Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and the American Kickboxing Academy Conundrum

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Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and the American Kickboxing Academy Conundrum
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Any time one specific fight camp produces more than a single top contender in any particular weight class, things get hairy. Training partners tend to frown upon fighting one another, despite the fact that they’re willing to batter one another for weeks on end in preparation for future battle. It’s an awkward but understandable stance.

For teammates, I’m sure the desire to see one's brother in combat reach the greatest heights imaginable is second nature. However, every man competing who happens to have his heart fully invested in his career, with major, major title aspirations, can’t enjoy the idea of anyone else reaching the mountain's summit.

And this train of thought takes us straight to San Jose, California, where the American Kickboxing Academy headquarters currently resides. There’s a serious issue brewing in this world-renowned gym, and while the pot hasn’t taken to full boil as of yet, chances are the bubbles will be bouncing inside a year or two, threatening to spill over the pot's rim.

Cain Velasquez is once again the UFC heavyweight champion. After his extreme throttling of Junior dos Santos at UFC 155, it’s safe to brand him “undisputed." Not many look fit to effectively challenge a fit, well-prepared Velasquez.

So far, so good, right? Well…not exactly.

The problem comes in the form of stout slugger and supreme wrestler Daniel Cormier, who just so happens to be one of the truly elite competitors tipping the scales north of 205 pounds. He’s also a devoted training partner of Cain’s who has expressed absolutely zero interest in meeting his stable mate inside the cage.

Time may show us that this will not serve as a hiccup in divisional relevancy if Velasquez loses his title in the near future or Cormier comes up short once he migrates to the UFC. The major issue here is the fact that such a scenario seems rather unlikely.

Velasquez has been a fantastic competitor who has stumbled just once in his career (in his first engagement with JDS back at UFC on FOX 1), and given the fact that he spent more than a year away from the cage recovering from a torn rotator cuff suffered in his fight with Brock Lesnar (at UFC 121), as well as a subsequent knee injury sustained just days detached from that first JDS fight, it’s not a stretch to call that singular stumble a fluke.

Feared commodities in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Silva and Junior dos Santos have suffered severe beatdowns at the hands of the Mexican American, and that means he’s already abused four top-10 foes. Bear in mind, he didn’t just beat them, he truly abused these guys. Outside of Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, there aren’t many heavyweights who look as though they’ve got a chance at dethroning the young goliath.

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If Cain stays healthy, he’s going to keep a firm grasp on that belt, likely for quite some time.

But Daniel Cormier may prove to be the second-best big man in the game. “DC” is still relatively untested. With just 10 bouts, only three of which were high-profile, on his ledger, he may hit a wall and fail to deal with adversity as Cain has been able to do. However, given his work ethic, deep wrestling roots and top-notch training camp, I don’t see that happening.

Cormier, as of today, is quite possibly the second greatest heavyweight competing in the game, and time may prove that.

At 33 years old, it’s easy to label Cormier’s days as an elite contender as numbered. But he got an incredibly late start in this business, debuting as a professional just over three years ago, and his body looks as though it’s still got a solid half decade of high-caliber performances stowed away. I don’t see Cormier’s career turning south anytime soon.

Like Velasquez, he’s already disposed of a small handful of top-10 foes, and he’s looked brilliant in doing so. His utter destruction of Antonio Silva was a sight to behold, but his follow-up performance against the always-dangerous and perennial top 10-ranked heavyweight Josh Barnett really hammered the reality of his skills home: Cormier schooled the far more experienced “Warmaster” for a full 25 minutes. The fight was never competitive.

These kinds of performances force attention and recognition. They also propel Cormier into the upper regions of the current rankings.

Cormier will close out his Strikeforce contract on January 12th when he meets the seasoned Dion Staring in the promotion’s final event. Should the lightning-fast AKA product emerge victorious (I believe he will), he’ll head for greener pastures (the UFC), where talks of a collision with former champion Frank Mir already rumble.

Assuming (I know we’re not supposed to do that) Cormier enters the Octagon and bashes Mir, he’ll have rendered three top 10-ranked opponents all but helpless inside his last four fights. Like Velasquez, he’ll have wiped out a sizable chunk of valid contenders.

There are only so many men who stand to offer a legitimate challenge to Cormier, and the same can be said for Velasquez. So what happens if Velasquez continues his berserker ways and Cormier travels a similar career path?

The two have made it known that they possess no drive to tangle with one another. But if the No. 1- and the No. 2-ranked heavyweights refuse to battle, how might we see the division’s absolute best defined?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem still have quite a bit of say in this matter, as both men are bona fide threats to anyone courageous enough to oppose them in the Octagon. But if either, or both men falter while team AKA continue to obliterate opponents, we’re going to be examining a jumbled mess within the division.

The big men tend to serve as big financial draws. Should Cormier battle his way to a No. 2 ranking and Cain maintain his position at the peak of the mountain, fans will be deprived of the most relevant and lucrative fight in today’s MMA landscape: the single battle that may determine who the greatest heavyweight alive truly is.

There are massive benefits to training with the best in the business, but the American Kickboxing Academy serves as a reminder: training with the greatest also brings great obstacles that could hinder the grand picture.

There can only be a single No. 1-ranked heavyweight. If the best two big men competing refuse to tangle, how can we ever know precisely who the best really is?

 

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