Cain Velasquez is a former champion, but still remains something of an unknown for the UFC.
With a well-rounded style in the cage and the perfect personality to captivate fans outside it, he is always somebody worth making the effort to try and watch.
That said, there are still some questions regarding Velasquez. With only eleven career fights, his limits have not yet been tested and it is still left to be seen how great he is capable of being.
While his domination of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva should be downright scary for anybody near the top of the heavyweight division, this is still a great time to analyze where is as a fighter, as a brand and as a former champion. Shall we?
Velasquez's punching power has been his biggest asset in the UFC, even though he was an accomplished NCAA wrestler.
As you might have heard by now, Cain Velasquez was a successful NCAA wrestler. The thing is, all of Velasquez's highlight reel moments to date have been him putting fighters out with his powerful fists.
Much like Rashad Evans after winning The Ultimate Fighter, there are serious questions as to where wrestling fits into Velasquez's game-planning. It has not become much of an issue to this point, given his ability to rack up knockouts.
Still, most heavyweight rankings have Velasquez sandwiched between two fearsome strikers in Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. Against either one of these fighters, Velasquez's game-plan should, logically, be to stand, throw a jab, then shoot for a double-leg takedown.
Obviously, when Velasquez fought dos Santos the first time at UFC on Fox, there was not really enough time to see what Velasquez was planning, as he was finished by dos Santos in about a minute. He did not show much wrestling against Antonio Silva, either, as he had him dizzied and bloody for the majority of the fight and won convincingly by mercilessly pounding his blinded opponent.
While it is hard to find faults with somebody who's sitting on a 10-1 record, there are legitimate questions regarding how “mixed” Velasquez's mixed martial arts skills are. In fact, just about the only time we have seen Velasquez actively work on the ground was all the way back at UFC 99 against Cheick Kongo.
This ties into the last slide, but it deserves its own slot here.
As has always been the nature of MMA heavyweights, there are two types of fighters. There are guys who hit hard, and there are strikers. The two legitimate strikers that Velasquez has fought are Cheick Kongo and Junior dos Santos.
Kongo and dos Santos, not coincidentally, are the only fighters that Velasquez did not have a knockout victory against. Velasquez beat Kongo convincingly using his wrestling skills, but got rocked repeatedly and made the judges earn their paychecks. Dos Santos, obviously, beat Velasquez.
As stated, Velasquez has plenty of knockouts to his credit, but can he stand and bang with Alistair Overeem? Will he try and do it again with dos Santos?
By no means is this writer trying to say Velasquez is incapable of standing with these guys. To this point, though, that is the one thing Velasquez is yet to demonstrate in the cage.
Velasquez has appeared in a variety of places to promote the UFC.
The average MMA fan is going to be more excited for the UFC equivalent of Godzilla vs. King Kong than any other kind of fight. They want to see big men who throw big punches with the intention of laying down some big hurt.
This was discussed in detail in the “Fighters That Can End the UFC's 'Star Search'” article. Velasquez is a big guy with big hands. Additionally, he has a personality that, perhaps, holds more appeal than even current champion Junior dos Santos.
To quote that article:
“Dos Santos is warm and cuddly. He is nice, humble, respectful, loves his mommy and prays every day...Velasquez is smart, articulate, hardworking and loves his family, but also serious, gritty, no-nonsense and definitely not on the list of people you would want to mess with.”
Velasquez's star is bright right now, but with his Mexican heritage always on display and the incredible amount of time he dedicates to reaching out to that demographic, he may be one of the most popular fighters in the UFC.
...or maybe not. Velasquez has only headlined two PPV cards for the UFC to this point. One was UFC 121 where he faced Brock Lesnar and generated over one million buys. The other, though, was UFC 110, where he fought Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but only attracted an estimated 240,000 buys in spite of some decent support from the rest of the card.
The numbers for UFC 146 are still unavailable but regardless, is Velasquez a star capable of drawing 500,000 buys consistently, a la Jon Jones? Nobody knows at this point, but it will be quite interesting to see.
Junior dos Santos and Cheick Kongo are the only two guys to really hit Velasquez. Velasquez got in trouble in both.
This is a deceptively important issue for Cain Velasquez, who has had very little adversity in the cage.
Velasquez has been on the good end of many lopsided beat-downs at this point, but in the few instances where he had an opponent land a strong hit, he was unable to simply shrug it off.
The number of times that Velasquez has had a punch land squarely on him can be counted on one hand. All of them, though, have either rocked him (Kongo had him off-balance repeatedly) or dizzied him to set up for a TKO (dos Santos had him staggered by a glancing blow behind the ear).
It is an unfortunate fact that chins are not something that get better with time. Because of that, it is hard to consider his ability to take a punch as a strength. That is a bad thing in the heavyweight division.
Again, he has been good enough for long enough that this clearly is not a problem, but it is definitely worth bringing up.
Cain has his eyes set on the belt, and should be favored against JDS.
This is easily the biggest question facing Cain Velasquez right now.
Almost nine million people tuned in to watch UFC on Fox, where Velasquez was dispatched by dos Santos. What is easy to forget, though, is that Velasquez was almost universally favored going into that fight.
That was a wise move at the time.
At the very least, Velasquez still stands a very good chance against Junior dos Santos. This writer views Velasquez as the only threat to take the belt at this time, and will certainly be favoring him in the rematch.
Frank Mir clearly planned to try and drag dos Santos to the mat. Mir, though, cannot shoot an opponent the way Velasquez likely can.
Watch for Velasquez to actually mount an offense in their rematch by taking JDS down and flattening him out. Though JDS has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the Nogueira brothers, Velasquez is entirely capable of keeping him on his back and pounding him.
That match, ultimately, will be a gem of a fight and will likely answer all the questions posed here.