At this weekend's UFC on Fox 1 show, UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez faces Junior dos Santos. This marks Velasquez's long awaited first defense of the Heavyweight title he won from Brock Lesnar last year at UFC 121, as well as the highly anticipated debut of the UFC on Fox. As we gear up for this epic fight, let's look back at the complete career of the champion, and see what we can learn about Saturday's showdown.
Today, part 1 of this 3 part series looks at the earliest career of Cain Velasquez, from his debut in Strikeforce through his explosion onto the UFC scene in 2008. Check back later this week for part 2 and the conclusion.
Fight #1: Cain Velasquez vs. Jesse Fujarczyk
October 7, 2006, Strikeforce: Tank vs. Buentello
First off, can we just marvel for a moment that not only did Cain make his debut in Strikeforce, he did it on the undercard of a Tank Abbott vs. Paul Buentello card? Crazy.
Cain famously took this fight mere months after graduating from college and beginning his MMA training at American Kickboxing Academy. He came in to this debut with strong college wrestling backgrounds at NCAA Division I school Arizona State, but also with less than 6 months of full MMA training. But if you didn't know that when you watched the fight, you'd never guess he was so inexperienced. Cain comes in and just dominates, tossing Fujarczyk around with ease before finishing him off with ground and pound.
Biggest take-away here is Cain's confidence beyond his years, and the way that allows him to integrate a complete game. He just looks so comfortable in there, blending his wrestling into MMA. Check out the way he uses that wrestling to score the takedown and control on the mat, but also throws punches at every single opening. Great debut.
Watch the fight, and keep reading in the complete entry.
Velasquez vs. Fujarczyk video:
Fight #2: Cain Velasquez vs. Jeremiah Constant
December 16, 2006, BodogFight: St. Petersburg
Here we get Velasquez's only other non-UFC fight, as he travels to Russia for a BodogFight event headlined by a relatively svelte Roy Nelson. Velasquez uses the same basic plan here, taking Constant down and pounding him out. Again, we see Cain's ability to land shots every time he sees an opportunity. He pushes the pace hard and just wears Constant down.
But to me, the most interesting aspect of this fight is that Constant manages something very few other men have - he gets Velasquez in a bit of trouble. Constant manages to lock on a guillotine momentarily. It's not perfect, but it does seem like he could make an adjustment and perhaps get the win. But Velasquez keeps his calm and easily defends, popping his head out and continuing the assault. Excellent ability to escape a bad situation here, and once again an example of Velasquez showing a fighting maturity far behind his limited experience.
Overall, this is a fun fight too for any fan of wrestling in their MMA.
Fight #3: Cain Velasquez vs. Brad Morris
April 19, 2008, UFC 83
After an shockingly long (for him at least) 16 month layoff, Velasquez makes his UFC debut in Canada. This prelim fight went unaired and would mark the only time in his UFC career Cain was left off the main card. Morris was an Australian fighter with a solid 10-2 record, also making his UFC debut.
With this fight, Cain shows off a new dimension to his game - stand-up. It's clear that in that year off, this is an area he has focused on - a smart move for someone with such a strong wrestling base. Velasquez shows good movement here, and does a nice job stringing together knees and punches to hurt Morris and put him down. On the mat, we once again see his control and ground and pound. As he did against Constant, Cain prefers to control on the ground using a wrestling base instead of jiu jitsu. At some points, he gives up the dominant back control in order to move to side control on the back. This allows him to land better punches and maintain his control over Morris. Finally, we once again see Velasquez just out-cardio his opponent, keeping the pace high until Morris simply can't keep up.
Fight #4: Cain Velasquez vs. Jake O'Brien
July 19, 2008, UFC: Silva vs. Irvin
And here we have it - Cain's first real test. O'Brien was 10-1 at the time and coming off a big win over Heath Herring and loss to Andrei Arlovski, back when losing to Andrei Arlovski was nothing at all to be ashamed of. Some viewed him as a future world champion, and he was clearly a serious challenger for the up and comer Velasquez. On paper at least.
In reality, O'Brien never had a shot. Velasquez grabs him, muscles him to the mat, shoves him into the crucifix position, and rains down punches until Mario Yamasaki calls an end to it. Total time - 2:02. Total domination here with Cain never giving O'Brien a chance. At just 25 years old, and only 4 fights into his career, Velasquez emphatically announced his arrival.
Take-away from this fight (besides the fact that this Velasquez guy is for real)? His ability to establish and maintain position on the ground is top-notch. We also see the return of the crucifix here, setting itself as one of Cain's go-to positions.
Quick side note: watching this reminded me of the fact that many people (myself included) were worried about Anderson Silva taking this main event fight, thinking he might fall to James Irvin at Light Heavyweight. What fools we were...
Fight #5: Cain Velasquez vs. Denis Stojnic
February 7, 2009, UFC Fight Night: Lauzon vs. Stephens
The poster for this Fight Night card is a clear indication of just where Velasquez stood in the UFC at this point as it advertises: "Joe Lauzon vs. Jeremy Stephens, Mac Danzig vs. Josh Neer, Plus Cain Velasquez." No mention of Stojnic, and no picture. Despite his 5-1 record and Golden Glory background, the debuting Stojnic was a sacrificial lamb to the rising star that was Velasquez.
As with the Morris fight, the revelation here is Velasquez's stand-up, only this time, he takes it to a completely new level. Cain dominates Stojnic on the feet here, showing off a lot of new striking skills. In particular, he adds a gorgeous Muay Thai clinch game. From the clinch, Cain begins landing knees to the body, then adds knees to the thighs, leg kicks (from the clinch), and finally knees to the chin. Beautiful.
Also notable in his stand-up is the addition of a kicking game to his arsenal. Until now, Cain had been primarily a boxer, but he throws some great kicks here, including a nice inside leg kick that he uses repeatedly to soften up the leg. It's a terrific striking exhibition, made all the more impressive by the fact that this is new stuff we are seeing from Cain - though of course he still ends it with the tried and true ground and pound.
With this win, Velasquez was ready to step up and face the big names of the UFC Heavyweight division. But to get there, he would have to get through the UFC's ultimate Heavyweight gatekeeper in what would turn out to be the toughest fight of his young career...
Check back tomorrow for part 2.