Steady Velasquez keeps it all in perspective
November, 9, 2011
By Chad Dundas
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comIf the pressure is getting to UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, he isn't letting on.LOS ANGELES -- Cain Velasquez looked sharp on Wednesday.
Despite the warm weather, the undefeated heavyweight champion wore his customary grey suit jacket and open-collared dress shirt to the UFC on Fox media conference on the outdoor mall at Nokia Plaza.
He entered from stage right, sat down a few feet away from Junior dos Santos and smiled briefly. He squinted into the sunlight and nodded at the mixed reaction from a crowd evenly split between rooting for him and for his decidedly casual and un-tucked challenger. It was hot. He sweated. Finally, somebody brought him a handkerchief to mop his brow.
And that was about as exciting as it got.
If you came to LA looking for headlines you’re going to have to wait until Saturday, because Velasquez is playing it cool in the final days before the biggest night of his life.
“It’s just fight week,” he said when asked about the magnitude of this event. “That’s what it feels like to me; it feels the same as any other fight. I’m ready to go out there. I’ve had a long layoff, but I’m excited to be back.”
By "back" he means returning from nearly 13 months on the shelf after rotator cuff surgery and when he says "out there" he's talking about making his first title defense in what will likely turn out to be the most-watched UFC bout ever. It’s a fight his boss has already called the biggest in the company’s history and one that was handpicked for this high-profile, high-pressure spot.
The same as any other fight? Hardly.
That kind of attitude, though, is exactly what we've come to expect from the even-keeled Velasquez. By now we know the guy we see at midweek media events is in stark contrast to the one who typically shows up inside the cage on fight night.
From bell to bell, he’s one of the most dynamic and exciting heavyweights the sport has ever seen. For evidence, we need look no further than UFC 121, when he battered Brock Lesnar into near ruin in less than one round, taking the title and leaving the former WWE wrestler a sizeable scar underneath the right eye to remember him by. He is breathtaking in his speed and accuracy, as nimble as a welterweight, with a motor that won’t quit. He's technically flawless, they say, prompting even hard-bitten, long-time trainers like Javier Mendez to bathe him in superlatives.
But in front of a microphone? That Velasquez is nowhere to be found.
"Succinct" is probably the best way to describe Cain Velasquez the public figure. Stoic. By the book.
During media engagements, Velasquez comes off more like the successful, well-coached college athlete he once was than a mixed martial artist looking to sell a fight. Make no mistake, he’s as friendly and agreeable as they come. He’ll answer all the questions, pose for all the photos, but Chael Sonnen he is not. Nick Diaz, he is not.
Never too high, never too low -- that's Velasquez. And you know what? Just days out from the UFC’s debut on network television, maybe that's for the best.
Another fighter might have gotten caught up in emotions on Wednesday. He might have gotten distracted by the fans chanting in Portuguese, or the guy asking dos Santos which hand he plans to use to knock Velasquez out, or the dude who suggested that the champion adopt the nickname “The Shrexican” due to an iffy resemblance to the cartoon ogre. Another fighter might give himself the yips thinking about the millions of people who will tune to his fight or get similarly lost in notion that the winner of this bout could conceivably become the most famous MMA fighter in the world overnight.
Not Velasquez. Prior to the fight, he’s not going to give reporters an exciting story. He's not going to give his opponent any bulletin board material. He’s just going to show up on fight night as the best heavyweight on the planet and trust that will be good enough.
If he was sweating on Wednesday, you better believe it was because of the heat. Velasquez won’t get swallowed by the moment because, frankly, he won’t even stop to consider it.