Artwork by Evan Shoman of shomanart.com.
And standing in the blue corner, the reigning, defending, undisputed, UFC heavyweight champion of the world...Cain Velasquez!
How many times will the current UFC champ and fight fans alike hear Bruce Buffer announce those words in the style that only he can deliver? The ability to retain and defend the UFC heavyweight title is a tall order, to say the least.
If anyone can do it, and do it for an extended period of time, it is Cain Velasquez. There are many dangerous warriors who desire that strap throughout the division. Few can hold a candle to the champ as he stands today, and surely where he is headed tomorrow.
Probably the biggest threat to Cain's title is the man he will face this Saturday during UFC on FOX 1 as they touch gloves and go to war live on network television for the entire world to see. Cain's biggest challenge ever, even bigger than taking the title from Brock Lesnar, lies in the man they call “Cigano.”
Junior Dos Santos is a lethal striking heavyweight with a deep desire to bring that title home with him to Brazil. He is coming to bang and induce all out war with the champion. The staff and coaches at American Kickboxing Academy feel they have more than prepared their champion for just that.
Most importantly head coach Javier Mendez has dug in deep with his heavyweight champion Velasquez, and brought him back from a surgery and extended layoff to put Cain right where he needs to be to defend his title against this dangerous number one contender.
Javier is a legendary coach in the business of MMA. He has influenced the careers of some of the sport's icons, as well as current, and future stars. Having spent time coaching the likes of B.J. Penn, Frank Shamrock, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Daniel Cormier and many many more, his expertise is second to none.
That is reflected in the performances his prize heavyweight Cain Velasquez has put together across his impressive and blossoming career. And to hear Mendez tell it, the sky truly is the limit for this wrecking machine currently sitting atop the UFC heavyweight division.
Javier Mendez recently sat down with Todd Jackson of Hurtsbad MMA and gave some great insight into the man that is Cain Velasquez. Not just the champion as he is today, but the man he feels he will be tomorrow and beyond.
One burning question for many fight fans is of course how will Velasquez respond to a long lay off due to surgery. Will ring rust be an issue, how will his mental and physical sharpness be as he makes his first movements inside that Octagon in over a year?
Javier Mendez assured Hurtsbad MMA that Cain has stayed mentally sharp and focused during a time that saw him limited in his ability to fully train as a champion should.
Mendez explained how important the champ's focus was as he made his way back to fighting shape.
“His mindset has always been good," Mendez said. "I always keep a good mental communication with him. I need him to be razor sharp mentally even if he is physically not there. The competition as we know, they know what it is going to take to beat the champ because Cain elevated the game. So Junior has elevated himself for that challenge.”
Even still, the fact remains that a layoff can hold a fighter back from their greatest potential. Mendez explained how they see Cain's progress in relation to where he might have been vs where he actually is. But make no mistake, he sees improvement even with the injury holding Cain back.
“Unfortunately for us, we are coming off an injury so if I said we are going to be the best ever, I would be lying," Mendez said. "Because there is no way possible Cain is going to be the best ever coming to this fight knowing that he's coming off that long lay off due to an injury. So he's not going to be the best ever. But Cain Velasquez is such a great athlete and fighter that in my opinion he is 100 percent going to be more than what he used to do.”
The thought of a better Cain Velasquez than the man that absolutely decimated Brock Lesnar is an extremely intimidating thought.
When the actual matchup between Dos Santos and Velasquez was brought up, Mendez explained what he feels many people are not aware of when it comes to his heavyweight. This fight is paramount to Cain's career today but it is only one piece of a puzzle that will, in Javier's mind, define a legend.
Mendez stated, “Of course anything can happen in that fight. But I don't think anybody will realize how good Cain really is until they see more of him. They need to see more of him to see what a great champion this guy is going to be. He is not just a flash in the pan, a lot of people don't really fully understand him just yet.”
He went on to explain, “The more he competes, and the more he wins in the dominant fashion he is accustom to, people are going to realize wow, this guy is unbelievable. You have got to keep in mind, in all his fights he has never lost a round. And it wasn't even close other than Cheik Kongo clipping him a couple of times.”
Mendez told Hurtsbad that he actually didn't want that fight stating Cain wasn't prepared for Kongo's level of striking at that stage in his career. As for now, Mendez said, “Now he is way above that level which was proved by what he did from that fight to the fight with Ben Rothwell.”
“He underestimated Cain big time thinking if Kongo did that to you then I'm going to put my fist right through you," Mendez added. "Well you can't look at an evolving fighter and look at his last fight and think that is the way he is going to come out. And that is the mistake people are making with Cain. They are looking at that last fight.”
Looking at his last fight, that Cain Velasquez could defeat any heavyweight in the world. It's hard to fathom a better heavyweight than that. It was a near flawless performance by the new champ.
Javier Mendez insists though that was just but one reflection of this fighter. We will never see that Cain again, he is a thing of the past. “He keeps evolving, he doesn't stop. That's the great thing about Cain, is you're never going to see the same Cain.”
So what drives this machine, this heavyweight destroyer? There are people who were in the hotel room with Cain Velasquez just hours after he won that title who told Hurtsbad MMA that when all the partying and celebrating was going on that Cain looked at the title and said, “I'm already over it”.
It is not a trophy that drives this ever evolving fighter and pushes him to move forward from what many might already perceive as a total package. Being a champion is an amazing feat in this sport, but for Velasquez there is more to it than that.
Mendez knows better than anyone what drives this man and he shared his perception of exactly what that is.
“What I feel and what we've talked about is that he's put it in his head years ago that he is going to be the best everHe is going to keep striving to attain that goal. I want the same for him. I feel that if he stays mentally sharp, and keeps working on improvement, and that desire to become the best ever it will keep him in the gym.”
And simply put, the more time this guy spends sharpening his skills inside that gorgeous AKA facility, the more lethal he will become. And if Javier Mendez's expertise tells us that this evolution has only just begun, it is astonishing to imagine just exactly where this man is headed.
All time greatness may be a little premature, but standing at 9-0 with a UFC title draped over his shoulder, Cain Velasquez has laid a solid foundation to begin that journey. With a man like Javier Mendez driving and guiding him, he very well may navigate his own self expectations and beyond.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA. Follow us on Twitter @hurtsbadmma.