Slow Down on Cain Velasquez and the UFC Heavyweight Title

Cain_velasquez_2_mediumFollowing his victory over Ben Rothwell, news broke that Cain Velasquez could fight for the heavyweight title in Mexico City next year.  This would be a very bad idea, and I think Joe Silva and company are smart enough to avoid rushing Cain's title shot.

Cain Velasquez is a future UFC superstar.  At just 6-0 he made Ben Rothwell, a man nearly thirty pounds bigger than him, look like a weak rookie.  He tossed Rothwell around like a child.  Given his skill at this point in his career, his background in wrestling in jiu-jitsu, his all-action fighting style, and his Latino heritage, the man is destined for stardom. Unless they blow his star early by forcing him into a position he's not ready for.

It's worth stepping back and recognizing that most UFC fans barely know who he is.  This past weekend was the first time he got any sort of star reaction from a crowd.  His name is on its way to becoming part of the regular vocabulary of the casual UFC fan; in a year, with 2 or 3 more victories, he will be a big star poised for his first title shot in a very marketable main event.  If they give him a title shot in April, it will help draw in Mexico, but on PPV it will be worth about as much as any random heavyweight going for the title.

Cain Velasquez is young.  He's not like Shane Carwin, who's already up there in age.  His eventual fight with Brock Lesnar for the title, assuming Lesnar holds onto it for a while, could be a huge event.  If they don't blow it too early.  Giving Cain his shot now would be like giving Lyoto his shot 4 months after beating Sokoudjou.  Would he have been ready?  Sure.  Was it the right time? No.

From a marketing perspective, it's best to avoid having to introduce fighters challenging for the title, because they just might win.  Nobody's talking about it, but Shogun winning the title in a long, drawn-out decision would have been bad for business.  The fans barely know Shogun.  But now he has an identity.  He was screwed, or so a lot of people think. Now fans will care about him, the rematch will be bigger than the first, and if he wins he'll be a star instead of another new champion the UFC has to strain to promote.  It's counterintuitive, but it's how the fight business works.

They should exercise patience with Cain Velasquez.  They already have a marketable contender heading toward the end of his career in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, they should spend their time building their young contenders so they actually have some new stars when the older class of stars retires.  There are all sorts of options for Cain Velasquez: Mirko CroCop, Frank Mir, Junior Dos Santos, Heath Herring, and Gabriel Gonzaga would all make sense.

There's a simple trick you can do to figure out if a title shot is coming too soon from a business perspective.  Think of how the UFC would market the fight in the United States if it happened.  In this case, the 30 second spot in April would probably have a narrarator reading something like this:  "UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar returns to the Octagon to defend his heavyweight title at UFC 113.  After knocking out Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar is looking to cement his legacy as the best heavyweight fighter in the world.  Standing in his way is undefeated up and coming heavyweight Cain Velasquez, who destroyed former IFL champion Ben Rothwell at UFC 104...."  

You get the picture.  The ad would focus completely on Lesnar, and then mention his opponent briefly at the end. And it would make sense to do it that way.  Fans care about Brock at this point way more than they care about Cain.  They shouldn't fight until fans care about both.

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