The fight game tends to be a sport that relies heavily on the, “what have you done for me lately” cliche.
In other, more traditional athletics, the participants tend to have several seasons worth of data to draw conclusions – be it statistical analysis, or the good ol’ eye-test (hello baseball, hello confirmation bias).
It should come as no surprise then, that Cain Velasquez, a fighter once regarded as the heir apparent, all-time great of the heavyweight division, has had his skills downplayed by many in the mixed martial arts community following his thorough defeat at the hands of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188.
Hold on, pause the article for a second. Let’s jump in a time machine, and take a trip to Cologne, Germany, in the wonderful year of 2009, for UFC 99. If you were to posit that Velasquez was on the verge of becoming the greatest heavyweight around, you would have been mocked and ridiculed. Responses would tell you that after defeating “Cup” Cheick Kongo by unanimous decision, Velasquez was simply a pillow-fisted wrestler, who would eventually be exposed for what he was.
After that win, Velasquez went on to TKO Ben Rothwell (LOL he couldn’t even KO him, what a bum!), obliterated “Big Nog” (oh maybe this guy is decent after all), before assisting Brock Lesnar with a dance lesson and capturing UFC gold. Suddenly, Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos were main event-ing the UFC’s inaugural Fox show, battling to take the mantle of heavyweight kingpin. Dos Santos came out on top that evening, but Velasquez bounced back and now holds two very impressive wins over his rival.
Enter another Brazilian, Werdum, and another inaugural UFC event. This time in Mexico, at an elevation that perhaps caught a number of fighters off-guard, the heavyweight champ included. And so, in the, “what have you done for me lately” world of MMA, Sea Level Cain became a meme. It even spawned a parody Twitter account. All of this despite the fact that cardio had never been an issue for Velasquez, a rare accomplishment in the heavyweight division. For his part, Velasquez was making no excuses for his loss.
The bigger issue in reality, is the numerous injuries sustained by Velasquez. This has been a perpetual problem for himself and his teammates at American Kickboxing Academy, a gym notorious for the “heavy” sparring that Simon spoke of in a recent article. Velasquez himself knows this is a problem, and spoke of it during the Unstoppable press conference (hat tip to MMAWeekly for the clip).
The stakes are high for everyone fighting at UFC 200. There are likely going to be more eyes than ever before watching this weekend, and Velasquez is looking to make a statement to all of those that are skeptical of his abilities.
His opponent, Travis Browne, certainly isn’t underestimating him. Both fighters will be looking to establish their names in the heavyweight title picture, as there are few clear-cut contenders beyond the scheduled Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem matchup.
Expect this fight to serve as an example of the difference between “very good” (Browne) and “elite” (Velasquez) with the former champion making a bold statement, likely finishing Browne and cementing his case for contendership.