What now for Velasquez and Lesnar?
Cain Velasquez answered all of the questions from the fighting community about whether he was really as good as his reputation, dominating Brock Lesnar to win the UFC heavyweight title on Saturday night.
But he has a new set of obstacles to overcome, with his next title defence scheduled against Junior Dos Santos (12-1).
Where Lesnar (5-2) goes from here is a bigger question. The former champion did not appear at the post-fight news conference at the Honda Center. UFC president Dana White said that Lesnar, a larger-than-life character, told him he did not want to steal the spotlight from Velasquez. In the cage after the fight, Lesnar indicated he plans on returning.
Javier Mendez, Velasquez’s trainer, believes the two will meet again.
“The thing is, Brock is really green as a fighter,” said Mendez. “He’s an incredible athlete. Cain is ahead of him right now, but Brock has so much athleticism and so much room for improvement and when we see him the next time, he’ll be a lot better. Cain also has to keep improving.”
“I expected nothing less from him; he’s a great fighter. Congratulations, Cain,” Lesnar said after the fight ended. “I had a good training camp. What can I say? He was better than me tonight.”
UFC president Dana White said he ultimately expects Lesnar to return.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I personally think the competitive side of him is going to come out. Hunting may not be as much of a priority as if he won the fight. That’s what I think.”
UFC officials, as well as those close to Lesnar, indicated that Frank Mir, with whom Lesnar has split two fights, is his next likely opponent. The fight makes sense. Mir is coming off a knockout win over Mirko Filipovic on September 25, and he has been Lesnar’s biggest career rival, with insults between the two going back and forth dating back nearly three years.
Lesnar v Mir III is almost guaranteed to be a huge fight, given that Mir is an expert of hyping a fight, but also, legitimately, Mir does not like Lesnar, feeling Lesnar disrespected him after beating him at UFC 100. The match would likely be as big or bigger than any championship match that UFC could promote right now.
Their first match was a huge success on pay-per-view. Their second, which Lesnar won via second round TKO, was at the time the biggest match in mixed martial arts history, going by public interest.
The winner of that fight would be right back in championship contention.
The reality is that Lesnar got this far so quickly due to his combination of overpowering size, strength and ridiculous quickness for his size, which made up for his lack of experience. Velasquez, 20 pounds lighter than Lesnar, could not stop Lesnar’s takedown. But both times Velasquez was off his feet, he popped up immediately. When the two were standing, Lesnar could not match the hand speed of Velasquez, or the poise of staying composed while in a slugfest. That left Lesnar off-balance, and once Velasquez took him down, he never fully recovered.
White expects that the next heavyweight title fight would be sooner with Velasquez than it would have been if Lesnar won. He would not give a time frame, saying it was up to Velasquez, who improved to 9-0 and kept up his string of having never lost a round during his career.
“It wasn’t a hard training camp, but it was a long training camp,” said Velasquez. “I’d like to give some attention to my family, hang out with them for a little while.”
Velasquez deflected any questions of when he would be ready to fight again to his trainers. Mendez said that he would give Velasquez one or two weeks off to celebrate his win, but he wanted him back in the gym because Dos Santos is a completely different fighter and poses different problems.
But Mendez indicated that Velasquez would be ready whenever the UFC called, and he indicated the spring would be no problem. UFC has major main events filled through February, so the March or April period would fit well.
“I’m fine, just bruises here and there,” Velasquez said. “I feel good.”
“The one thing we have to realize going in is that Dos Santos has better boxing than Cain,” said Mendez. “I think he’s got the best boxing in the heavyweight division. He also has good takedown defence, and he’s strong on the ground. Cain has the better wrestling and the better kicking.”
“We’ll definitely have to have a different game plan for him,” said Velasquez. “He’s a great boxer. He’s got great takedown defence. He poses a real threat. We have to watch a lot of film and prepare.”
Among the fighters under UFC contract, the other two key contenders right now would be Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, who meet on January 1 in Las Vegas.
Carwin v Velasquez would be another battle of power v speed and technique. Carwin has the best one-punch knockout power in the sport, but based on their respective performances against Lesnar, it would appear Velasquez has more weapons at his disposal.
Nelson has unique marketability based on his rotund physique, which makes him endearing to the public. He would create interest in a title fight. He possesses far more jiu-jitsu experience than Velasquez, but Nelson’s other strengths, his wrestling and boxing, are areas in which Velasquez is better. And Velasquez is younger, faster and has a major conditioning edge as well.
“He’s not going to get the big head,” said Mendez. “He wants to be an all-time great in the sport and winning the title is just the first step. You don’t become an all-time great with one big win.” The fight was heavily hyped around the idea that Velasquez had the chance to become the first Mexican world heavyweight champion in the history of combat sports.
The UFC has, up to this point, never fully broken through with the Latino audience that has carried boxing in the US for the past decade. That put a lot of pressure on Velasquez, 28, who has only had one main event in his career, that being in Australia. But he said that did not affect him until after the fight ended.
“It felt the same [when he was coming to the cage],” he said. “I was thinking, ‘This time is finally here. The moment I’ve worked so hard for is finally here.’ ”
The crowd reaction to Velasquez’s victory was one of the loudest in the history of the sport.
“It was one of the biggest,” said Dana White. “Maybe the biggest.”
The only comparable reactions in UFC history would have been for Randy Couture’s 2007 heavyweight title win over Tim Sylvia in Columbus, Ohio, and Georges St Pierre’s 2008 welterweight title win over Matt Serra in Montreal. The difference was that Couture and St Pierre were established stars who were already two of the company’s most popular names.
This reaction, so loud partially due to the fact that the big size difference made Velasquez look like such a physical underdog, indicated the possible birth of a new company superstar.
“When I’m fighting, I don’t hear the crowd,” he said. “I sometimes hear my corner. When the fight was stopped, that’s when I heard it. That when I really absorbed it. It was the same as when I fought last year in LA I really felt the crowd.”