When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez steps into the Octagon at UFC 188 this weekend (Sat., June 13, 2015) in Mexico City, Mexico. It will be almost two years since he defended his belt against Junior dos Santos at UFC 166.
Velasquez, 32, was set to defend his belt against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180 in Nov. 2014, but unfortunately, the champion suffered a torn meniscus and a sprained MCL in his right knee, which required surgery and put him on the shelf and out of the title match.
So, he would have to watch Werdum defeat Mark Hunt to become UFC's interim division champion in his absence. But, there was some fortune in his favor. The Mexican-American fighter was obviously bummed in November that he would miss UFC's first trek into Mexico.
However, timing was on his side for UFC 188 and the promotion's return South of the Border.
"It's great," Velasquez told MMAmania.com recently. I'm excited that I'm finally here. I definitely want to fight here and I was able to fight, and I'm glad the UFC got this all squared away. I'm happy to be here and happy the fight is in a couple of days. I'm excited."
Velasquez is already in Mexico City, finishing up his last two weeks of training camp and getting acclimated to the change in altitude, something he said "doesn't affect" him much. Known for his cardio and ability to keep up an incredible pace while he fights, the California-based fighter has trained there before and said he is very pleased with his current camp overall.
"I've been here a bunch of times and I've worked out here a bunch times, and I've never really felt a big difference," he explained. "I didn't think I needed to be out here a month or two months before my fight. Two weeks is fine.
"My training camp has been good, so I'm happy about that. My sparring came along good. I've improved since the last fight, so that is always good motivation, just that you are always improving. Everything is good."
In regard to injuries, the heavyweight champion has missed plenty of time during his UFC career. In fact, the UFC 188 fight versus Werdum will only the champion's sixth fight since 2010. Despite that fact -- and also heavy criticism of the American Kickboxing Academy's training methods by UFC president Dana White -- Velasquez just pushes forward and continues on.
He's not worried about getting hurt again. For him, "if it happens, it happens," he says.
"When I go to practice I don't have it in the back of my head 'oh I could get hurt I have to be careful,'" he continued. "No, we come in with the same mentality as we do whenever we have in the cage and that is to go out 100 percent and just do our thing. If we get hurt in the process than we get hurt in the process. We don't have that fear in the back of our minds that we are going to get hurt. We always have the mentality of getting in there to fight."
Werdum has been outspoken recently and in the UFC 188 preview, claimed his interim title is the "real belt."
The champion was asked to respond to Werdum's claim.
"UFC didn't give him the real belt because they didn't think he was the champ, so, I mean, he's not... There's a title that comes with that: 'interim champion,' it's not the real one," Velasquez said. "With all of that, just set it aside and on the 13th we are going to settle it and that is what I'm excited about."
WIth a win over Werdum, Velasquez will set the UFC record with three consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses. Regardless of Werdum's talk of being the real champ, the actual champ does respect his adversary and pointed out some of the Brazilian's strengths.
"He is definitely good everywhere," said Velasquez. "He has improved. He throws a lot of kicks. He throws a lot of funky stuff also: he'll throw a lot of knees, spinning back kicks, spinning back fists. It's definitely a tough matchup."
While Werdum has made steady progress and vast improvements in regards to his striking acumen under Rafael Cordeiro, it's the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt's guard that is the fear of many an opponent. Velasquez is known for his wrestling and at times overwhelming top game, where he sets up shop and hammers away at his opponents.
He is aware of where Werdum's strengths lie, but he isn't having any sleepless nights worrying about being submitted.
"I'm not concerned, but definitely something we have to be aware of and be ready for," Velasquez said. "Just watching the fight between him and Mark Hunt, Hunt was in his guard and wasn't in any trouble at all. Mark Hunt won the whole fight except for that last knee at the end. So, again, he is a guy that is always dangerous. We're not afraid of anywhere that we fight him, but we have to be conscious of it and just be ready."
At 13-1, everyone has seen what Velasquez is capable and he is considered far and above the rest of the division for a reason. Whether it's his endless gas tank, forward aggression, or relentless effort to secure takedowns, the viewers and his opponents know exactly what's coming as soon as the fight begins.
"Our game plan is no secret, we want to go forward and put a lot of pressure on him, overwhelm him with punches and kicks," he said. "That's what we've done in past fights and that is what we are going to do with this one."
Daniel Cormier, the training partner and close friend of the heavyweight champion recently defeated Anthony Johnson to win the UFC light heavyweight championship, bringing the second UFC title to AKA. Velasquez was, of course, more than thrilled for him.
"Definitely. When we got the call that 'DC' would be fighting we were excited," he said. "He went out and got the win. He's the light heavyweight champion. It's awesome. Whenever he first started fighting that was the plan and I'm glad it worked out."
With two titles in tow at AKA, and other teammates like Luke Rockhold and Khabib Nurmagomedov, Velasquez said they're looking to add a couple more to the mantle in the San Jose, California gym.
"Our goal is four."