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Pretty much everyone was excited for Cain Velasquez’s return to the Octagon at UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, but most assuredly he was.
A former UFC heavyweight champion, Velasquez had been on the sidelines, partially because of injury and partially by choice, for two and a half years. Returning to the Octagon, he had one of his best camps ever, in large part because it was injury free. Velasquez indicated that taking such a lengthy time off was good for him mentally, as well as physically, though, and the fire to compete was once again burning bright.
The flame wasn’t doused, but it certainly wasn’t stoked the way he had hoped when he finally stepped into the cage with Francis Ngannou. Though Ngannou stormed him, Velasquez insists that it wasn’t MMA’s answer to Mike Tyson that caused him to go down 26 seconds into the bout, but a “freak” knee injury.
“I just can’t believe that happened,” Velasquez said at the post-fight press conference. “Having a great camp coming in, how strongly I felt, that was all true. Coming in I felt great out there, relaxed, and then taking that one step I did with my left foot… I just felt something pop and then when I tried to take another step it just gave out on me. My knee gave out on me; I can’t even believe that happened.”
Velasquez accepted the loss, admitting that the referee made the right call by stopping the fight when he realized Velasquez’s knee had given out. The former champion also took nothing away from Ngannou’s victory, but expressed his frustration at the injury after having an injury-free camp, which almost never happens for any fighter.
“Going in 100-percent healthy, 100-percent ready, and just to have this freak accident, I can’t even believe it. It’s just hard. That’s sports, that’s what we do. That’s what happens sometimes. It’s just really frustrating because the fire in me is strong, stronger than ever.”