Forget everything you ever knew about heavyweight fighters in the UFC. The days of beer bellies and pear-shaped goliaths that once made a spectacle of the most watched weight class in all of combat sports are mercifully, coming to an end. This isn’t MMA. This is MMA 2.0.
This is Cain Velasquez.
Velasquez joins a frightening new class of heavyweights that includes Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin — men who are not just fighters, but seasoned and accomplished athletes. Armed with decorated resumes in amateur wrestling and blessed with the strength and power of a small locomotive, they bring a style and intensity that for the most part, was rarely seen outside of the smaller weight classes.
The undefeated blue-chip prospect will represent that class when he locks horns with mixed martial arts veteran Heath Herring at UFC 99 from the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, on June 13.
“The Texas Crazy Horse” has done time with some of the world’s best, including Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He recently survived a three round drubbing against Brock Lesnar at UFC 87 last August.
It’s not unreasonable to think that a win over Herring might land Velasquez a spot in the top ten — even while he’s preparing for another unstoppable force this May: The birth of his baby daughter, Coral Love Velasquez, who arrived earlier today into the hands of the heavyweight superstar and his girlfriend Michelle Borquez.
I was fortunate enough to grab a few moments with Velasquez before he became a proud Papa. He gave us the dirt on everything from his upcoming war with Herring, his opinion on the best heavyweight in the world and the one submission he can’t wait use in an upcoming fight.
Brian Oswald: You’re a former two time All-American collegiate wrestler from Arizona State. You’re also a junior college national champion from Iowa Central Community College. Tell us about your wrestling base and how it relates to MMA.
Cain Velasquez: Wrestling is a great pedigree and base for MMA. Wrestling has made me very mentally strong, conditioned me really well for MMA and given me phenomenal balance. As a lot of people know, it allows you to dictate where the fight goes.
If you want to keep it standing it lets you do that. And, if you want to take your opponent to the ground, wrestling gives you the ability to do that. It depends on who your opponent is—if you think you can exploit his weakness standing or on the ground.
Brian Oswald: Speaking of the Arizona State days, your former teammate Ryan Bader is coming off his first UFC win. You have to be pretty proud of that guy. What is your relationship like these days?
Cain Velasquez: We communicate really well. I’ve spent time training down at Arizona Combat Sports with those guys. Before my fight with Jake O’Brien, Ryan actually came out to California to train with me for that. I’m friends with those guys over there. C.B. Dolloway is another great guy there.
It’s harder with the distance, but after fights or on vacation, we’ll all get together for a week and catch up with each other’s lives. It’s good to have a tight knit group of friends like that.
Brian Oswald: If your pedigree is your wrestling, how did you get so good at knocking people out? All your wins inside the Octagon are by first or second round T(KO).
Cain Velasquez: I owe that all to my coaches at AKA. I have been here for about two and a half years and working really hard on my stand up. During that time, I found myself being drawn to the stand up part of the game more than anything.
I’ve gotten really comfortable with all aspects of stand up, whether it’s working my clinch, boxing or working the leg kicks. Wrestling has turned into my insurance card, and when I need it, it’ll be there for me, ready to go.
Brian Oswald: Turning to some of other UFC Heavyweights: Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and yourself are all big, strong wrestlers, capable of knocking people out. What is going to set you apart from those guys when you fight each other inside the cage?
Cain Velasquez: For one, I’m going to have to fight a smarter fight. I’m a little smaller than those two. Lesnar steps into the Octagon at about 280 pounds; Carwin around 260 pounds. I come in at 240 pounds.
I want to continue to improve on my defense, my head movement. They’re going to be tough fights and great fights for the fans to see. I think my Muay Thai and leg kicks can also play a big role.
Obviously throwing leg kicks in the first round is not smart but it’s something that I can really utilize in the later rounds to both score points and look to finish the fight.
Brian Oswald: Tell us about your time at American Kickboxing Academy and what made you choose to train there over all the other top training camps out there.
Cain Velasquez: My college wrestling coach was actually connected to AKA. When I told him I wanted to transition to MMA, he told me to finish my degree and finish out that year of wrestling and he would put me in touch with the right people.
Obviously I am happy with how quickly they have turned me into a complete mixed martial artist. Having a great relationship with your coaches is the key to your success and I’ve been fortunate to have great coaches who I could trust throughout the process of transitioning into the sport. AKA is the place for me.
Brian Oswald: I have to ask you about a particular incident that happened a while back. Jon Fitch, one of your training partners at AKA, was cut for a few days by the UFC when he refused to sign away his likeness over the “Undisputed” video game. Do you have anything to say about that incident?
Cain Velasquez: I don’t have too much to say about that. That was all part of the negotiation process between Dana and our managers. Our managers handle all of that and are there to fight for us and try and get us the best deal possible. Stuff like that happens and you just have to work through it. I’m just focused on fighting for the UFC right now.
Brian Oswald: Strikeforce has a great relationship with AKA and is really starting to emerge as a serious organization in mixed marital arts. If you ever became a free agent, for whatever reason, could you see yourself fighting for Strikeforce out of San Jose, California?
Cain Velasquez: It all depends on how things play out. Right now, I’m fighting for the best organization in MMA and I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. They have the best fighters and those are the guys I want to fight.
Right now, I’m focused on one fight at a time and working my way toward a heavyweight title shot. It’s always good to have options though.
Brian Oswald: Without giving too much away, what is the one area of your game you’re working on the most right now?
Cain Velasquez: Right now I am still working on everything. I don’t think I’m the best in the sport at one particular style. I still work on my wrestling, I love working on my stand up game and I’m also working on my jiu-jitsu.
I want to be the most complete mixed martial artist I can be so I’m not leaving any stone unturned when it comes to that.
Brian Oswald: Speaking of your jiu-jitsu, if there was one submission you’d love to pull off inside the Octagon, which one would it be?
Cain Velasquez: With me and how I roll in practice, armbars are one of my favorite submissions. A lot of people might think with my style I could finish a fight with a rear naked choke, but I am all about the armbar, so watch out.
Brian Oswald: Since we haven’t seen you go a full three rounds inside the cage, how is your conditioning?
Cain Velasquez: My conditioning is very good. I go five rounds in sparring. If I were to get a title shot this year, going all twenty-five minutes would be the least of my concerns. I train myself to go all out for the entire fight so I’m ready for that when it comes.
Brian Oswald: Who are some of the guys from both MMA past and present who you like to watch?
Cain Velasquez: I loved watching Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture when they were in their peak. That’s when I really started getting into the sport. Randy, I really see him as a pioneer. And it’s hard not to enjoy watching a guy like George St. Pierre and appreciate what he’s doing.
I like watching those explosive wrestlers with KO power as well, guys like Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans. I’ve watched just about every UFC and every Fight Night so I’m a fan of what a lot of guys are doing out there.
Brian Oswald (MMAmania.com): Do you think that Fedor Emelianenko is the greatest heavyweight in MMA currently fighting — or does he need to come over to the UFC and prove that?
Cain Velasquez: Fedor for sure. He was one my favorites growing up, being a heavyweight. He destroyed everybody; you can’t take anything away from him and what he’s accomplished. If the UFC signed Fedor, I would be honored to fight him. I’m here to fight the best so fighting Fedor would be the ultimate thing to do.
Brian Oswald: Guys like Lesnar, Carwin and yourself are making it hard for guys like Couture (who walk around at 230 pounds or less) to compete in the heavyweight division. What are your thoughts on the new breed of heavyweight; getting bigger yet staying just as fast or faster?
Cain Velasquez: It’s certainly getting harder. I actually don’t see myself as one of the big guys. Like I said, I walk around at 240 pounds while Lesnar walks in around 280 and Carwin around 260.
I’m used to wrestling with the bigger guys though so that helps. But guys at 225 or 230 pounds are at a disadvantage so they’ll have to figure out how to compete or go to a different weight class.
Brian Oswald: Do you have any plans on adding some more weight to your frame, some more muscle, or is 240 pounds the perfect fighting weight for you?
Cain Velasquez: For me, 240 is my target weight. Lifting weights, 240 is about as big as I can (or) want to get. And if I got any bigger, I could lose some of my speed. I think with my body type, I’m meant to stay at 240.
Brian Oswald: Being an athlete is what MMA 2.0 is all about. You can’t just be good at MMA, you have to be an athlete. In five or ten years, do you see guys that would have gone on to be 300 pound lineman competing in mixed martial arts?
Cain Velasquez: I can see that happening for sure. As far as changing the weight classes, I don’t see that yet. I see the them keeping the heavyweight division at 265 pounds. I could see them adding a weight class in between light heavyweight and heavyweight for those guys at 225 we talked about.
It all depends on how much talent they have in a proposed weight class. As far as them adding a super heavyweight division (300 pounds and over), I just don’t see that happening. Guys will have to cut the weight.
Brian Oswald: For a while, the UFC heavyweight division was seen as one of the weakest in MMA. Where do you see the heavyweight division heading with guys like yourself, Carwin, Dos Santos and others?
Cain Velasquez: The heavyweight division is just going to get better and better. It’s not all the way there yet, but the UFC is doing a good job identifying talent and getting the best heavyweights in here that they can. In a couple years, this division is going to be so tough to compete in at the highest level.
Brian Oswald: In your opinion, is mixed martial arts stealing the [marketability] of ‘heavyweight’ from boxing? Boxing and heavyweight used to be one in the same but the talent there seems to be on a significant decline as of late.
Cain Velasquez: I don’t see MMA stealing the [marketability] away completely, but MMA has really taken strides in the last few years and is definitely starting to overshadow its combat sports counterpart.
MMA is new and exciting to a lot of people but I think when things settle in, both sports will have to share the term with each other.
Brian Oswald: Talk to us about the opportunity to fight in Germany and fighting a guy like Heath Herring, who has fought some of the toughest guys the sport has to offer. What do you expect for that fight?
Cain Velasquez: Germany (UFC 99) will be a great show. The UFC always puts together a great event when they go overseas. Heath Herring is tough as nails and he fights hard. I expect a war against Heath.
I don’t predict T(KO)s, I’m just going to go in there and take the fight to him and see where it goes. The fans are going to get a great show, I can guarantee that.
Brian Oswald: I hear you’re expecting your first child with your girlfriend this month. First, congratulations Cain “Daddy.” What’s it going to be like being both a mixed martial arts fighter and father of a new baby girl?
Cain Velasquez: It’s very exciting. We are just so happy to be able to have her here in our life soon. It’s like having a Christmas present that you can’t open yet. We can’t wait to have her here. It’s been a long process. It will be hard to adjust at first with my schedule and practice.
I know I’ll want to be home spending time with her, missing her when I’m at practice and wanting to rush home. I’ll adjust to the schedule though and will keep my eye on the prize, which is supporting my family though my mixed martial arts.
Brian Oswald: Time for Shout-outs:
Cain Velasquez: I want to thank my family, my training camp, AKA, my manager and my Olympic coach, and say “Hi” to all the fans and “thanks” for their support. Enjoy my upcoming fight on June 23.
Brian Oswald: Thanks again Cain. We all look forward to your UFC 99 fight and good luck with your newest addition to the Velasquez family.
Cain Velasquez: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.