With only eight days before the biggest fight of his life, UFC heavyweight contender
Not only is he fighting one of the true legends of the sport in
The magnitude of the event is not lost on the 27-year-old California native. A lot is riding on this bout, his undefeated streak, and most importantly a chance to inch closer towards an eventual UFC heavyweight title shot.
In a way, Velasquez is a throwback to fighters like Nogueira. He goes about his work, lets his actions do the talking for him, and isn't the type of guy who is going to let the world know what he is doing every waking minute of his life.
Instead, Velasquez is content to go home at night and spend time with his girlfriend and daughter
The mere mention of his daughter's name and Velasquez's mood brightens up. Fatherhood has obviously been good to him.
"Being a father is awesome man, I love getting to see her grow and pick up new things all the time," Velasquez said. "It's great, because no matter how hard of a practice I may have had or whatever problems I may be going through, I get to go home and see her smiling face."
Soon afterward, the focus returns to his preparation for what is by far the biggest fight of his career. Nogueira is the only man to hold both the UFC and Pride heavyweight titles. He's fought a Who's Who of the greatest heavyweights in MMA history. Nogueira is well known for coming back from the brink of defeat with stunning last-minute submissions.
"My training is going really good, we brought in a few BJJ black belts who can emulate Nogueira's style," Velasquez said. "We brought in some guys who were around his size. We have been concentrating on some of the positions I may find myself in during the fight. Obviously my goal is to stay out of the bad spots, but at this point I feel comfortable no matter where the fight goes. I feel really good going into this fight."
Velasquez is known in MMA circles for being tenacious and having a gas tank that never seems to run on empty. What is it about his body and/or training regimen that allows him to push forward as such a frenetic pace?
"I start training in the morning and continue on into the evening, with a few breaks in between," Velasquez said. "Whether it's team training, MMA training, cardio, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, for me it doesn't matter I know that I am going to go all out and put in a hard day's work. As far as my cardio is concerned, I feel as though I have always had that something extra.
"I attribute it to my parents; I grew up watching them work hard. They always told me if I set my mind on something and work really hard, I can achieve anything. I still believe that, they ingrained in me an incredible work ethic."
One question that doesn't seem to get asked a lot is how Velasquez wound up at the American Kickboxing Academy while his Arizona State teammates,
"I had told
"I consider my coaches very good friends and they have never let me down, from the time I met them in high school until my last days at ASU. I trust them completely, so whatever they said was good for me, I was going to believe them. It's worked out pretty well thus far."
The conversation turned to
"For a guy having no prior experience, it was amazing at how fast he picked it up. He put so much time in at the gym and worked so hard. He is a naturally gifted athlete, he loves competition and he loves to train. It was a great experience."
A lot has been made of Velasquez's wrestling going up against the amazing jiu-jitsu of Nogueira, but Velasquez, a purple belt in jiu-jitsu himself, is content to fight in any position.
"I am prepared to handle any situation that arises and will fight wherever the fight goes, but like in all my other fights, I want to be the one in control. I want to be in charge, if the fight is kept on the feet, then I want to be the one who dictates that the fight remains standing.
"I plan on pushing the pace and taking the fight wherever I want to take it. I am confident in every aspect of my game. I may have only seven fights under my belt, but I am improving, you are always going to see a better Cain Velasquez each and every time out."
Speaking of his experience level, Velasquez talked about one of the most important lessons he has learned.
"I learned a lot in the fight with
Nogueira's battles during his days with Pride are legendary, and he has battled some great wrestlers in the past, in fact two of his five losses have come to wrestlers
"I am not sure those fights would give me anything that I could learn from, they are in the past," Velasquez said. "The Nogueira of today is a better fighter than the Nogueira of yesterday. He has evolved right along with the sport. He is certainly not the same fighter. I will look at tapes of his bouts in the UFC and see what I can learn from them."
Calm and collected describes Velasquez pretty well. No one would be surprised if he had some butterflies being in a fight of this magnitude, but Velasquez is taking this all in stride.
"To be honest I don't feel any added pressure, I am taking this as I would any other fight," Velasquez said. "I know what I need to do and how to get there. The only thing that will change is I will need to get acclimated to the time difference, but I will have an opportunity to get used to it as we are leaving about 10 days early. It took me about a day to get used to the time difference when I fought at UFC 99 in Germany."
Velasquez shares a very specific trait with Nogueira, and that is he has a lot of resolve and intestinal fortitude. That was never more evident than in his fight with Kongo who rocked him on a few occasions.
"I believe it comes from my heart, I truly believe that you would have to kill me to defeat me. I put my life on the line inside the octagon and I am going to keep fighting until my hand is raised."
Now that UFC heavyweight champion
With a win over a fighter of Nogueira's stature, one would have to believe that Velasquez would have earned a shot at the title anyway, but does he feel he should get the first crack at Lesnar regardless?
"I am ready for whatever they have in store for me; I will do whatever the UFC asks me to do," Velasquez said. "I never really think about what is going to happen after a fight, my focus is on the task at hand. If I keep winning, things will take care of themselves."
While Velasquez may be patient, a side of him had to feel a bit slighted that Carwin was afforded a shot at Lesnar first after being pulled out of their match-up at UFC 104.
"At first I was a little disappointed, but that quickly went away when they offered me the bout with Ben Rothwell. At that point all of my focus and energy turned towards Rothwell. Right now I am not in a rush, eventually I will be in the position to fight for a championship whether it is now or somewhere down the road. I will continue to get better and grow as a fighter, the title shots will come."
A two time All-American at Arizona State, Velasquez's wrestling credentials speak for themselves. Nogueira obviously understands who he is getting into the cage with and has enlisted the services of UFC middleweight Mark Munoz and Strikeforce light heavyweight contender Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal to help him prepare for Velasquez. It's only natural to ask how he compares his wrestling to that of Munoz and Lawal.
"Both Lawal and Munoz are very talented wrestlers, I would say we are all pretty equal and on the same level. He's brought in a few people to try and emulate my style, it's only natural."
Most MMA fans think very fondly of Velasquez, they appreciate the hard work he puts in and enjoy the tenacity in which he fights with. One would have to wonder if going up against a legend in the sport, someone who is as revered as Nogueira would cause the fans to switch allegiances for this bout.
Fans may feel as though Velasquez has plenty of time left to contend for championships, while Nogueira may not see many more opportunities like this.
"You have a good point there, that could certainly be true, but I never really expected everyone to like me. I feel like it's my time now and I am trying to win every fight, regardless of who it's against. My goal is to win and that is what I am going to do."
Going back to the wealth of experience and battles of attrition that Nogueira has been through, what does Velasquez have that Nogueira hasn't seen before?
"I bring a lot to the table, the constant pressure, my cardio, my wrestling and the ability to dictate where the fight is going to go. He hasn't seen a guy like me before."
So we have here the ultimate battle of the grizzled veteran going up against the hungry young lion, a fighter who may be going for one last shot at glory taking on a fighter who says it's his time to shine.
We've seen it before, the story is not new, but the participants certainly are. Will the jiu-jitsu of Nogueira allow him to add another victim to his hit list or will the superior wrestling coupled with an unmatched combination of tenacity and ferociousness move Velasquez closer to the top of the mountain?
It's a question that will be on the minds of mixed martial arts fans until the decision has been rendered.