The former ASU star discussed his upcoming title defense at UFC on Fox, recovery from shoulder surgery, and the difficult task of carrying the hopes of an entire sport.
Cain Velasquez says he's not thinking about Saturday, even if you don't believe it. As the UFC heavyweight champion readies to defend his belt against Brazilian knockout-artist Junior dos Santos at the UFC's historic debut on Fox, gauging his mindset is a nearly impossible task. Between a relentless media blitz of press conferences, sponsored appearances, and interviews across the country, Velasquez barely has enough time to train, let alone consider the weight of what lies ahead.
Last week a Fox-aired "UFC Primetime" special previewing the heavyweight tilt drew an astounding two-million viewers, far greater than some full-fledged UFC events. If the run-away ratings are any indication of the market that awaits Velasquez and his opponent, the UFC is in for a record-breaking night.
But if Velasquez is worried, he won't let on as much. "It's natural for me to be a little nervous," he coolly explained during the UFC on Fox conference call. "But this is no more than usual." Regardless of the blatant untruths of the sentiment, the only factor that matters is whether the champion believes it. And by all indications, he does. "I'm not really thinking about the magnitude. I'm just focused on the training for the fight itself."
"For me it's just a great opportunity," he continued. "For the UFC and Fox to choose our fight to headline on November 12th, is a great honor."
Velasquez's road to network television has been anything but glamorous. The comforts of the cage are unusually absent since the former-ASU wrestling standout was struck with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder midway through a championship bout with Brock Lesnar thirteen months ago. Despite his one-armed status, Velasquez turned in a stunning performance that night, delivering Lesnar the only knockout loss of his career.
As eye-opening as the victory was for the UFC's newest heavyweight savant, the aftermath was comparatively nightmarish. After six failed weeks of rehab, doctors elected for major surgery with a layoff that stretched upwards of eight months. What ensued was a slow road that subdued the champion's lifestyle.
"It was definitely frustrating," Velasquez admitted. "I'm a guy that likes to stay active. I like to be at the gym. I like to train. Getting that taken away from you is definitely tough." Restless without his routine, Velasquez opted to jump at any chance to stay active. "Stuff for the UFC, signings, just something to keep me busy. Get my head away from thinking about being hurt, and just staying positive."
It was a gradual process, but eventually Velasquez emerged on the other side grateful for his own patience. "It just took time for it to get better, but I'm happy that I listened to my doctor," he explained. "I'm happy that I went through it and didn't rush it because now it feels 100 percent."
With his troubles in the rear-view mirror, the 29-year-old has been cleared to return to the safe haven of training. Within the walls of San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, Velasquez is hard at work grinding the precarious balance between mental focus and physical prowess. An eager student of the game, his studying habits have become as much a part of the preparation process as defending the single-leg.
"I like to see as much video and footage on my opponents as possible," Velasquez said. "Any little bit will help." And what did the film of Dos Santos tell the heavyweight champion? "He's impressive. There's not one aspect of the game that he's short on."
"That's what we're training for and that's what we expect from him."
While the Velasquez camp pours over game-plans, fight fans will be hard pressed to restrain their own expectations. The two heavyweights carry a penchant for violence, having delivered thunderous finishes in eleven of their combined fourteen UFC bouts, collecting five "Knockout of the Night" bonuses in the process. Now the hard work has paid off and each man has been entrusted in most crucial moment in promotion history. But that's no reason to be nervous, right?
"It just shows that they love the way we fight," Velasquez concluded with a chuckle. "We're definitely just going to go out there and throw down. That's pretty much it and people are going to love to see that."