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A Year Later, It's the Same Place but a Different Scene for Cain Velasquez

Cain VelasquezROSEMEAD, Calif. -- If it feels like we've been here before, that's because we have. Just a little over a year ago, in fact, and in this same exact place. That was a very different fight week -- big for different reasons. It was the Brock Lesnar show, and that show went where it pleased and performed on its own terms.

Back then, when it was time for the main card fighters at UFC 121 to go through the plodding PR paces of the open workout, Lesnar was nowhere to be found. But Cain Velasquez, then the challenger for the heavyweight title, still had to show up at the UFC gym in Rosemead and be a good soldier, which is exactly what he did.

Nearly 13 months later, Velasquez is back here against a very different opponent in a very different fight, but some things haven't changed.

At around noon on Thursday afternoon the UFC heavyweight champ strolls into the same exact gym with the same unassuming air that he had last year. And, just like last year, he had his fans there waiting for him, waving Mexican flags and cheering him on as he stepped in the cage to throw a few perfunctory punches and kicks at the air for the sake of the cameras.

But this time it's not about the celebrity of one of the participants. Bizarrely, it's not even really about the heavyweight title. Sure, it's there. It's a part of the package, but it feels more like an accessory than the real prize. How can you tell? Just listen to the questions he's peppered with as he moves down the seemingly endless media assembly line.

Are you nervous about representing the UFC and the sport of MMA itself on network TV? Are you feeling the pressure from your boss, from the fans? In other words, are you freaking out yet, or are you going to wait until later?

And for whatever reason -- maybe because it's true, or maybe just because his fighter's instinct is to resist pressure rather than succumb to it -- the champ refuses to play along. He's not especially nervous, he says. It's just another fight. He doesn't think about the stakes involved or the millions who'll be watching. He won't even admit to feeling the pressure of the champion or the betting favorite.

"I feel like every time I go out to fight, I'm always the underdog," he insists.

His trainer, Javier Mendez, stands nearby chatting with reporters and looking up with genuine surprise when nearby fans want their pictures taken with them.

"This is all your guys' fault," he grumbles to the reporters before going over to fulfill his obligations as a newfound semi-celebrity. This didn't happen back before he was known as the champ's trainer, but such is the brave new world he finds himself in, for better or worse.

Velasquez's opponent, Junior dos Santos, who shows up for his workout more than an hour later, also won't admit to feeling the heat. If anything, he does an even better job of selling his media tormenters on how relaxed he is, smiling through the multitude of interviews as if he's actually having an okay time.

"When you are nice, nice things happen to you," he explains, as if it's the simplest, most obvious philosophy in the world. Like, haven't you guys figured that out by now?

When asked how he managed to go from MMA neophyte to heavyweight title challenger on live network TV in just six years, he answers quickly: "Work. And be nice."

You want outsized egos and superstar personalities? You want guys at each others' throats? Too bad. Regardless of what you want, this is what you're getting. It'll have to be good enough, at least for now.

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