“I started this to be the UFC heavyweight champion. That's the only reason I got into this sport was to be the best."
Number one Heavyweight contender Cain Velasquez says he’s goofy when it comes to love.
When he proposed to his fiancé after knocking out Minotauro Nogeuira in Sydney, Australia earlier this year, he faked stubbing his toe while strolling on the beach so that he could fall to one knee to ask the mother of his infant daughter to spend the rest of her life with him.
She said yes.
However, if the fight had gone the other way, Velasquez may very well not be engaged today.
“I think if I had lost, I wouldn't have been in that kind of celebrating mood to do that kind of stuff,” said Velasquez, who will take on Brock Lesnar for the UFC Heavyweight belt at UFC 121 in Anaheim’s Honda Center this Saturday night.
It’s that goofy side of the undefeated fighter (8-0) that his opponents don’t usually get to see.
Against Cheick Kongo, he proved that he has a good chin, recovering quickly after being rocked in round one by the Frenchman and eventually taking a unanimous decision.
Against Ben Rothwell, Velasquez showcased superior wrestling by dumping the former IFL champ at will on his way to a TKO victory in round two. And at UFC 110, he proved he has devastating hand speed and power, becoming only the second fighter to ever finish Nogeuira. He did so in just 2:20 of the first round.
It’s hot and muggy at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, where Velasquez trains under the watchful eye of Javier Mendez and alongside fellow UFC fighters like Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick and Jon Fitch.
Velasquez is boxing with a local heavyweight boxer whom he’s never sparred with before.
“I told him to take it easy on him, just shadow a bit,” says Mendez. “I told him no head contact.”
The boxer, however, didn’t get the memo, and as his own trainer is ringside, yelling instructions at his charge, the kid lands a left hook to the side of Cain’s head. Cain shoots a look to his corner, and Javier nods, giving Cain the green light to go a little harder.
The next time the boxer throws a combo, Velasquez sidesteps and lands a left hook to the body, dropping the kid. It would be about a minute and a half before he recovers.
That’s the type of fighter Velasquez is. He can turn it on or off with a nod or a shake of a head.
“Cain trains like a lightweight,” says Mendez. “He’s fast and he’s relentless.” Velasquez attributes his work ethic to his parents; migrant farm workers who travel from California to Yuma year-round, picking crops like cotton and watermelon and loading them into trucks.
“He was always working the fields,” said Velasquez of his father. “Picking lettuce, boxing lettuce, throwing the lettuce up in the trucks. That's what they did all day. And my mom did the same thing with him,” said the Mexican-American, who is on a mission to give fellow Latinos a positive role model to look up to, hence the “Brown Pride” tattooed across his chest.
“I got the tattoo for all the hard work they did to come over here to this country,” he said. “They wanted to raise their family here, for a better life for us. Another reason, growing up, I didn't really have anybody that I could look up to in the media. I never thought that I could be in the limelight or play professional sports. So the reason I got the “Brown Pride” was to, you know, show people like me that hey, ‘I’m Mexican too. It can be done.”
Velasquez now faces the biggest fight of his life against someone he says has proved he has the heart of a champion.
“I don’t think a lot of guys could have survived that first round with the kind of ground and pound that Shane (Carwin) was putting on him,” he says. “He (Lesnar) did, he survived the first round, came back in the second round and got the submission,” said Velasquez, who conceded he’s having a hard time finding training partners who could emulate the champion.
“For his size, he's really explosive,” Cain said. “He has really good power. And he moves really well. So to find somebody who has all his attributes, it definitely is tough. We're looking out and we're finding guys his size with really high credentials in wrestling and bringing those guys in,” he said.
While Velasquez is a solid 240 pounds, Lesnar has to cut to make the 265 pound limit, but that kind of size is nothing he hasn’t already seen during his collegiate wrestling days, where he was a two time All-American at Arizona State.
“I had to wrestle guys who had to cut to make 285,” he said. “I chose to fight in this division. This is as big as I’m going to get. I tried getting bigger and it doesn’t work for me.”
Velasquez said he matches up well with Lesnar despite the size difference.
“I think I’m more comfortable with the standup,” he says. “I know he's got a long reach and he's powerful, but I’m going to work on movement and be unpredictable,” he says.
Lesnar shocked the MMA world when he submitted Carwin with an arm triangle, showing off a much improved ground game than he had in any of his previous fights. While impressed with his heart, however, Velasquez wasn’t so impressed with the submission – understandable considering his last fight against Nogueira exposed him to some of the most rigorous submission defense in his training to date.
“Doesn't worry me,” says Velasquez. “I think I'm comfortable and confident, and I'm pretty well aware of what's going to happen if he gets me in that position. I know what to do to get out and stuff like that,” he said.
While enjoying himself as an undefeated fighter in the world’s toughest fight club, Velasquez says he won’t be satisfied until that belt is around his waist.
“I started this to be the UFC heavyweight champion,” said Velasquez. “That's the only reason I got into this sport was to be the best. And I feel if I don't get that belt in my road, in my whole lifetime, I think my career would just be mediocre.”