Heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez is one of MMA’s best young fighters, regardless of weight.
A collegiate wrestling champion, Velasquez, who started training for MMA two years ago, has added a blue belt no-gi jiu-jitsu world championship en route to knocking out all five opponents he’s faced thus far; including a brilliant performance against iron-chinned Denis Stojnic.
Velasquez is part of the UFC’s new wave of heavyweight stars along with UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and fellow top prospect Shane Carwin. All three are big-time collegiate wrestlers who have been able to translate their superior wrestling skills to the cage. Valasquez in particular has adapted his game to include high level jui-jitsu and technically solid striking.
Velasquez sat down with Fightline.com to discuss his training, his future, and his thoughts on an inevitable showdown with both Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.
Fightline.com: Congratulations on your career so far Cain. You’ve come a long way in just two years. Your striking in particular seems to be very technically solid, your boxing, particularly. Have you boxed in the past.
Velasquez: No, when I was younger my father bought gloves and we’d kinda go at it in the living room. He wanted me to box when I was younger and I wanted to too, but there was a money issue, you know, so I never got to do that. But he bought us gloves and we’d mess around. Nothing serious, but we’d spar in the living room and stuff.
Fightline.com: So, you and your brother would go at it?
Velasquez: No, mainly just me and my Dad. We’d just go at it in the living room for a while until we got tired. It was when I was in 4th through 6th grade. I was pretty much bigger than my Dad by the time I was in 7th grade so we couldn’t do that anymore, but it was fun for sure. I started wrestling after that when I was like 13 years old.
Fightline.com: And you obviously had a lot of success with that, eventually becoming a JUCO National Champion before transferring to Arizona State where you had a lot of success before taking up MMA. What a lot of fans and insiders seem to be excited about is, not only are you a high level wrestler, you’ve also shown tremendous power and potential as a striker. It just seems to come very naturally to you.
Velasquez: I think the big thing is just getting comfortable in the gym with the sparing because we spar three times a week. I think just getting comfortable with the striking part it. We put a lot of time into it. We go full out MMA or kickboxing or just boxing, but we go at it three times a week so you can’t help but get better.
Fightline.com: Yeah, especially with the caliber of guys you train with in Koscheck, Fitch and Swick. Those guys are a lot smaller than you of course, but are there times when you spar with them?
Velasquez: If there’s no big guys yeah, I have to go against those guys. But they do handicap me. My coach Jimenez will tell me, ‘Just throw your right hand’ or ‘don’t hit them hard’ and sometimes he’ll have to calm me down if I hit someone with a good shot. And then sometimes he’ll say, ‘just defense’, so they’ll throw at me and I just defend.
Fightline.com: Are there any heavyweights for you to train with over at AKA.
Velasquez: Yeah, but I still can’t go 100%. We’ve got Mike Kyle, we’ve got Paul Buentello, Kyle Kingsbury, and coach will have those guys rotate in on me every two and a half minutes. It’s good. I don’t like it, but it’s good. Going into the last round your tired and all of a sudden here’s a fresh guy coming at you so it makes you mad.
Fightline.com: So do you let those guys go hard at you?
Velasquez: We’ll let them go hard, but… I’ll hurt ’em so, I’ll either tire them out or I’ll hurt them with a big shot, so the coaches have to calm me down a little bit at times.
Fightline.com: Wow! So there’s not really anyone in the gym who you can go heads up with?
Velasquez: Well, that’s kind of why we have guys rotate in. It’s good work. It’s really helping me and I’ve seen a big difference just from that training.
Fightline.com: Since we haven’t seen you go a full three rounds yet, how’s your conditioning?
Velasquez: That’s what I’m known for is my conditioning. When I wrestled that’s what people knew me for. You haven’t seen it yet but once people see it I think they’ll know. I’ll put my conditioning up against anyone.
Fightline.com: You basically came in with two other big time heavyweight prospects in Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. Do you look over at what they’re doing and compare yourself to them?
Velasquez: I think you have to because we all came in at the same time. We will meet down the road. We’ll meet in a fight, so I just to look at the film and just see what their weaknesses and strenghths are and keep in my mind that we will have to fight soon.
Fightline.com: Is their any animosity towards Brock Lesnar for his quick success?
Velasquez: No, I think they had to push him a little faster just because he’s a big name. I’m just glad with the way they’ve started me off just because I wanted more ring time. I had two fights before the UFC and I wanted more before coming into the UFC because I wanted to get more situated with the cage, but we couldn’t get any more fights anywhere else, so I had to come to the UFC. I’m really fine with how they started me out, but I have a lot more to learn from the sport and I can get 100% better with time.
Fightline.com: What have you improved most since coming over to MMA? How is your overall game evolving?
Velasquez: I think I’m good on the ground and on my feet. I haven’t shown too much jui-jitsu because that’s not how I want to end fights right now. I want to end fights with my ground-and-pound right now. I could end them with submissions, but that’s not how I want to finish. I want to chose how I want to end the fights. And on my feet, I think I’ve come a long way since when I started. I feel like every month I add something, a new tool; with the head movement, moving in and out, getting more power and technique. So, I don’t think I’m lacking in any one area.
Fightline.com: How’s the submission defense?
Velasquez: I think it’s good. I’ve rolled with world class jui-jitsu guys and I won the no-gi blue belt world championships last year so I think it’s there, but anyone can get caught so we work it everyday.
Fightline.com: How would you attack a guy like Brock Lesnar?
Velasquez: I would say I would approach it like how Couture did. He did a lot of head movement and try to get his shots off of that. I think I’d try to fight him the same way. Couture had a good game plan. I think that’s the way to beat him.
Fightline.com: What about Shane Carwin?
Velasquez: I think I would do the same thing with Shane Carwin. There both good wrestlers so I think I’d try to fight him the same way.
Fightline.com: What fighters do you like to watch? Who’s the best in your opinion?
Velasquez: I think Fedor [Emelianenko] is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. As far as him being a heavyweight I watch all of his fights and he doesn’t have any weak spots at all. Just his quickness, his punches are a little loopy but they’re effective. I watch his fights and I watch his training video’s just trying to get little pointers from him.
Fightline.com: Who would you like face next?
Velasquez: Pretty much whoever the UFC gives me we’ll say yes to. But, I think the UFC wants to build me so every fight’s going to get harder and harder.
Fightline.com: You have a very tight knit family. Where did you grow up and what was your family life like?
Velasquez: I grew up in Yuma, Arizona. Which is seven miles from the border. We had a lot of trips over to Mexico and my parents always wanted to keep us close to our roots so we’d always take trips over there. We’re really family orientated, blue-collar, hard working people so I really get that from my family. My Dad starting out working in the lettuce fields and he kinda just worked his way up and became a truck driver. He’s actually an immigrant from Mexico. He grew up really poor so he’s done really well for himself considering where he’s come from. I don’t really show it but I do really appreciate it a lot, what he’s done, and I do tell him that I got my work ethic just from watching him.
Fightline.com: We’ve heard that you used to work night club security after your wrestling days. What was that like? I can’t imagine anyone trying to pick a fight with a guy your size. Especially with the cauliflower ears.
Velasquez: You’d be surprised. It happened a few times. But I was always cool with people. If they swung on me first then I would do something, but usually I was always cool with people. I wasn’t trying to show anyone that I was a tough guy, you know, that’s not my style. We had a couple of fights in the club, but I would usually just take guys down and hold them down and look up and watch my back. You just never know who somebody is and what they’ll try to come back with so I just try to stay cool with everybody.