MMA Origins: Cain Velasquez
It’s time again for another edition of MMA Origins, and this time I’m looking at a fighter who I’ve actually had the pleasure of watching through his whole MMA career to date, including his pre-UFC days, brief as they were. He was one of the most hyped prospects in MMA history and he lived up to every word that was said about him – including, in the end, some of the more negative aspects.
This is the story of former UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
I want to say 2006 was the first time I heard about a man named Cain Velasquez. I can’t be too sure of the actual date but I know exactly what the circumstances were. Back then I was heavily into MMA radio shows – this was a time largely before Podcasts – and one of my favourites was Beatdown Radio with TJ De Santis. His guest on the fateful edition was Josh Thomson.
Thomson was at the time coming off a very brief run in PRIDE. He’d subsequently signed not with the UFC, but with a small, upstart Californian promotion that would go on to much more fame. The promotion was, of course, StrikeForce, and while they did debut with the first ever legal MMA show in California, they weren’t making the waves that they would from 2009 onwards. I forget what the interview with De Santis was actually about, but I do know that Thomson was asked about his training camp, American Kickboxing Academy.
The Punk told De Santis that AKA had a guy training with them who hadn’t even made his MMA debut, and yet he was so good that Thomson was sure he’d end up as the best Heavyweight on the planet some day. My ears immediately pricked up. The guy’s name was Cain Velasquez.
Apparently, Cain had quite the wrestling background – he was an NCAA Division I All-American out of Arizona State University; he was recognized as one of the best wrestlers in his weight class in the country, and although he hadn’t won the Division I title, people in the know said that a lot of that was down to him having to wrestle Steve Mocco and Cole Konrad, both once-in-a-lifetime type talents.
Little more was said, but I was interested nonetheless. In October 2006, Velasquez made his MMA debut under the StrikeForce banner, fighting on the undercard of a show headlined by Tank Abbott (in 2006!) vs. Paul Buentello. His opponent was named Jesse Fujarczyk, a classic first opponent if ever there was one – he had a record of 2-1, but his lone loss had come to WWE star Daniel Puder. The fight lasted a little under two minutes before Cain was able to pick up the win via TKO, following a takedown and some heavy ground-and-pound. At the time, I couldn’t even track the video down, settling for still photos on Sherdog instead.
Velasquez looked nothing like I’d imagined; while the likes of Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Sylvia had taught me that the best fighters weren’t all freakishly muscular like Mark Coleman, Cain was an odd one – body-wise he looked like a regular guy who maybe trained in the gym a few times a week. His head, though, told another story. It was huge, like a fire hydrant, and he had a look about him that screamed intimidation. He instantly reminded me, in fact, of the Jake the Muss character from the movie Once Were Warriors. Obviously Cain’s from a Mexican background, not a Maori one, but that intimidation factor felt similar in looks at least.