Cain Velasquez is calm, collected and ready for combat
Cain Velasquez is ready to take on Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 in Mexico City on Saturday. (Dave Thomas/Postmedia Network/Files)
As a rule, Cain Velasquez lets his fists do the talking.
Even this week in Mexico, as he prepares to defend his heavyweight title for the first time since 2013 against Fabricio Werdum, Velasquez comes across as calm and collected.
Yes, there’s some added intensity because of comments Werdum made about the champion’s Mexican heritage, but there’s none of the back-and-forth bickering that usually comes with fights of this magnitude. That’s just not in Velasquez’s repertoire.
Ask his teammates at the American Kickboxing Academy, though, and they’ll insist that Velasquez is champing at the bit to get back in the octagon.
“He’s very excited, but he definitely holds his emotion back because he’s more focused than anything,” said middleweight No. 1 contender Luke Rockhold. “I think he’s definitely ready to get in there and eager to get it on, but he’s definitely a reserved guy. There’s a lot on the line and he wants to go out there and cement his status.”
That status has been somewhat diminished by the injuries that have kept Velasquez sidelined since he beat Junior Dos Santos for a second time back at UFC 166 in 2013, but the 32-year-old is still considered to be among the most dominant pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC.
He’s lost only one of his 14 fights in the organization and has picked up spectacular finishes against an array of UFC stars, including Brock Lesnar and Antonio Silva.
With that resume, Velasquez shouldn’t need to worry about cementing any legacy. In Mexico -- where both his parents were born -- he’s the UFC’s biggest draw. A dominant win on Saturday could make him just as huge internationally.
But is superstardom something he actually wants? It’s hard to say. Mostly, it seems like Velasquez just wants to fight.
“I’m definitely a little anxious, I’d like the fight to be here,” Velasquez said Thursday. “It’s so close.
“(I’m feeling anxious) a little more this time because it’s been a while since I fought, but I feel like I had a great training camp ... I feel I’m just in really great shape.”
Velasquez’s fitness has been a constant topic of conversation during fight week. Compared to how he’s looked in past fights, Velasquez appears considerably more trim this time around and his teammates say they’ve never seen him in better shape.
That’s notable because AKA was recently criticized by UFC president Dana White for their training methods. The team is notorious for its brutal sparring sessions, and White seemed to suggest their training methods were putting the gym’s fighters at risk.
Now, though, it’s hard to find anyone willing to criticize AKA. With Velasquez as heavyweight champion and teammate Daniel Cormier recently winning the light-heavyweight belt, AKA houses two UFC champions.
There could be more on the way, too, as Rockhold is expected to fight Chris Weidman for the middleweight belt later this year and Khabib Nurmagomedov is seen by many as the most dangerous fighter in the lightweight division.
“It’s definitely just a good thing, it shows we’re doing things that are right,” Velasquez said. “We want those two belts. We spend a lot of time together, training together, so we all want each other to be successful.”
The AKA team is notoriously tight-knit, and there’s a sense that while Velasquez isn’t interested in trash-talking with Werdum, his teammates aren’t happy with the Brazilian for saying their friend wasn’t a real Mexican because he was born in the U.S.
Rockhold, in particular, hasn’t been shy with his words about Werdum, while Cormier simply smiled when he was asked how badly Velasquez wanted to fight his opponent in Saturday’s main event.
“The guy’s trained so hard, he’s prepared himself, he’s so ready, but you just can’t tell because he doesn’t give you much,” Cormier said. “Just listen to his words, though, and you can tell that the dude is ready to go. He’s very honest.”