Cain Velasquez has been sidelined since October 2013. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Cain Velasquez will return to the Octagon for the first time in nearly 19 months when he faces Fabricio Werdum in a heavyweight title unification bout at UFC 188 in Mexico City.
After his most recent triumph, a lopsided thrashing of Junior dos Santos at UFC 166, Velasquez was mentioned in the same breath as Fedor Emelianenko as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. That discussion has quietly faded into the background in recent months, however, as the American Kickboxing Academy product dealt with numerous injuries since that victory.
The Mexican American fighter underwent surgery for a torn labrum suffered against dos Santos shortly thereafter, a procedure that kept him sidelined for most of 2014. He was expected to return against Werdum for the promotion’s maiden voyage to Mexico at UFC 180, but a torn meniscus forced him to withdraw from that contest. Velasquez is not the only AKA member to have experienced injury issues in recent years, which prompted UFC President Dana White to publicly question the respected camp’s training practices.
For his part, Velasquez says he has no plans to alter his approach to preparation in the future.
“I’ll keep it the same. It’s working. It’s not just us getting hurt. Other fighters are too,” Velasquez said in an interview on UFC Tonight. “We’re fighters. We spar. It takes a toll on the body. I’m 100 percent healthy now. I’m happy with the training camp.”
While Velasquez was absent, Werdum was able to capture the interim crown with a second-round technical knockout victory over Mark Hunt at UFC 180. The Brazilian grappling ace has displayed marked improvement in his striking during his second UFC go-round, a stint that has also included wins over the likes of Travis Browne, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Roy Nelson. In short, he has come a long way from the butt-scooting effort against Alistair Overeem that got him bounced from the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix in 2011.
“He’s a complete fighter. He punches, he kicks. He’s one of the best on the ground,” Velasquez said. “We know what we have to do to beat him. We have to apply a lot of pressure, a lot of punches and kicks.”
Still, Velasquez doesn’t put much stock in Werdum’s interim strap. The reigning heavyweight king has been as dominant as any champion in the promotion when healthy, which can sometimes be easy to forget when one has been absent for as long as Velasquez.
“He’s the interim champ,” Velasquez said. “He didn’t get the real belt, obviously. I’m happy to show everyone who the real champ is.”