July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
Cain Velasquez is human.
As I write this Chronicle, a new champion begins his reign as the latest incarnation of the baddest man on the planet holding the UFC heavyweight championship belt. Fabricio Werdum won in impressive fashion against the champion many had considered to be possibly the most talented heavyweight fighter ever to enter a cage or a ring, Cain Velasquez. But Cain did not look like the physically dominant cardio-machine who outpaces, outworks and usually outclasses his opponents with relative ease. Indeed, if anyone was outclassed it was Cain. Werdum used his reach advantage effectively and battered his charging foe with strikes from the get-go, with what looked to be masterfully efficient standup exchanges opening a cut on the champion’s eye. More surprisingly, Cain looked to be what I think none of us expected to see, especially so early in the fight.
Cain looked tired.
The precise counters, composure, and timing of Werdum forced Velasquez to change the gameplan and shoot in for a takedown. Werdum trapped the champion in a guillotine that forced the tapout and earned him the victory, unifying the interim and regular championship belts to emerge as the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion. Cain Velasquez, for his part, kept pressing the action and showed the heart of a champion throughout this impressive battle, but I must admit his effort looked woefully inadequate against Werdum, who seemed to accomplish far more in terms of damage and impact with far less effort.
In today’s competitive mixed martial arts divisions, fights are more and more difficult to predict. Still, one would imagine that this outcome was an upset by any standard. None was more surprised than I.
Loyal readers of The Chronicles are of course aware that I was Cain’s sparring partner for years, while finishing out my own MMA career at the American Kickboxing Academy. I know first hand how incredibly talented he is, especially in terms of his cardio, which may be as much result of genetic blessings as the fruit of his work ethic. After a few years in the business, his striking and jiu-jitsu technique had caught up to his already phenomenal wrestling skills and athleticism, and Cain had become the total package. As UFC heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez stood head and shoulders above the rest of the division.
This loss is a reminder that one should never take anything for granted, and surprises come in all shapes and sizes, both good and bad. At 32, Cain is 5 years younger than the newly crowned champion. By no means is this a ‘passing of the torch’ type of loss where an aging champion gives way to his rising challenger. But despite the advantage of his relative youth, Cain looked to be outmatched by Werdum in all aspects of the fight. Speculation abounds as to whether or not Cain spent enough time to become acclimated to the altitude of Mexico City. None of that makes any difference to the outcome at this point. What remains to be seen is how effectively Cain will be able to bounce back from this loss. An immediate rematch does not appear warranted given the dominant fashion in which Werdum upset the champion.
Cain Velasquez has shown the perseverance to come back from defeat in the past. He twice avenged his first loss to Junior Dos Santos, with performances that left no doubt as to whose waist the championship gold would be strapped around after the fight. But Cain has also been plagued with injuries, fighting only 5 times against 2 opponents in the 3 years prior to tonight’s unification bout. He will have to battle his way back up the rankings to challenge for the title again. He will have to have that same hunger and relentless drive of a challenger, which made him such a dominant force few would have expected to see being dominated by a man considered to be an underdog. If talk of ‘greatest of all time’ is to be rekindled, Cain will have to use this as an opportunity to build himself back up, and avenge the loss just as dominantly as he did against Dos Santos. And he will have to fight at a higher rate, against more diverse competition than he has in the past 5 years. He will have to defeat his biggest foe: remaining injury-free.
On the other hand, Werdum is no stranger to being on the favorable end of ‘upsets,’ to the effect that one has to wonder whether the circumstances warrant the characterization. In 2010, Werdum ended the reign of terror of the man then considered the most dominant, possibly greatest of all time: Fedor Emalienenko. Yet there are two current UFC heavyweight contenders who hold wins over Werdum: Andrei Arlovski and Junior Dos Santos. This may make for some interesting matchups, although in my opinion Arlovski is well past his prime and has incurred more than his fair share of brain trauma, and the division in general is in need of an infusion of younger talent as all of these competitors are over 30 with some closer to 40. Stipe Miocic, likely Werdum’s first title challenger, is 32.
A disappointing loss for Cain Velasquez and his fans, such as I, but an impressive victory for Fabricio Werdum, the new champion. Whether it was the lack of acclimation to the high altitude of the venue, or the fabled ‘ring rust’ of being out of competition for almost 2 years, or perhaps something to do with the training methods at the American Kickboxing Academy, known for its old-school, tough style and work ethic. Cain will have to regroup, and come back as a stronger, faster, and more efficient fighter.
Meanwhile those of us on the sidelines reluctantly congratulate the new king, acknowledging the skill of his performance. We have a new champion.