Forget everything you ever knew about heavyweight fighters in the UFC. The days of beer bellies and pear-shaped goliaths that once made a spectacle of the most watched weight class in all of combat sports are mercifully, coming to an end. This isn’t MMA. This is MMA 2.0.
This is Cain Velasquez.
Velasquez joins a frightening new class of heavyweights that includes Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin — men who are not just fighters, but seasoned and accomplished athletes. Armed with decorated resumes in amateur wrestling and blessed with the strength and power of a small locomotive, they bring a style and intensity that for the most part, was rarely seen outside of the smaller weight classes.
The undefeated blue-chip prospect will represent that class when he locks horns with mixed martial arts veteran Heath Herring at UFC 99 from the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, on June 13.
“The Texas Crazy Horse” has done time with some of the world’s best, including Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He recently survived a three round drubbing against Brock Lesnar at UFC 87 last August.
It’s not unreasonable to think that a win over Herring might land Velasquez a spot in the top ten — even while he’s preparing for another unstoppable force this May: The birth of his baby daughter, Coral Love Velasquez, who arrived earlier today into the hands of the heavyweight superstar and his girlfriend Michelle Borquez.
I was fortunate enough to grab a few moments with Velasquez before he became a proud Papa. He gave us the dirt on everything from his upcoming war with Herring, his opinion on the best heavyweight in the world and the one submission he can’t wait use in an upcoming fight.
Brian Oswald: You’re a former two time All-American collegiate wrestler from Arizona State. You’re also a junior college national champion from Iowa Central Community College. Tell us about your wrestling base and how it relates to MMA.
Cain Velasquez: Wrestling is a great pedigree and base for MMA. Wrestling has made me very mentally strong, conditioned me really well for MMA and given me phenomenal balance. As a lot of people know, it allows you to dictate where the fight goes.
If you want to keep it standing it lets you do that. And, if you want to take your opponent to the ground, wrestling gives you the ability to do that. It depends on who your opponent is—if you think you can exploit his weakness standing or on the ground.
Brian Oswald: Speaking of the Arizona State days, your former teammate Ryan Bader is coming off his first UFC win. You have to be pretty proud of that guy. What is your relationship like these days?
Cain Velasquez: We communicate really well. I’ve spent time training down at Arizona Combat Sports with those guys. Before my fight with Jake O’Brien, Ryan actually came out to California to train with me for that. I’m friends with those guys over there. C.B. Dolloway is another great guy there.
It’s harder with the distance, but after fights or on vacation, we’ll all get together for a week and catch up with each other’s lives. It’s good to have a tight knit group of friends like that.
Brian Oswald: If your pedigree is your wrestling, how did you get so good at knocking people out? All your wins inside the Octagon are by first or second round T(KO).
Cain Velasquez: I owe that all to my coaches at AKA. I have been here for about two and a half years and working really hard on my stand up. During that time, I found myself being drawn to the stand up part of the game more than anything.
I’ve gotten really comfortable with all aspects of stand up, whether it’s working my clinch, boxing or working the leg kicks. Wrestling has turned into my insurance card, and when I need it, it’ll be there for me, ready to go.