ANAHEIM, Calif. – Javier Mendez predicted greatness for Cain Velasquez not long after the two-time All-American wrestler from Arizona State had walked through the doors of the American Kickboxing Academy in 2006 to begin training in mixed martial arts. After Velasquez’s first fight, Mendez said he could beat then top-ranked Fedor Emelianenko.
On Saturday in the main event of UFC 121 before a boisterous crowd at the Honda Center, a more mature and experienced Velasquez rewarded his coach’s faith in him by putting on one of the most impressive displays by an Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight in a long time.
He decimated Brock Lesnar, stopping the sport’s biggest star in four minutes, 12 seconds of one-sided action to claim the championship and stake his place among the game’s greats.
Lesnar charged Velasquez, roaring out of the corner and firing a knee at his much smaller challenger. But unlike other Lesnar opponents who were overwhelmed by the bull rush, Velasquez remained calm and fought back.
“He looked incredible tonight,” UFC president Dana White said. “The guy gets better every time he fights. Like I said coming into this fight, he’s incredibly well-rounded. I think the only questions hanging over his head going into this fight where people doubted him were the shots he took from Cheick Kongo [at UFC 99]. He got rocked a few times by Cheick and I said that night at the press conference, that’s when you find out what a guy has got. He took some big shots, he ate them and he continued to dominate Cheick Kongo in that fight.
“I think he answered all the questions tonight. Brock Lesnar came out like a bull, man. He went after him and hit him with some big shots. He hit him with a flying knee. I didn’t think this was going five rounds, I’ll tell you that, especially at the pace that these guys can fight.”
As the arena erupted in cheers when referee Herb Dean stopped the fight with a bruised and bloodied Lesnar covering up and trying to avoid Velasquez’ elbows and fists, the new champion rose, walked to the center of the cage and covered his face with his hands. It was at that moment that the emotions hit him.
“It was a sweet feeling,” Velasquez said. “All the work I put in was for that moment. I pictured it playing out that way. It was the best ending I could think of as far as the whole story.”
And then, in a sentence that probably defines why he’s great better than any other, he added, “I have to keep getting better.”
Velasquez is no small man – he’s 6 feet 2 and weighed 245 pounds at Friday’s weigh-in – but Lesnar is the size of a small grizzly with the temperament of a big one. Lesnar weighed in a pound under the heavyweight limit Friday at 264, but looked like he’d put on at least 10 pounds, likely more, by the time he’d stepped into the cage.
But Velasquez’s speed and technical skills were far superior and they soon played out. Tito Ortiz has been fighting in the UFC since 1997 and said it’s been a rare heavyweight he has seen who had the speed, quickness and overall game that Velasquez does.
“Hell, no,” Ortiz said when asked if he’d seen a heavyweight perform the way Velasquez did Saturday in his 13 years in the UFC. “Never. Ever. Did you see Cain Velasquez move? He moves around like a 190-pound guy moving there and he’s 240. He’s the best guy in the world right now. He actually made Brock look really, really slow.
“I thought Brock would do a lot better. They’re the best fighters in the world, and that’s why everyone bought the pay-per-view, to see who the best in the world at heavyweight is. Cain Velasquez is that man.”
The closing sequence came when Velasquez fired an overhand right that cracked Lesnar on the jaw and sent him stumbling back. Seconds later, Velasquez blistered Lesnar with a knee that put Lesnar down.
A workmanlike Velasquez followed Lesnar to the mat, but didn’t punch himself out as Shane Carwin, who challenged Lesnar for the belt at UFC 116 in July, did. Velasquez threw his punches and elbows with precision, hurting Lesnar badly with each one that landed.
“After Cain beat [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira, I posted somewhere that Brock was going to have a real tough time with him because his skills are so diverse,” said Daniel Cormier, a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic wrestling team, who trained with Velasquez at AKA in San Jose, Calif. “He’s so good on his feet. He’s such a good wrestler. He is so well-rounded.
“The takedown he had (earlier in the first round) was what we’d been working on every single Saturday. Saturday in, Saturday out, we went out and drilled it, repetitiously, over and over. Honestly, we did it 5,000 times in the course of this training camp. This is a proud moment for me in my life to see a guy incorporate everything he’s learned, taking his wrestling from one level to the next, improving his standup, become a better fighter every day, and then going and doing it when it matters.”
Mendez had few doubts that Velasquez would pull it off, though he had to hold his breath early when Velasquez stood flat-footed in front of Lesnar and began to trade blows. But Velasquez probably has the best cardio in the UFC’s heavyweight division and he is a sea of tranquility. He never got flustered during hundreds of interviews and personal appearances and he didn’t get flustered as he had an angry Lesnar swarming him.
But Velasquez still isn’t a finished product in Mendez’ mind. But he was more well-rounded than Lesnar, who was fighting in just his seventh professional fight.
“He’s about over halfway there,” Mendez said. “I have to tell you guys, and I told him, too, that he’s going to meet Brock again. That man’s hungry and he’s coming. He’s greener than (Cain) in all these areas. Brock has a great athletic build and he has great power, but he’s still green compared to (Cain). He’s getting better, so we need to get better, because Brock’s still coming.”
But Lesnar isn’t coming at anyone any time soon. He was beaten up – badly – and didn’t attend the post-fight news conference. It was no shock that Velasquez won the fight, as many fighters and media were picking Velasquez, but the manner in which he was victorious was stunning.
To put away a man who was so much bigger, so much more powerful and so intense in such a short period of time was hardly expected.
“Technique beats size a lot of times,” Cormier said. “You saw that tonight. Cain is a real technician.”
And he’s only going to get better. No one has had a lengthy reign as UFC champion, so history would suggest that Velasquez will surrender the belt sometime soon.
But if anyone can hang onto it for a while, it’s a guy like Velasquez, who will be back in the gym working on his game in about two weeks. Velasquez got where he is because of a great desire to succeed and he’s not satisfied being 9-0, holding the UFC heavyweight title and looking at a spot in the pound-for-pound rankings.
“The main goal he wants at the end of the rainbow is to be one of the greats,” Mendez said. “To be one of the greats, you can’t do it one time. You have to continue to do it and he wants to be one of the greats. He wants to be remembered as one of the greatest-ever heavyweight champions as well as one of the greatest every MMA champions of all-time. That’s what is in his head. He wants to keep that belt for a long time. He’s not looking at just one time.”
He has no discernible weaknesses, as Lesnar would attest, so get familiar. Cain Velasquez is going to be around for a while.