Without a doubt, in recent years the UFC and MMA in general has experienced a considerable increase in the size of the average heavyweight. With the division dominated by large Heavyweights, fighters like Cain Velasquez are becoming a rarity. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 245 pounds, Cain Velasquez is considered to be one of the smaller competitors in his weight division. However, since beginning his professional career in 2006, the Mexican-American fighter has defeated all eight of the opponents put in front of him thus far and all but one by TKO.
“I don’t think, you know, the weight for me is that big of a difference, because I’ve always dealt with it. I’ve always competed against guys that are a lot bigger. I’m used to it and I mean I’ve chosen to fight in this weight category, so you know, I have to deal with it.”
Velasquez is widely considered a top five heavyweight, and while some may consider him at a disadvantage, what he gives up in weight, he makes up for with heart and an undying work ethic, both of which were instilled in him by his upbringing.
His father Efrain Velasquez was a Mexican immigrant who dreamed of something more than the poverty stricken lifestyle he was accustomed to in Mexico. Efrain would set his sights on the United States. After making six trips across the blazing hot desert, only to be deported all six times, it was lucky number seven that led to Efrain meeting his wife Isabel in Arizona.
After wedding Isable, an American national, Efrain was finally permitted to remain in the states. Both Isabel and Efrain would work daily picking lettuce in the fields of California and Arizona in order to support Cain, his brother and his sister. Watching his parents labor in the heat for such little reward is something that stuck with Cain over the years.
“To see them work so hard for so little pay, it put things into perspective and it got passed down to me. I got their work ethic,” said Velasquez.
Despite the rise in America’s Hispanic population, Cain had very few Hispanic athletes to look up to as a youth. Other than a handful of Mexican boxers, he recalls having difficulty finding someone he could identify with.
“For me, growing up, there wasn’t really anyone like me on tv or anything. As great as they were, most Mexican-American fighters were little guys,” Cain explained.
While both he and his father had hopes of Cain pursuing boxing, it wasn’t in the budget. Instead, he found wrestling in junior high school, and the rest is history.
Velasquez attended Kofa High School in Yuma, Arizona, compiling an impressive 110-10 record in-route to becoming a two-time 5A State Champion. Following high school he became a Junior College National Champion at Iowa Central Community College and a two-time All-American collegiate wrestler at Arizona State University.
After graduating from ASU, Velasquez flew to San Jose for a three day workout at American Kickboxing Academy to meet with MMA agent Dewayne Zinkin. During a sparring session Cain did enough to impress and before he could return home to Arizona, Zinkin had already faxed over a contract.
Cain has been with AKA since, and currently trains alongside of fighters such as Josh Koshcheck, Jon Fitch, Mike Swick, Phil Davis, and Josh Thompson.
Since making his UFC debut in 2008, Velasquez has won six straight, with notable victories over Ben Rothwell, Cheick Kongo, and former UFC and Pride champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. An impressive resume for a man who entered the UFC with just two professional fights and less than 18 months of proper mixed martial arts training.
Cain gives credit to his coaches at AKA though, namely his striking coach Javier Mendez, who he says has always seen something in him and has always pushed him to improve.
“Its been fun ya know, to see all the hard work I’ve put in, all the new aspects I’ve had to learn of MMA. Being able to put that in together and build around my background, wrestling, and just see where its gotten me. I know I need to progress a lot more, but just to see where I’m at right now, I’m happy with it, definitely.”
As he should be. That progress was exhibited in devastating fashion at UFC 110, as Cain took out the aforementioned veteran Nogueira by TKO just two-minutes and twenty-seconds into the first round, a victory that earned him a title shot against division champion Brock Lesnar at UFC 121.
Despite his unblemished record, Cain is not content just yet. As much as he has achieved in his short mixed martial arts career, he explains its always been about one thing.
“I want to be the heavyweight champ, that’s it. Its just a goal that I set for me since I started doing this. Ya know, for my family, for Mexicans, Latins everywhere, to have a Mexican heavyweight champion, its always been a dream for them. For me too ya know, growing up I didn’t have anyone to look up to that looked like me, that was Mexican. So I definitely think its important for me to do this.”
However, as they say, to be the man, he has got to beat the man, and Brock Lesnar is one massive man. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 265 pounds plus, the champ will have a decisive weight advantage coming into the bout. While Velasquez admits that this will be one of the focal points of his preparation, he does not feel it will be a determining factor in the match.
“I’ve always competed with guys that are a lot bigger. Ya know, in wrestling the weight limit was 285 pounds, so guys had to cut to make 285 pounds. I’ve always competed with guys at that size. I’ve always done well against them… It doesn’t make a difference.”
While it is likely Cain will head into the October 23rd match-up an underdog, the Mexican-American will have no lack of support, as the event is scheduled to be held in his home state of California, at the Anaheim Honda Center. Much like his father, who fought for his life crossing the desert time and time again to make a better life for himself in America, Velasquez has not an ounce of quit in him. When asked if he sees failure as an option, Cain replied, “No, I’m gonna keep coming back no matter what, if it doesn’t happen the first time.”