The amount of build-up bestowed upon Cain Velasquez leading up to UFC 99 bordered on "enough already." But when it was learned that Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic refused to replace Heath Herring against Velasquez, it spoke volumes about a reputation that has preceded Cain ever since he signed with the UFC.
As overhyped as some thought Velasquez was, the pounding he put on Cheick Kongo was a tipping point for him becoming a credible name among UFC fans. Credit fellow Mexican-American fighter Miguel Torres for declaring it would be Cain’s coming-out party.
Cheick Kongo is no certainly no slouch. He was considered top five in the heavyweight division. Minus a few devastating head shots dished out by Kongo, Velasquez grounded him for three full rounds.
No one will claim Cain is perfect -- including himself. In our post fight interview with the talented up-and-comer, we asked him why he was disappointed with his most recent performance.
"I was disappointed with my stand-up game. I need to improve upon that aspect. I went after Kongo, which wasn’t part of the game plan. I will go back and work on my footwork and head movement. I am still new in my career and still need to gain some experience.
Overall I am satisfied. I got the win. I just know that I am not where I need to be. I know I can get a lot better and will get a lot better. It was an average performance. I didn’t stick to my game plan so I made the fight a lot harder than it had to be."
Two components of his game that did not disappoint were his wrestling and cardio. Velazquez used his collegiate mat experience to take away Kongo’s advantage in the stand-up game while his cardio allowed him to grind out a decision win fought mostly on the ground.
"It was fun to finally get to showcase my wrestling abilities in a fight. Kongo is known for not having good takedown defense so that was part of the game plan. We knew the fight would be won there. Getting those big body slams in was fun. Kongo is big but when you have been training to do that for years, it is actually a lot easier then it looks.
As far as my cardio, I knew that it would be there. It allowed me to push the pace throughout the fight."
Everyone who watched the fight couldn’t help but notice the shots that Kongo used to momentarily stun Velasquez with. Fortunately for Cain, he recovered quickly enough to use that wrestling to get the fight where he needed it to be.
"I was never worried about being knocked out but yeah, the shots he landed stunned me. I was able to snap out of it though and do my job."
In his previous interview with MMAmania.com, Cain stated he would love to pull off an armbar in the Octagon while adding that a rear naked choke would be less likely given his style. But that’s exactly what he put himself in a position to do during the fight until Kongo escaped.
"I wanted to finish the fight with a submission but I couldn’t set it up exactly like I needed to. I couldn’t get my hooks all the way in. He was able to scramble and roll out."
While Velasquez spent most of the fight in Kongo’s guard, grounding and pounding on the powerless kickboxer, some saw his inability to finish the fight as a weak spot.
"I was able to beat and bloody him but Kongo is as tough as they come. Kongo has never been manhandled like that in a fight before. I do need to find more explosiveness and power for my ground and pound. It will come with experience like everything else. Kongo earned my respect though. He took that fight on less then a month’s notice."
People are already speculating on Cain's next opponent after passing the biggest hurdle in his young mixed martial arts career. One such foe could be fellow undefeated heavyweight Shane Carwin.
For Velasquez, he is less concerned about his next opponent and more focused on improving his own game.
"It doesn’t really matter to me who I face next. Kongo is one of the best out there. I knew after this fight my opponents would just keep getting tougher. I’m ready to climb the heavyweight ladder one fight at a time. I will let the UFC decide who they want me to fight next. I will keep training and improve on the areas that need improvement. I will be ready for when that next fight comes."
While it may be prudent for Zuffa to protect both Carwin and Velasquez by giving them different opponents, it is unlikely they can do that for much longer. Both guys are now in the top six in the division while the other four are already booked for fights this summer.
Unless the UFC is willing to feed them lower ranked opponents while UFC 100 and 102 play out, a Cain Velasquez vs. Shane Carwin fight may be coming to a pay-per-view near you later this year.