by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
Four bouts into his professional career and the undefeated Cain Velasquez is already being touted as a potential contender to the UFC heavyweight championship. Not that far fetched considering the promotion’s current beltholder, Brock Lesnar, maintains a 3-1 professional record and that Velasquez’ every move is shaped with the championship in mind.
His opponent at UFC Fight Night 17 on Saturday night – little known Bosnian Denis Stojnic – isn’t likely to catapult Velasquez to the head of the line for the winner of a planned Brock Lesnar versus Frank Mir unification bout later this year, but he is integral in Velasquez’ quest to eventually arrive at that spot.
“In the past, it’s happened to other people where they overlook their opponents when their opponents have not been well known. I look at it as every fight is a title fight and that’s how I’m looking at this fight,” said the Arizona State (ASU) wrestling standout on MMAWeekly.com Radio recently.
His collegiate wrestling pedigree includes two-time All-American honors and two Pac-10 championships while at ASU, as well as a junior college national championship at Iowa Central Community College. It’s not surprise that a UFC championship is in the plans for his mixed martial arts career, though he doesn’t seem to be in the rush that others are assigning to his rise to contention.
“I just feel like I need more ring time until I’m feeling super comfortable in the Octagon,” he conveyed. “I want to just work my way up the ladder. If I get there in two years, in ten years, that’s fine with me, as long as I reach my goal.”
In making the move from collegiate wrestler to a profession of fighting, Velasquez followed the advice of his wrestling coach, Thom Ortiz, and headed to American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif. There, he trains with several fighters that have “been there, done that.” He credits Team AKA for much of his immediate success in the sport.
“I give Team AKA and all my coaches and managers all the credit,” Velasquez said with humility. “All the guys I work out with like Jon Fitch, like Josh Koscheck, just to know that they’ve been there before and learn from them, just to follow somebody who is on the right path.
“To have those guys rotating in on you for your sparring is the best thing you can have. Working with Paul (Buentello) my stand-up is getting better and better the more that I work with him.”
About the only question mark stamped on Velasquez as he heads into the Octagon in Tampa, Fla., is regarding his knee. An injured meniscus sidetracked an earlier return in December, but he casts aside any doubts. “I had a meniscus surgery about three or four months ago. Now the knee is fine, it’s perfect, 100 percent.”
Despite his belief that the injury is not a factor, Velasquez is not looking past Stojnic.
“I know he has a record of 12-1. He’s super aggressive, big guy, tough guy,” says the 26-year-old heavyweight. “He does go out there and bang, he’s a brawler for sure. People don’t know him, but I have to take him very seriously. He’s a tough opponent. He’s a worthy opponent.”
Worthy or not, if his assessment of Stojnic’s skills are accurate, the Hollander should play right into the hands of Velasquez, who doesn’t see himself walking into a classic striker versus grappler match-up. So don’t be surprised if the All-American doesn’t rush into a takedown attempt on Saturday night.
“It’s always important to show that I’m well rounded. That’s what kind of fighter I am now,” he stated. “I’m not just a wrestler, I’m an MMA fighter.”