SAN JOSE, Calif.— Rehab for the torn right rotator cuff Cain Velasquez suffered at UFC 121 last October when he seized the UFC heavyweight belt from Brock Lesnar has kept the newly crowned champion from first his title defense. Still, it’s customary for a champion to accept all challenges and Velasquez is eager to do so while he watches the competition sort out.
“I miss it man. After two weeks, I have to go back to the gym. It feels like forever. This is hard,” said Velasquez at the grand opening for the new American Kickboxing Academy facility. “I know not to rush right now. Listen to the doctors. Make sure its fully healed then come back. It’s hard not to do anything. I want to get this done so I can come back in, get back in fight shape, get my technique back to what it was as soon as possible.”
He expects doctors to green light him for competition in September or October. A number one contender will be crowned at UFC 131 June 11 in a battle between this seasons The Ultimate Fighter coaches: Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos. Dos Santos potentially sacrifices an already-promised title shot against the former heavyweight kingpin. Velasquez welcomes a fresh face in the Brazilian or a rematch with Lesnar because in his estimation, the winner of that bout is the best possible contender.
Velasquez is following how the situation unfolds closely.
“You got to do your homework: see how they coach, see what kinda people they are. I don’t know who is gonna win that fight,” he said. “I see if Brock goes out there with a lot of pressure and takes him down and keeps him down, I see him possibly winning the fight, but if he lets dos Santos throw his hands early, establish his hands, I think dos Santos has a real good chance at winning that fight. It’s all who implements their game plan first.”
Addressing Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce, the two-time All-American wrestler from Arizona State University recognizes a potential backlog of worthy opponents emerging to challenge him in the UFC. He expects number one contenders to come from Strikeforce too.
“I would think so,” said the two-time Pac-10 heavyweight champion. “Right now it’s all about, first getting healthy, then getting ready for those two guys, Brock or dos Santos.”
Strikeforce’s big man roster boasts the likes of Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva—all currently tied up in the World Heavyweight Grand Prix. Then there’s also Alistair Overeem, who is in the tournament field despite being the Strikeforce and DREAM Heavyweight Champion. His status after conquering the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010 as the world’s greatest stand-up fighter has made him the most talked about fighter for Velasquez outside the UFC.
The UFC Heavyweight Champion thrives on the idea of competing versus the world’s elite fighters, leaving no doubts about his status at the top of the heavyweight mountain in mixed martial arts. In Overeem, he would “definitely” test his skills standing against heavyweight’s most decorated striker.
“You have to stand with people,” said Velasquez. “If he stuffs a takedown or the takedown’s not there—he definitely has good takedown defense and everything else—we definitely expect to go everywhere, fighting on the feet and on the ground with everybody.”
If Velasquez hits his target return, it will be roughly a year since he was last in the Octagon. Focused on the challenges ahead, the former Sun Devil still has had time to think of own version of UFC 129, where UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre will enjoy home advantage in front of 55,000 Canadian fans. Vying for a long tenure at the top of the heavyweight class, there are many—really any—days and places that make sense for Velasquez.
“I would love do [Cinco de Mayo]. My dream would be to fight in Mexico. That’s one of my dream places to fight at,” he said. “HP [Pavilion] would be one of my other top spots and Arizona also.”
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend.