Throughout the brief yet layered history of mixed martial arts, a handful of iconic figures have come along, but nothing casts a net of mystique quite like what we've seen out of the heavyweight division. There is something enigmatic about those who can dominate the largest collective across a chaotic landscape, and the greatest of those have reached a status of almost mythical proportions.
Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar evoked something their peers have never, and may never, duplicate. That said, both The Last Emperor and The Beast Incarnate would fizzle and fade when consistently faced with stiff competition.
Cain Velasquez may be a few steps away from taking his place as the greatest heavyweight fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, but rest assured he's on track to do so if he can maintain his current level of dominance.
Unlike Emelianenko and Lesnar, the AKA staple hasn't been dominated inside the cage—nowhere even close. Save for getting clipped by Brazilian powerhouse Junior dos Santos in a fight where he was dragging a suspect knee into the scrap, the 32-year-old heavyweight champion has been near flawless under the bright lights. That said, while Velasquez swallowed the jagged pill of his first professional loss at the right hand of Cigano, he returned the favor in force as he doled out a pair of brutal beatings to the former champion in their two rematches.
Nevertheless, with the Dos Santos trilogy behind him, and a lightning-fast snuffing of Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva under his belt as well, Velasquez is preparing to take the next big step of his decorated career. He's been the focal point of the UFC's push into the Mexican market, and all eyes in the realm of Latin American combat sports will be on him on November 15.
That's when the UFC 180 touches down in Mexico City, where he will square off with No. 1 contender Fabricio Werdum to defend his heavyweight strap.
The Kings MMA representative is the first new opponent Velasquez will face since November 2011, and while new motivations are refreshing, those details ultimately do not matter to the champion. He knows Werdum earned this opportunity, and that is all the validation Velasquez needs to prepare.
"It's definitely nice to prepare for someone new, but that doesn't matter to me," Velasquez told Bleacher Report. "Whoever earns a shot, earns the shot and that is who I'm going to fight. I don't care if I have to fight the same guy over and over again, as long as he earned the shot to fight me, then I'm fine with it."
While it is the biggest moment of his career from a marketing standpoint, the bout with Werdum will also serve as a crucial step toward his legacy as a dominant champion. Up to this point, Velasquez has crumpled Lesnar, battered Dos Santos and brutalized nearly every man who has stood across the cage from him.
Should his endless cardio and forward pressure prove to overwhelm a savvy veteran like Vai Cavalo, there will be no denying Velasquez's place as the most dominant heavyweight of the current era, with the "greatest heavyweight of all time" label within striking distance. Yet, while these accolades are all within reach, Velasquez is cool and calm heading into the biggest moment of a career that has been filled with high-pressure turns.
He is focused on the immediate road ahead, and the only label that he's concerned with his the one that comes with holding the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
"I'm definitely excited for this one," Velasquez told Bleacher Report. "I've known it was going to happen for a while, and now we are getting closer. The support of the fans here has been great. We did the The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America show, and to finally have the fight here...everything is coming together.
"This is just the next step for me," he added in regard to the biggest showcase of his career. "I want to keep doing this. I am going to keep winning and staying in this position. For me, the majority of the focus is on fighting here in Mexico City and fighting against Fabricio. He is a tough opponent. He's a guy who already has so much experience, but he's always getting better. He has great jiu-jitsu and good hands as well. It's going to be a good fight."
While the champion is fixed on the task at hand, there is no doubting the pressures hovering overhead. The UFC is experiencing an era shift where the stars who fueled the promotion's rise and global expansion over the past decade have given way to the next generation of fighters. Velasquez is a key figure in the organization's plans going forward, as his anchor role at UFC 180 has shown.
Per reports from the promotion, tickets for the event sold out in eight hours, which proves the appeal of the Mexican-American heavyweight champion. Yet, while he's honored to headline the card and could potentially be steps away from certified greatness, the very thing that has propelled Velasquez forward throughout his career is the only thing on his mind right now.
"I'm always trying to improve and always trying to get better as far as learning new skills and techniques go," Velasquez said. "I'm not looking to plateau. I'm always working to get better. That's what my focus is on."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.