So the concept of perfection in sports is difficult to quantify, explain and achieve. Nonetheless, it's what motivates rising heavyweight star Cain Velasquez, who faces Ben Rothwell (30-6) at UFC 104 on Oct. 24.
Despite his 6-0 record with five stoppages, Velasquez remains his own worst critic as he continues his ascent to what he hopes will soon be a date with the heavyweight championship on the line. The new father of 4 1/2 month old daughter Coral recently took some time to talk to FanHouse about his demanding personality, switching opponents from Shane Carwin to Rothwell, and his response to critics.
Mike Chiappetta: You were supposed to fight Carwin in a contenders match. Were you upset at the opponent switch?
Cain Velasquez: You know what? For a little bit, but you can't dwell on stuff like that. You've got a new opponent in front of you, and you've got to get ready for him. You can't dwell on what happened and what got changed. I was upset for a little bit but I got over it right away because I had to get ready for Ben.
Carwin is higher up the ladder in the UFC pecking order than Rothwell, who is making is UFC debut. What are your feelings on that?
With Ben's experience... He's had over 30 fights and only lost a few, so how can you say that? Just because he fought in a different organization? You can't really say that. He's just as dangerous as anybody else.
True, but in some ways though, it's more risk for you. He has been very successful but because he hasn't fought on the UFC stage, he's not as well known as some other fighters.
I guess in that way you can say it but I think when IFL was out there, people knew who he was. I can't really control what people think however. This is who I'm fighting and I have to prepare for a very good fighter.
Did the switch affect your preparation at all? You were preparing for one guy and then had to switch up. And while they both like standup, Rothwell's wrestling probably isn't on Carwin's level.
Not really, we're still preparing for hard-hitting guys, good standup guys with a lot of power. It didn't really affect anything. They're both two guys that are bigger than me, so you can look at it in a similar way.
Which part of his game takes up the most preparation?
Just standup. His standup has always been good. He fought in the IFL and you can tell he's always liked the standup. That's where he's comfortable at.
Overall, are you pleased with your progression up the UFC ladder?
Yes, I am but I still want to get better and better. I'm not where I need to be as far as where my overall skills are yet.
What kinds of things are you working?
Nothing in particular but I feel like everything can get better. We have Olympic caliber guys. Guys who've been on the US Olympic team like [Strikeforce heavyweight] Daniel Cormier. Training with him, I'm expecting my wrestling to get better. I'm expecting to get better in all aspects of MMA. My wrestling is there, but I could still get better at everything pretty much.
You mentioned Daniel Cormier. How long has he trained with you and what's your assessment of him this early in his career.
For about a month so far. He's a great guy, he picks up stuff real quick. He's a fighter at heart. This transition is pretty easy for him. He hasn't done this sport for long, but he's learning a lot, picking it up quick. He's explosive, a quick learner and super strong.
I think people forget you're only six fights into your MMA career. Are you entirely comfortable in the cage now? You're giving up a lot of experience to some guys.
I'm comfortable. I think my wrestling background helped me get comfortable with competition with a lot of people watching. I don't feel like I'm too off where nerves get the best of me. Even with my first fight, there was a huge crowd in Montreal, and I didn't feel that way.
I was at that fight in Montreal, and right from the beginning there were big expectations about you. Were you always aware of the buzz?
I don't really listen to that stuff. I don't pay attention to the people on the internet. People say what they're going to say, and they expect me to do big things, but I expect big things from myself. It doesn't matter what people say; I've got to go out and do it, perform well. It's up to me to perform well regardless of what people say. Everything else doesn't matter.
We established that you don't read the internet for MMA news, but I do want to ask you about some of the criticsm that comes from there. In your last fight with Cheick Kongo, he hit you hard a couple of times, and even though you won that fight, there are those who question your ability to take a punch from some of the really big heavyweights. How do you respond to those doubters?
I think I took his best punch. He hit me clean twice in the perfect spot and didn't knock me out. I'm working on that, to avoid getting hit. If they say my chin's not there, they're wrong. I think Cheick Kongo has the best standup right now among MMA heavyweights. He has a lot of power. If he was fighting anybody else... I think he would've knocked out a lot of people with that.
After a couple years of striking training I don't think anyone can expect you to simply outstrike someone like Kongo, but are you satisfied with your standup at this point?
No I'm not happy with it yet. I won't be happy with it until it's perfect. Who knows when that's going to be or if that happens. That's just kind of the way I am.
Are you your own worst critic?
Yeah, definitely. Even though I won, I may be pretty happy with the result, but not the way my standup looked. That's why I'm not happy.
Is that what motivates you?
That's one of the things for sure. I want to go out and perform well. The goal is to perform well, but if there are little things I did wrong, I'm still going to dwell on that thing rather than the whole exciting win. That's just the way I am.
Doesn't that take the fun out of it?
It kind of does but competing this long, I expect better from myself.
Which one of your fights do you look back on as your best? You've had stoppages in five of six fights.
Each win, there's always something wrong I pick out of it, so I'm never completely happy. So I don't know. If and when I get that perfect fight, man, I don't think it'll ever happen.
Explain your perfect fight.
Just being technically perfect, my timing being there, my explosiveness being there. Being a step ahead of my opponent, technically and on the feet and on the ground. Not making one mistake. That'll be perfect.
In theory you could be one fight away from a title shot. Say you get there and win the title. Are you going to be able to enjoy that or will you obsess on what you did wrong?
I'll be happy but focus on what I did wrong so I'll keep improving for the next guy. Each fight is harder and harder. I need to keep improving for the next fight.
Where does a win over Rothwell put you?
I have no idea. It all depends on what the UFC says where I'm at. For me it's like who knows. It all depends on them. If they don't think I'm ready yet and give me somebody else, that's fine. If they think I am ready, that's fine, too. I'll be ready for whoever is champ at that time.
They'll have their opinion, but you have yours, too. If you beat Rothwell, do you think you're ready for the Carwin-Brock Lesnar winner?
I definitely think so. For the Kongo fight, he was in line for a title shot. I took him out of that. After him, who else is there to fight? I was going to fight Shane, and they moved him up. I think I'm getting right to the end of the guys who are the cream of the crop. I don't know how much higher I need to go to get that shot.
Who did you think will win the Carwin-Lesnar fight?
For me I think it's a tossup on the feet. Both guys have lots of power but I think for sure Lesnar has a bettter chance to take the fight to the ground. If he does, I think it's him. But on their feet, it's a tossup between them.
Being a former D-I wrestler, explain to me why Lesnar (a former D-1 champ) is a better wrestler than Carwin (a former D-II champ).
Just his overall explosiveness I've seen in previous fights. That and the way he controls people on the ground. The amount of power he has on the ground. Just from seeing that, I expect his wrestling to be better.
Which would you rather face, Carwin or Lesnar?
For me, it woulndn't matter. I consider them the same type of fighter. It wouldn't matter. Whoever is the champ at the time.
Both of those guys are behemoth heavies who you'll give up a lot of weight to. How hard is it going to be fighting them?
It's tough but I'm used to it. With college wrestling the weight limit was 285. I was wrestling guys that big, and I was weighing the same as I am now (around 240). I've experienced it. It's tough but I've got to deal with it because I'm in this weight class.
There's no way you can fight at 205?
I never dropped down so I don't know how I could. Right now this is where I'm staying at.
On to another heavyweight. Herschel Walker mentioned that he'll train for his Strikeforce debut with AKA. What's he in for there? Does he know what he's getting himself into?
Really hard-nosed training. It' not a soft gym, we prepare our bodies hard for the fight. Fighting's tough, that's what we do. Hard practice. We have great coaches. Good conditioning. If you're serious about it, come to our gym for sure. I know him being the athlete that he is, he's going to love it. He'll fit right in. I think it's going to be good.
What about him fighting at 47?
The age, you never know how guys will adapt coming off another sport. He could be really good or not. I'll just expect the best. He is a little older for our sport, but if he works hard and his body reacts like it did when he was younger, he's a great athlete, so he'll adapt to the sport.
I know you're a new dad. What's that experience been like so far and how much more motivation does it for you to be responsible for a family?
It's awesome. It's a great experience spending time with my family. As far as motivation, I never really had trouble with the motivation part. I do want to be able to provide well for my family. I will do that but it's fun. It's fun and a great time. I love it.