He was supposed to be the best. The next big thing. A spiritual successor to the great Fedor Emelianenko. Instead of etching his name into the history books alongside the sport's greats, Cain Velasquez finds himself stuck in limbo.
On Saturday night in the high-altitude Mexican capital of Mexico City at UFC 188, Fabricio Werdum thrashed Cain Velasquez in front of thousands of mortified supporters. Velasquez entered the Octagon anxiously pacing back and forth, while his Brazilian opponent stood opposite, grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat.
The bell sounded and both men immediately locked horns. Cain trucked forward with an onslaught of varied attacks: punches, leg kicks, and digs inside the clinch. But for every move the champ made, Werdum outmanoeuvred with cunning intelligence.
The two-time Brazilian jiu jitsu champion was always one step ahead of the champ. Velasquez would initiate a clinch against the cage, and Werdum would counter with a Muay Thai plum of his own; Cain would swing an overhand, and 'Hapa' would immediately fire back with a straight counter.
UFC 188: The sober play-by-play of Cain vs. Werdum
A sober not quite minute by minute breakdown of the Fabricio Werdum's calculated destruction of former HW champion, Cain Velasquez for UFC 188 in Mexico City.
Werdum patiently calculated his every move as if Cain were a pawn on a chess board, until the crafty veteran executed his final manoeuvre in round three. Checkmate. The submission wizard locked Velasquez up in a guillotine choke, relieving the champion of his divisional duty.
It's the second time we've seen heavyweight gold slip from Cain's grasp, as he was usurped by Junior dos Santos in 2011 shortly after making mincemeat of Brock Lesnar at UFC 121. Velasquez went on to avenge his loss to JDS and reclaim the throne at UFC 155. Can he do the same to Fabricio Werdum? Can he live up to his billing as the next heavyweight great?
Velasquez has all the tools to reign supreme as the 'baddest man on the planet', but the question is whether those tools are being used efficiently. The men operating the cogs in the Velasquez machine are the head coaches at AKA, and they're doing a less than stellar job.
For years, Velasquez has suffered from recurring injuries. In fact, prior to his championship clash with Werdum at UFC 188, it'd been years since he'd set foot in the Octagon. The 32-year-old ravaged his knee during a training session and was forced to sit on the sidelines for almost two years. With training exercises like this and rigorous heavy sparring practice in the gym, is it any surprise?
The blood, sweat, and tears accumulated from hours in the gym at AKA may breed champions, but at what cost? What use is sitting on a throne you can't defend? It's a wonder Velasquez didn't make his entrance to the Octagon on Saturday night clutching onto a zimmer frame. Daily bouts of intensive sparring may yield short-term results, but the long-term consequences are devastating. It didn't end so well for former Chute Boxe berserkers Wanderlei Silva or Shogun Rua, whose success plummeted in later years.
"My career got cut short because I was sparring three days a week, with bigger opponents," Varner says in an interview with Cage Fanatic. "I had Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, Carlos Condit. Those were my sparring partners from like 2006 to 2010. So I had a lot of head trauma just sparring with those big guys."
"If I could give any advice to young, upcoming fighters - you're a fighter, you don't need to spar to prove how tough you are. So spar once a week. [...] "Sparring is a tool that is used to work on game plans, and to see where you are condition wise, cardiovascularly. You don't need to spar three days a week to prove you're tough. You're fighting in the UFC, you're obviously tough."
On top of the stone age training methods, American Kickboxing Academy didn't adjust their pupil to the elevated altitude of Mexico City. Velasquez had spent two weeks preparing in the capital while his opponent had been honing and sharpening his craft on Mexican soil for months.
Then there's the corner advice: 'You need to get the takedown, Cain!', his corner yelled during the second round interval. Velasquez, following his orders like a troop blindly lead into enemy machine gun fire, latched onto a double leg takedown and fell right into Werdum's finishing move.
The able student needs a wise master. If heavyweight greatness is Cain Velasquez's ultimate desire, the former champion should leave the stone ages behind and embrace the new age of mixed martial arts training. Dump AKA and pack your bags for Albuquerque, Cain. Master Greg Jackson awaits.