(#1 heavyweight contender Cain Velasquez meets with the media on Thursday)
When UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar steps into the Octagon this Saturday night, he’ll be face-to-face with a man every bit as athletically gifted as he is.
Cain Velasquez (8-0), a former division one wrestler and two-time NCAA semi-finalist while at Arizona State, is looking to take Lesnar’s heavyweight title and prove he is a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division.
Like Lesnar, he comes from a working class background. He is the son of a migrant worker, who Velasquez says taught him the meaning of hard work and inspires him to put that work ethic into his training. Much of UFC’s hype for this upcoming fight has focused on Velasquez humble background and his mexican heritage, both of which he is very proud of.
The undefeated 28-year-old might not be the most gifted wrestler that Lesnar has ever faced (that would most likely be Randy Couture) but he might be the most complete fighter Lesnar has faced to date.
Velasquez trains at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., home of some of UFC’s most talented fighters, such as Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, but head trainer Javier Mendez says Velasquez might be the best fighter ever to step into the AKA gym.
“The difference with him is that he has the same desire as the BJ Penn’s and the Cung Le’s, but he has the great ability to understand what I’m telling him without me showing him. He has the ability to understand what I want and to perform it,” Mendez said.
Velasquez is a multifaceted fighter, according to Mendez.
“What he brings to the table is basically division one wrestling, quickness, polished technique in kickboxing. Basically an all-around game,” Mendez explains.
When the bell sounds on Saturday night, Mendez says Velasquez will be prepared for a long fight.
“We’re preparing for five rounds. The way we look at Brock, he’s a great athlete. We’re looking for a five-round war. We are not looking for an early stoppage or for him gassing. And if we are, I’m not doing my job.”
“We’re not preparing for a one-sided fight either. Brock is to great an athlete,” Mendez added.
“For his size, he is the best athlete in the world. I don’t think there is anyone at his size that is better,” Mendez said when reflecting on Lesnar. “The strength and power he brings, that man hits like a mack truck. We are very aware of how great he is, but we are aware of how great we can be.”
The #1 heavyweight contender is riding a six fight win streak in the UFC, most recently defeating former PRIDE heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by knockout last February. His other big wins in the Octagon were quick first round TKO’s over Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo.
There is no doubt that this is the biggest fight in Velasquez’s career. This is only the second time he has ever been in the main event of a UFC card and the hardest part for Velasquez has been the demands put on him to promote the fight.
Lesnar, on the other hand, has grown accustomed to years in the spotlight and the media obligations that go along with being in the main event.
“I think its 100% in Brock’s favor,” Mendez said. “Cain’s having to do so much media and take up so much of his time to do media that is taking up time from his training. Brock’s able to dictate how much time he has.”
“We are definitely burdened by having to do a lot of filming, as you can see from the show.” Velasquez has had to block off up to four hours a day to film segments for the UFC Primetime specials, whereas Lesnar has the clout to tell the TV crew where and when they can film.
What effect all of these distractions and added pressures will have on Velasquez is of the biggest questions going into the fight tomorrow night. Mendez said that a few weeks ago, the pressure really started to get to the gentle giant.
“Cain was breaking on me a little bit and I go “you can win or you can lose, you want it to go away then you can lose,” and ever since that talk he’s been fantastic,” recalls Mendez.
Velasquez has been well scouted by the Deathclutch team. Lesnar’s training partner Cole Konrad faced Velasquez three times in college, beating him both times they faced off in the NCAA tournament.
Mendez says Velasquez isn’t overly worried about any advantage that might give Lesnar.
“It is what it is. We have top-level wrestlers that are with Cain too,” Mendez replies. “But there is no one like Brock. For us to say we’ve got people just like Brock is (BS), there is no one like Brock.”
Velasquez and Lesnar face off this Saturday night on pay-per-view live from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. starting at 9 p.m. central time. The winner is expected to meet #2 contender Junior Dos Santos early next year.