The most important moment of Cain Velasquez's career, and it was all over in 64 seconds.
It may seem like ages ago now, but in reality less than a year has passed since Velasquez crumpled on the mat under a hailstorm of punches, forfeiting his heavyweight strap to Junior dos Santos in a surprisingly anticlimactic performance on the biggest stage in UFC history. Everyone was expecting something short, violent, and spectacular. But not like that.
"It's been eating at me for a while," Velasquez admitted through clenched teeth at a recent media luncheon. "[The loss] definitely did happen, and it hurt. It sucked. I've been waiting for a while to get revenge back."
For a while it looked tenuous, but Velasquez will now get his chance. Buoyed by a savagely bloody bounce-back win over Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, Velasquez held off a trash-talking, yet sidelined, Alistair Overeem to reclaim No. 1 contender status and earn a second shot at dos Santos at UFC 155. It's uncommon to see such an expedited title rematch, but in a top-heavy heavyweight division, Velasquez's credentials are hard to question.
Aside from Overeem and Velasquez's emerging training partner, Daniel Cormier, there are very few fighters in the division who carry such esteemed pedigree. In fact, with Velasquez, 30, and dos Santos, 28, so young in the sport and hitting their primes simultaneously, this pairing has the potential to stretch far into the decade and become one of MMA's next great rivalries.
"It possibly could," Velasquez conceded. "You've just got to take one fight at a time, see what happens. If we have more than two (fights against each other), then we have more than two."
It's not surprising that Velasquez refuses to look ahead. He's days away from kicking off the frenzy of training camp at San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, and by the time he climbs into the Octagon in December, the man who has just five fights in the past three years will have sat another seven months on the shelf.
The lengthy layoffs are frustrating, sure, but they also allow Velasquez to maximize his time.
"You definitely improve with the (longer) layoff," said Velasquez. "The most important thing is you're able to take your time to come back into training. When you rush it and everything else when you have a fight coming up, that's when you get injured. You're just piling on too much in the beginning, when it needs to be (little) steps going into your training camp."
Velasquez has dealt with a muddled medical history of his own, however his point is not one that falls on deaf ears. After an exasperating 12-month period that has seen an absurd number of high-profile fights collapse under the weight of injury dropouts, the idea that the UFC's non-stop schedule allows less recovery time is quickly becoming accepted as the new reality.
"It's just so easy to get hurt in this sport," Velasquez explained. "Whether it be cuts, your joints, bones, everything can mess up at any given time. The way that we train is just so much like a real fight.
"You definitely don't know (who's going to be on the card until fight night). Because guys, we're going to just be in the gym training our butts off, and that's it. We don't worry about getting hurt in the gym. We just don't. We go in, and we just try to get the best workout we can, compete against our teammates, because that's what we're doing. We're always trying to be the best even inside the gym. It's just so easy to get hurt."
As the words leave his mouth between bites of a seasoned-steak soft taco, Velasquez makes sure to add that he's finally 100-percent healthy for the first time in a long time. This is the fight he wanted, and now he has it. The hard part is done. He has re-watched the first UFC on FOX "a lot times," more times than he can count actually, agonizing over the few mistakes he managed to make in a minute's time.
That wasn't him, he says. The man he watches over and over on film was too anxious, too tentative. This time will be different, he promises. It has to be. If anything stands out, it's that Velasquez's belief in himself still stands strong. For the former champ, that belief is all that matters, even it isn't shared by some.
"What people are saying online doesn't mean anything," Velasquez concluded flatly. "You don't listen to it. You just focus on what you have to do.
"I don't ever think about the pressure. I know what I need to do, and I'm about to do it. That's it."
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