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Cain Velasquez - Meet The New Boss

It suffices to say that Velasquez competed with the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. Pressure often causes athletes to freeze in the spotlight. Velasquez responded with a virtuoso performance, certainly the most impressive effort of his career.
Saturday night was the coming of age for a special fighter.  Despite the fact that new UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez is only a few years into his mixed martial arts career, his systematic annihilation of Brock Lesnar was a long time in coming.

I will never forget the phone call.

It was mid 2006.  American Kickboxing Academy founder and head trainer Javier Mendez called to tell me about this new heavyweight prospect that had just joined the AKA fight team.  It wasn’t unusual for Javier to call to talk about his evaluation of a fighter.  He is very forthcoming with his opinion, and I have always found him to be very honest without any hyperbole whatsoever.  That is why the conversation remains burned into my memory, and it replayed itself over and over in the wee hours of Sunday morning after watching UFC 121.

The conversation went something like this:

“Mike, we just added the future UFC heavyweight champion to our team.  He isn’t just going to be a champion.  This guy is going to dominate the division for years.”

“Really?  Who is he?”

“Cain Velasquez.”

“Who?”

“Cain Velasquez.”

“I’m drawing a blank.  What is his record?  Who has he fought?”

“That is the best part.  He hasn’t fought yet, but he is a former All-American wrestler at Arizona State University who kicks like Cro Cop and punches like Chuck Liddell.  He doesn’t have any jiu jitsu yet, but Dave [Camarillo] will take care of that.  The best part is this guy never gets tired.  He is 240 lbs, and he never gets tired.”

“Javier, are you feeling OK?  Have you had any adult beverages to drink this morning?  That is a lot of hype for a guy who has never stepped foot inside the Octagon.”

“I’m telling you, Mike.  He might already be the best heavyweight in the world.  This guy is going to go down as one of the greatest fighters of all time, if not the greatest.”

I can hear the conversation in my head like it happened five minutes ago.  Maybe I’m getting some of the filler words wrong.  It was, after all, more than four years ago.  The meat of the conversation is word for word.

Keep in mind that I hear that sort of stuff all the time from managers who are trying to build artificial interest in their fighters.  Hyperbole is the essence of promotion, and managers say ridiculous things all the time.  It’s what they do best, most of the time.

Mendez is not that kind of guy, as mentioned.  That is why I was so taken aback by his comments.

Mendez wasn’t the only one anointing Velasquez as the heavyweight chosen one back in 2006.  The talk about Velasquez’s future in the sport was so prevalent that he was basically a mixed martial arts cult hero by the time he made his UFC debut on April 19, 2008. 

Oh yeah.  Velasquez also happens to be of Mexican descent.  Few countries boast a better history in the fight game than Mexico, particularly when one includes Mexican-Americans in the analysis.  Julio Cesar Chavez, Carlos Zarate, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Oscar de la Hoya, Ricardo Lopez, and Salvador Sanchez rank among the best to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves.  Miguel Angel Torres was once the single best bantamweight mixed martial artist in the world and arguably one of the best in the sport, pound for pound.  Tito Ortiz once held the record for most successful consecutive UFC title defenses.

Notice the one common theme among those names?  None of those guys are heavyweights.  Until Saturday night, no fighter of Mexican descent had ever won a heavyweight world title in boxing or mixed martial arts, a fact that was made evident during the build up for UFC 121. 

 It suffices to say that Velasquez competed with the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.  Pressure often causes athletes to freeze in the spotlight.  Velasquez responded with a virtuoso performance, certainly the most impressive effort of his career.

The new champion is still light years from living up to his head trainer’s stratospheric expectations, but he is off to a pretty good start.  Nine professional fights.  Nine wins.  Eight knockouts.  Six first-round knockouts. One UFC championship.

Time will tell if Velasquez can put together a dominant reign as the champion.  He certainly has the tools to do so, but history is not on his side.  Lesnar was only able to rack up two successful defenses of the title.  Only two men, Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia, defended the title more than Lesnar (and Andrei Arlovski), and their overall title defense records sit at three.   But think about this for a moment - the record for the most successful consecutive defenses of the heavyweight crown remains stuck at two—a paltry number by anyone’s standards. 

Winning three straight fights to set a new standard of heavyweight championship greatness is going to be a very difficult task, indeed.  First up is Junior dos Santos early next year.  Dos Santos is a brutally difficult matchup for Velasquez.  He is a top-of-the-food-chain striker with great takedown defense.   In theory, that is the perfect recipe to defeat Velasquez.

Then again, a 280-lb world class wrestler with cat-like reflexes, superhuman strength and the explosiveness of an NFL all pro defensive end was supposed to be the perfect recipe, too.  And we all saw what Velasquez did to Lesnar.

Are you going to bet against him?

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