American Kickboxing Academy founder and head coach Javier Mendez has long had a sizable contingent of top fighters at AKA. Frank Shamrock, BJ Penn, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck all trained at his San Jose gym. While AKA has long been known for its world class talent the current class might be the strongest Mendez has ever seen.
You have a lot of potential contenders at AKA right now. Who do you think is the next fighter to get a title shot in the UFC?
I 100% expect Daniel [Cormier] to fight for the belt with a win. He'll be the first one. Then the next will be Luke. I think Luke Rockhold needs [one win]. Then the next one could be Josh Thomson or Khabib.
[The fight with Benson Henderson] It wasn't really a loss, it really wasn't. And people should go "Josh Thomson is definitely top 4 in the world." So one win should be enough for him.
We could potentially have four belts. I'm feeling pretty confident with all my guys. I think we have a great fighter in Luke Rockhold. And I think Daniel Cormier and Cain Valesquez in their divisions are far ahead of everyone else. If you don't believe me just watch Daniel's fights. He destroys everyone. He's never lost a round. And Cain, he's never lost a round except for that one fight he got knocked out by dos Santos. Besides that one moment, both of those guys combined have never lost a round.
With as many fighters "in the mix" as AKA has, how big of a worry are potential fights between teammates?
The way we looked at it was that Daniel was going to rule Strikeforce at heavyweight and Cain was going to rule the UFC at heavyweight. So we'd never have to have our two guys fight each other. That was the original goal. But when they merged together I thought the possibility of those two guys colliding was very strong until Daniel said "I'm not fighting Cain. I'd rather move down to light heavyweight and have two guys holding belts from AKA in the UFC."
Honestly, I thought the problem was going to come in the lightweight division. That's where I thought I was going to have a dilemma. When Josh Thomson was going to be fighting for that title, I really gave him a great chance at beating Pettis. And because I have Khabib Nurmagomedov and I have Gray Maynard, I would have been "oh, no. What I worried about with Cain and Cormier has become reality at lightweight."
And it still might.
Can you describe Cormier's progress as a fighter, especially his striking. It's been remarkable considering the fact he didn't start MMA until he was 30 in 2009, having spent his whole life up to that point wrestling.
When he beat Jeff Monson the way he did it that's when I said "Oh, crap. He's going to be great." It wasn't that I didn't think he'd be great before that, it was the speed at which he got great is what surprised me. Because he improved so much. Cain couldn't do it like that. I knew Cain was going to take time. But Daniel skyrocketed.
Cain Velasquez used to receive quite a bit of criticism regarding his standup. Obviously you've worked a great deal on that, because he was able to stand with Junior much Santos for much of their last fight.
Dos Santos is such a great fighter. Look at what happens when he fights anyone else. So the difference between Cain and everyone else and dos Santos and everyone else - there's a big gap.
The old criticism was that he couldn't finish. And they were correct, he wasn't the hardest puncher. But he worked on it. Cain is a hard worker. He puts in the time. And he all of sudden he started hurting people in the gym. We were working on technique, technique, technique. Now he can hit hard. Not just hurt you, but knock you out with one shot.
People don't understand the amount of work it took Cain to perfect his power. It took a lot of time. Notice the technique. The technique, if you sharpen it up you'll see only a slight difference. If you watch Cain, between the second and third fight with dos Santos, you'll notice he's tighter. He's tighter with his punches, tighter with his movement. Before that fight people asked me what the difference between Cain before and the Cain who's going to fight dos Santos the third time and I said he's tighter and his technique's better. And he proved it.
Where do you rate Cain's place in the history of the heavyweight division? Do you think he's surpassed Fedor Emelianenko as the best ever?
Fedor was special. I don't think he's there yet. He's the best UFC heavyweight ever, that's for sure
I think Cain needs a few more wins to be listed as the best ever. Talent wise I think you can put Cain up there as the best ever. Resume wise I think he still needs a couple of wins to match Fedor.
Well, you know Fedor has said Cain was currently the best fighter in the World.
Really? I didn't know that.
I think that's an accurate statement. Fedor knows his stuff.