Hurtsbad Exclusive: Former ASU Coach Thom Ortiz Discusses Cain Velasquez's Heart

Todd Jackson@tjaxmmaSenior Analyst IOctober 20, 2010

One young lion, one old lion, and their cubs=Pride. Cain Velasquez (L) and Thommy Ortiz (R) courtesy of the Ortiz family.
One young lion, one old lion, and their cubs=Pride. Cain Velasquez (L) and Thommy Ortiz (R) courtesy of the Ortiz family.

In three days time one of the most compelling mixed martial arts heavyweight championship matches in recent memory will take place. The UFC HW strap will be on the line between two of the sports brightest stars.

Current UFC HW Champ Brock Lesnar will put it all on the line against Cain Velasquez in a match up between two dangerous and dynamic wrestling based athletes who are both looking to take this sport and their division into the future.

While there are many people who believe in Cain Velasquez, sometimes his shot at the title has been overshadowed by the tremendous star power of Lesnar who has become one of the most recognizable faces in the sport today.

While Lesnar is a compelling, dangerous and entertaining athlete, if we have learned one thing about MMA it is that MMA is as unpredictable as the weather. Patterns arise, but honestly no one really knows what the future holds until it comes to pass.

MMA fans would do well to remember that lesson which has been taught to them time and time again. For those in need of a history lesson they need look no further than Evans vs. Liddell, Edgar vs. Penn or Serra vs. George St. Pierre to realize the reality that odds don't win fights, fighters do.

The odds tell us that Brock Lesnar will rein supreme and take his title home with him to Minnesota this weekend. Well if you're a slave to the odds then you know exactly where to put your money Saturday night.

If you believe more in the match up, if you find motivation in the fight itself you understand fully that when a man like Cain Velasquez is thrown in the mix that anything can and very well may happen.

Up to and including one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

This line of thinking is not unique or as far fetched as some of the more easily convinced fans might like to believe. Many people in the know fully expect Cain to be a force at the top of the UFC HW division for a long time.

One man in particular knows as much about Cain and his make up as anyone out there. Former Arizona State University head wrestling coach Thom Ortiz is that man.

He was kind enough to sit down with and give a unique insiders perspective on Cain and his upcoming match with Lesnar.

Today Mr. Ortiz is the co-owner of the World Fighting Federation, an Arizona based regional MMA promotion. But it was his involvement with some of the sports most elite competitors as a wrestling coach that lured him from his wrestling roots to the craft of MMA.

“What really piqued my interest was C.B. Dollaway, Ryan Bader, and Cain Velasquez, they all wrestled for me. I recruited them to Arizona State University to be wrestlers. They all got their degrees, and did their jobs. But they piqued my interest in this MMA. Wrestling is a great foundation for MMA.”

For Ortiz it was not just his students that fueled his fire and passion to transition to MMA as a coach but his mentors as well. “I was very fortunate, my coach was Bobby Douglas. A lot of the technique he was showing us had a lot of submission and Muay Thai movements to it for penetrating for a shot. So I took to it right away and it was easy for me.”

Ortiz is not the only man fortunate enough to thrive under the wing of Douglas. “I think you have seen a lot of ASU wrestlers who have done well. Dan Henderson went to ASU, Dan Severn, Aaron Simpson, and Don Frye they all went to ASU. That’s all reflective of Bobby Douglas and his influence.”

As for Cain’s upcoming fight with Lesnar, Ortiz understands there are those out there who may doubt Velasquez. Ortiz has some insight for those who think the outcome is a forgone conclusion.

“You can’t measure the size of a mans heart, and I know his heart. He wrestled for me for three years. When I called his agent and got him on the phone I told him I have the next heavyweight champion. He said ‘what are you talking about’, and I said beyond the wrestling, there are a lot of wrestlers out there, but this is a big heavyweight that moves like a lightweight and he never gets tired.”

That heart Ortiz speaks of is evident in all of Velasquez’s matches, be it in the form of relentless work ethic, or bouncing back from adversity to stay on top and win the fight. Ortiz further discussed the evolution of Cain’s career and how heart has been a crucial ingredient for that transition.

“American Kickboxing Academy has done a great thing with Cain Velasquez. They have added to his striking. His striking and submissions are high level. It’s amazing because when he showed up there four years ago he had zero, he just knew how to wrestle.”

Times have changed and so has Velasquez. “He is no longer a wrestler, he is a mixed martial artist now. They taught him that striking and those submissions, but he arrived there with heart. He arrived at Arizona State University with that heart. You don't teach that, that is within.”

Ortiz went on to say, “So anyone that doubts him remember this, you can’t measure the size of that man’s heart. Quite frankly I think Cain would fight Lesnar for ten dollars as quickly as he would for a million.”

“That’s just Cain Velasquez. So you know when he steps into that cage his intentions are to put the best out there that he possibly can.”

Ortiz is elated with the transition that his student has made into the realm of MMA, and it is obvious how proud he is of where Velasquez is today.

“I’m real excited about it, I spent about a week with him a couple weeks ago when I was at AKA and hes not a wrestler anymore brother, hes got it all. He’s a mixed martial artist in the fullest sense.”

Ortiz sees a formula that he feels give Cain the advantage to pull ahead when he faces the champion Saturday night.

“People like to say Lesnar is better in the wrestling part, well I think that is ok. I think who ever has two out of three usually wins, Cain has the striking and submissions and he has a two out of three advantage. There for I think Cain is going to be victorious.”

Ortiz added, “People will think ‘you're crazy look how big Lesnar is’. Well a submission is never out of the question. Mir submitted him, and Carwin almost finished him until he got tired, Cain isn't going to get tired.”

That much is certain indeed. Cain has showed a tremendous gas tank, it really has become his calling card thus far in his career. But as Ortiz stated, a transition has been made that shows a Velasquez that is not only tireless, but lethal as well, in all facets of the game.

To have such a unique inside look from a man who knows Cain like a son was quite eye opening. It is one thing to be a fan on the outside looking in and developing an opinion of what you see.

It is quite another to simply know the subject matter as Thom Ortiz knows Cain Velasquez.

Knowing what we know from the outside looking in tells us we should never count Velasquez out, we should never assume anything when he gets in the cage, odds be damned. Yet to hear Ortiz talk about this man, it becomes very hard to even think about betting against him.

Saturday night will hold all the answers the that fight fans seek, but here today there are quite a few answers to the questions that maybe the fight fan should be asking.

A special thank you to Thom Ortiz for sharing his inside perspective on the UFC’s number one heavyweight contender.


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