For the better part of the past two days, I’ve struggled with my appraoch to this writeup. Do I talk about Cain’s Mexican heritage and the UFC’s controversial decision to promote him as the first Mexican heavyweight champion? Do I lead with a note about Cain’s brief six minutes and thirty-two seconds in the Octagon? Maybe compare it to things you can do in that time like, say, microwave a potato or cook angel hair pasta? Or maybe we can take the Star Wars route about Cain fulfilling his destiny as the next big thing in heavyweight MMA?
Those are the things that comprise my image of Cain Velasquez. To me, it all comes down to this: Cain Velasquez is a helluva fighter.
It’s a brief, almost glib, description, but I believe it’s an apt one. He’s the epitome of a Mike Goldberg cliche about talent combined with hard work. That talent was noted early on, as American Kickboxing Academy trainer Javier Mendez told Josh Gross:
When Mendez watched Velasquez train for the first time, he was in awe. Sparring with a kickboxer, Velasquez, who knew nothing of striking, took a foot to his head, which, because of its mass and dimensions, is usually what people first notice about him. Velasquez responded by lifting his training partner in the air and placing him on the canvas. A couple of minutes later, bang, another foot to the face. The response slam was a bit harder this time. Not mean. Not vicious. Just a friendly warning.
“First day he was in the gym and I said, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never seen that,’ ” Mendez said. “Normally guys get pissed off. He doesn’t.”
Mendez waved off extra sparring. “He’s got it,” the trainer told one of his coaches. He didn’t need to see anymore. This kid was worth his time.
Those in-the-know touted Velasquez as the best heavyweight prospect in the UFC prior to his debut against Brad Morris at UFC 83. Those notions had tempered as Velasquez prepared to fight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 110. He garnered a reputation as a “pillow puncher” after fights with Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell, which featured Velasquez landing 345 strikes in a little over four rounds of fighting, without demonstrating the ability to put either man on queer street. Kongo also wobbled Cain twice from distance, raising additional questions about Velasquez’s defensive kickboxing.
Coming off an impressive performance against Randy Couture, many felt that Nogueira’s experience – a 39-fight career compared to Cain’s seven – would prove the difference. And while Frank Mir had exposed the first chink in the Brazilian’s legendary chin at UFC 92, it was believed that Velasquez’s underwhemling power wouldn’t provide the same result.
It didn’t take long for the perception of Velasquez as a weak puncher to fall into a deep, dark hole. For the first two minutes of the fight, he beat Nogueira to the punch with fluid, four-limbed combinations while avoiding return offerings. A quick left-right combination sent Nogueira’s body doing the crash test dummy dance to the mat as Velasquez followed up with video game ground-and-pound to finish.
The win earned Velasquez a shot at Brock Lesnar’s UFC heavyweight title at UFC 121 in Anaheim, California. Lesnar survived the scare of death at the hands of both diverticulitis in the fall of 2009 and Shane Carwin at UFC 116, and the bookmakers chalked him up as a 2-1 favorite. Despite the performance against Nogueira, many questioned whether Cain, giving up twenty pounds, could hurt Lesnar after Shane Carwin, regarded as the hardest hitter in the sport, failed to put him away in July.
But just like the Nogueira fight, Cain dismantled the prefight prognostications. Lesnar charged like a bull from the opening bell, and put Velasquez on the mat thirty seconds into the first round. It took moments for Cain to return to his feet, and the two found themselves at distance again a minute later. Cain dominated the next two minutes. He battered a turtling Lesnar after a takedown. Lesnar regained his vertical base, but went on his infamous spinning disco number after a failed shot attempt. A gigantic knee buckled him, and the tide of the fight had been irreparably set. For the next 1:30, Velasquez swarmed the floundering viking. Lesnar briefly struggled to his feet only to crumple to the mat a moment later. With a gash under his left eye and a face full of his own blood, Lesnar was saved by Herb Dean with 48 seconds remaining in the round.
Full results after the jump.
|Georges St. Pierre||16.9|
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