It may look on the surface like Cain Velasquez was put on the fast track to the UFC heavyweight title, but the former All-American wrestler from Arizona State has worked extremely hard to earn his shot against Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 in Anaheim, Calif.
Since leaving college, Velasquez has been working tirelessly alongside the coaches at the American Kickboxing Academy to prepare himself for a run in the heavyweight division, which culminated in his UFC debut just over two years ago.
Even before that, Velasquez’s teammates at AKA had been touting the Mexican-American fighter as the next big thing, but he still had to prove it in the Octagon. He definitely lived up to the hype winning six fights in a row including back-to-back finishes over Ben Rothwell and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Velasquez doesn’t contemplate too much on his quick rise to the title, but he knows he’s put in the work to be where he’s at heading into UFC 121.
“I’ve thought about all the fights I’ve had up to this point,” Velasquez said about his progression. “I think I’ve gone through the right people, and to where I’m in the right position to fight for the title.”
The match-up with Lesnar will be different than anything Velasquez has faced in the UFC before. A physically strong wrestler with similar credentials, who will outweigh Velasquez by about 30 to 40 pounds by the time the two step into the Octagon on Saturday night.
While he may not have fought against anyone of Lesnar’s caliber in the cage, Velasquez believes he’s got the tools and the training to combat the champion’s size and wrestling if the fight goes that way. He also acknowledges that he may very well find himself on the bottom, underneath the massive Lesnar, but it’s something he’s prepared for.
“In college, I wrestled guys that were over 285. I wrestled a guy that was 285 and competed against him for a while now. I’m used to it, and when it comes down to it, it just is what it is,” Velasquez told MMAWeekly Radio.
“A lot of worst case scenarios kind of thing and just working on getting comfortable in that position and getting out. Make it repetitive, make it second nature, so I don’t even have to think about it. If I get in that position, I already know what to do to just get out.”
Looking at Velasquez and his own set of advantages heading into the title fight. He’s developed his stand-up game to the point where he’s landing knockout punches, he’s got his own strong wrestling pedigree, and conditioning that may be unmatched in the heavyweight division.
All of those weapons are compounded by Velasquez’s phenomenal speed, which helps him navigate around many of the size factors the heavyweight division has presented him since coming to the UFC.
“My speed level has to be up for this fight,” Velasquez admitted. “He’s a strong guy, he’s powerful, and he’s quick too, so I definitely have to put all my strengths together for this fight.”
If it all comes together, Velasquez has a chance to become the first ever Mexican-American UFC heavyweight champion. He also has a chance to travel the path he set out on from the first day he stepped foot on a wrestling mat.
“It’s just all the hard work I’ve put in when I first got into this sport. That’s my main goal, that’s the only goal I have, is to be the UFC champion,” stated Velasquez. “To get that belt and hold that belt. It’s just having my dreams come true.”