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Former two-time UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez makes his pro wrestling debut at Lucha Libre AAA’s TripleMania card this Saturday in Mexico City.

Velasquez is a special attraction on the card, wrestling in a six-man tag with Cody Rhodes and Psycho Clown against Los Mercenarios Texano Jr. and Taurus, who will announce their mystery partner during the show.

An All-American wrestler at Arizona State, Velasquez was an elite talent, but never reached the heights of former NCAA Division I national champion Brock Lesnar. But Velasquez knocked out Brock Lesnar in 2010 to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship. The two-time UFC champ is now transitioning from the Octagon to the squared circle.

The 37-year-old Velasquez spoke with Sports Illustrated about AAA, his time training at WWE’s Performance Center, and his debut this Saturday at TripleMania.

Justin Barrasso:What led to your decision to enter pro wrestling? And why is AAA the right home?

Cain Velasquez: I grew up watching pro wrestling, and I’ve always loved it, especially lucha style wrestling. It’s something I’ve wanted to do, and I’m happy that I have this opportunity now to do it.

JB:You spent a few days in July 2018 training at WWE’s Performance Center. Was working for WWE ever a consideration?

CV: It was a consideration, but for me, lucha libre has a more special place in my heart, from everything to my nationality to where I grew up. I have so much pride for lucha libre, so it hits me closer to the heart.

JB:You obviously have history with Brock Lesnar, as you knocked him out to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship in 2010. Have you built a relationship over the years with Brock? Did he ever try to get you involved in pro wrestling?

CV: No, I don’t have a relationship with anybody I’ve competed against. MMA is tough. For me, I don’t really make friends. My opponents are my enemies. So [Brock] didn’t reach out. I went over to the WWE Performance Center in Florida about a year ago, trained out there, and got my feet wet. I’ve always liked it, I’ve always watched, but to actually go into the ring and do it, it feels perfect.

JB:There are a number of similarities between pro wrestling and MMA, including the necessary dedication and devotion to the craft, but one stark contrast is the mentality during competition. A successful fighter in the UFC wants to obliterate the opponent, while talented pro wrestlers need to work together in order to make each other look strong. What has the transition been like for you in training?

CV: It can be very similar, because styles make a fight. But you need to work together in order to make something great in wrestling.

JB:There are always connections between MMA and pro wrestling. In addition to Lesnar, another star fighter in Ronda Rousey made the transition to WWE. Did you watch Ronda’s run in pro wrestling?

CV: My 10-year-old daughter liked watching Ronda, and she loves the storyline behind it in WWE. My daughter loves the sport, the way they move, the way they wrestle. She’s even into lucha.

I’ve been getting my whole family involved. Even my year-and-a-half old son loves when it’s on the TV. My daughter and I practice together in the pool, and I sell for her when she kicks me in the gut.

JB:The last time you fought in Mexico City isn’t the greatest of memories [a 2015 defeat in the Octagon to Fabricio Werdum where Velasquez lost his UFC heavyweight title]. But what do you have as a goal for this Saturday’s Six-man tag with Cody Rhodes and Psycho Clown against Texano, Taurus, and a mystery partner?

CV: The goal for this Saturday is to show the passion that I have. I want to show people that I’m serious and that I belong here. I’m excited to be back in Mexico City with fans that have always supported me. I want to go out and f---ing perform for them. I have the opportunity to do that, and I’m excited to do that.

JB:Cody Rhodes is one of the biggest stars in the business. Has he helped you prepare for your debut?

CV: I haven’t worked out with Cody Rhodes, but I will spend more time with him this weekend.

JB:Is the match with AAA a one-off, or are you signed for more dates?

CV: My UFC contract allows me to do both. I can keep wrestling as long as I want, and I can keep fighting as long as I want. As far as the wrestling goes, there are two more events that I am for sure doing after TripleMania.

JB:Your background in UFC makes you an instant draw in wrestling. Would you ever want to perform in wrestling on weekly television? The new All Elite Wrestling promotion would be a phenomenal fit for you.

CV: Possibly. We’ll see what happens with this show, and I’m open to do more. I like it, it’s cool that I get to learn something new. I love what I’ve been doing so far, and what happens after this show? We’ll see, but why not keep doing it?

JB:You dedicated your appearance at TripleMania to the residents of Gilroy, California, who were just devastated by a mass shooting last weekend. What is your connection to the area?

CV: That’s my community, that’s my home. It hit the community really hard. It’s a shock, it’s disgusting. It is so senseless. It’s a lot of different emotions, but just so much shock that something like this could happen. So I’m dedicating my performance on Saturday to the people of Gilroy.

JB:What can we expect in the ring this Saturday from Cain Velasquez at TripleMania?

CV: You’re going to see an original—some of the Cain you’d normally see in MMA, some of the Cain from UFC and when I wrestled for Arizona State, and you’ll also see my training in lucha. I’m incorporating some new stuff I’ve learned, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.