Southwest Scene: Cain is Able

By Tommy Messano May 5, 2008
There's no buzz like heavyweight buzz.

Cain Velasquez (Pictures)'s UFC debut in Montreal drew a considerable amount of press for an undercard bout.

The reason? The UFC's heavyweight division is in need of youthful prospects to bulk up its ranks, and Velasquez fits the bill: All American wrestling honors at a major D-1 university plus two years of training at American Kickboxing Academy.

The jump to MMA was a carefully crafted career move that Velasquez had been contemplating since his junior year at Arizona State University. College wrestling coach Tom Ortiz had a simple plan and some San Jose connections for Velasquez.

"He told me get done with wrestling, get done with school and I will figure something out for you," Velasquez recalled. "I have always known that I wanted to fight. Even while wrestling in college, I told my coach, Tom Ortiz, that when I was finished wrestling that I wanted to fight. Wrestling was fun, but something was always missing and something inside of me always wanted to hit people."

Ortiz and MMA agent DeWayne Zinkin arranged for Velasquez to fly to the Bay area and try out at AKA after he had graduated. Under the tutelage of trainers Bob Cook and Javier Mendez, Velasquez's raw athletic talents have since been transformed into an MMA-ready skill set.

Now the 25-year-old heavyweight, who has just three professional fights to his credit, is excited to be on a regular fight schedule that will allow him to showcase the talent that may become the future of the UFC heavyweight division.

"I want to get back in the cage as soon as possible -- whenever I can get another fight," Velasquez said. "Right now I am headed back into the gym to train. That's all I am going to do is train."

The Cowboy and the Cage

WEC lightweight Donald Cerrone (Pictures) is training for his June 1 bout against Richard Crunkilton (Pictures). Coming off an eight-month suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for testing positive for the diuretic Hydrochlorothiazide, Cerrone is eager to fight the former WEC lightweight title hopeful.

"I'm excited that I'm matched up with a tough opponent. That way I can gauge where my skill level is now," said Cerrone, a bull rider turned MMA fighter who currently resides in a dorm room located just above the Team Greg Jackson gym in Albuquerque, N.M.

Painting his long layoff in a positive light, Cerrone said he used the time for self-reflection and personal improvement.

"Looking at it now, it gave me time to reflect on everything I was lacking," he said. "There were a lot of things I needed to work on with myself and within the sport. It was kind of a blessing in disguise. I'm glad we have a commission that won't allow people to do these types of things in our sport."

The muay Thai fighter, who is 7-0 with seven submission wins, is not nicknamed "Cowboy" for nothing. Cerrone chose MMA as his occupation, but his eyes light up when you talk about his other passion: bull riding.

He downplays comparing the adrenaline rush you get from bull riding to that of MMA, though he does draw from his cowboy life to put prefight jitters into context.

"The bull is literally trying to kill you," Cerrone explained. "That is 1,900 pounds of raw, mean, animal. It's different, but the nerves are the same. When you're sitting on a bull and its muscles are twitching, ready to be released -- it knows what it wants to do. The same thing happens when you're standing across the cage with somebody. Your emotions are the same."

Waterson to EliteXC

Team Jackson fighter Michelle Waterson recently signed a six-fight deal with EliteXC, bolstering the promotion's women's division. Don't expect her to be matched up against Gina Carano (Pictures) or Tonya Evinger (Pictures) anytime soon, though.

"Most of the girls who fight for EliteXC are out of my weight class," said Waterson, who is coming off a decision loss in the standup promotion XFA and holds a 2-2 record in her young MMA career. "There is a small amount of girls who fight at 105 or 115. There is a list of girls I want to fight, but it's up to coach. He knows best."

With the heightened expectations that come with fighting for a bigger promotion, Waterson has surrounded herself with the right group of people to manage her career. Moving to Albuquerque has proven to be the best decision she could make after her stint on the reality show "Fight Girls."

She recalls the exact moment when she turned from ex-reality show contestant into Jackson's submission fighting teammate. Following weeks of her body adjusting to the rigors of training, an unexpected broken nose helped Waterson turn the corner on her mental approach to MMA.

"Within the first month I was here, I gotten broken down and I would almost doubt myself as a fighter," she said. "Coach Jackson pulled me into his office because he could tell that something was wrong with me. I told him I really want to be here and I really want to be a fighter, but I don't know if I'm tough enough.

"He told me if I wasn't tough enough, I wouldn't be here in the first place. ‘You're working out with the best in the world and you're here for a reason.' At that point I knew I belonged."

Southwest Calendar

5/10: Kickdown 50, Red Lion Hotel, Denver, CO
5/16: Warriors Collide, Pueblo Convention Center, Pueblo, CO
5/31: Full Moon Fighting II, FLG Stadium, Puerto Penasco, MX
5/31: RITC 110, Celebrity Theater, Phoenix, AZ
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