Talk about your bunk luck.
Cain Velasquez was the UFC’s first class ticket to Mexico. Dana White said time and again that the Octagon wouldn’t go to Mexico without its heavyweight champion. Velasquez, an unflinching Mexican-American go-machine with a prominent Brown Pride tattoo and a lot of reach, was the lever controlling the Mexican floodgates. He was perfect centerpiece to display in a long coveted market. In fact, he was the only centerpiece.
"Was" because on Tuesday the whole idea of that became past tense.
Velasquez hurt his knee in training and won’t be staking his belt against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180 on Nov. 15 in Mexico City. And that truly sucks. If there was ever a situation where a fighter couldn’t afford to get hurt and plucked from the card, this was the one. Despite the UFC’s careful planning to tailor the event around Velasquez, the match and the fuse just couldn't come together. Now the UFC will have to head south of the border without Cain Velasquez after all.
And it’s a bummer for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is this: Mexico, with its rich history in combat sports, just became a neutral site for an interim title between New Zealander Mark Hunt and the Brazilian Werdum.
As great as Hunt-Werdum is -- and it is a damn good substitute, especially with that placeholder gold in play -- it’s no longer about the blood of Mexico. Velasquez and Mexico, especially after the groundwork laid down with The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, were the stars of UFC 180. Velasquez and Mexico were intertwined, in the same way that Conor McGregor and Ireland are, and Georges St-Pierre and Canada. For a card meant to rev a national spirit -- especially one as exploratory as Mexico’s -- the news of Velasquez’s withdrawal comes across as an extra-strength kind of buzzkill.
For fans and the UFC alike.
It’s made worse because Erik "Goyito" Perez, the UFC’s first Mexican born fighter who embodied the luchador, had to pull out of the card with an injury, too. That leaves Ricardo Lamas, a Mexican-American from Chicago, Kelvin Gastelum (at least we get "Mini Cain!") and Diego Sanchez, who fights Joe Lauzon. It was Sanchez that got left doing the heavy-lifting when the UFC catered an event to Quinton Jackson at UFC 107 in his native Memphis, you might remember, only to have "Rampage" sneak off and take the role of "B.A." Baracus in The A-Team movie. Sanchez lost to B.J. Penn, and Jackson finally fought Rashad Evans at UFC 114 five months later on the neutral grounds in Vegas.
In other words, the UFC has seen its share of fight card blueprints get lost in the fire over the last few years.
It’s a harsh reality that never sucks any less despite the frequency in which it happens.
This case is a little like the time Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson suffered a cut above his eye a week before a fight card in Stockholm, and his fellow countryman Ilir Latifi was asked to stand in against Gegard Mousasi on four day’s notice. Only, there aren’t any Mexican Latifi's lying around; there are just Super Samoan’s like Hunt who, to his credit, can dish out siestas with the best of them.
And this time it’s a pay-per-view, which have been hit particularly hard this year.
The more you watch the UFC, the more you have to admire the company’s resiliency to disaster. Velasquez is the last in a long line of suddenly nullified high hopes. Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier turned the MGM Grand lobby into a scene from Road House, making it the most anticipated fight of the year…only to be postponed a week later when Jones hurt his leg. T.J. Dillashaw was supposed to rematch Renan Barao, and instead got Joe Soto in UFC 177’s main event. UFC 175 was supposed to get some version of the Chael Sonnen-Vitor Belfort-Wanderlei Silva triptych, instead it got high-flying red flags. Ditto UFC 173, which was also supposed to get Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort (who turned into Lyoto Machida), but Weidman hurt his knee. Even at the beginning of the year, UFC 169 was meant to be the return of Dominick Cruz. It wasn’t. Cruz tore his groin and in stepped Urijah Faber.
On and on.
It’s to the point that matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby are constantly dancing while a pistol is being fired at their feet. It’s a game of revision. When matches are made, what the fighters are agreeing to is an intention. In many cases, even the best intentions -- like rolling out Cain Velasquez like a red carpet in Mexico -- just don’t pan out as planned.
Everybody knows that by now. But it still sort of sucks.