 days, I had the opportunity to get to know him,” he said. “Guys like him just don’t exist. One day, I was backstage suffering with hip pain, and he offered me his physiotherapist. What do you say about a guy like that?”

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