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Javier Mendez: Cain Velasquez's knee surgery a success, but had 'more damage than anticipated'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With the news that heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez had suffered a knee injury in training, thus forcing him off his big main event title defense against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180 in Mexico City, the questions over his ability to stay healthy came flaring up again.

Velasquez last fought at UFC 166 in Houston in October 2013, when he defended his title in a trilogy fight with Junior dos Santos. In that fight he suffered a shoulder injury that kept him shelved for an extended period of time, and, in a roundabout way, led to him coaching opposite Werdum on The Ultimate Fighter Latin America. Before then, he’d suffered a shoulder injury against Brock Lesnar at UFC at UFC 121, and it came to light later than he fought Dos Santos the first time with a knee injury.

He suffered the only loss of his career that night in Anaheim.

Though Velasquez was nursing a knee injury during his training camp, he was still on schedule to defend his title on Nov. 15 until the latest setback. According to his head coach at AKA, Javier Mendez, who appeared on the Monday edition of The MMA Hour, Velasquez hurt himself further while defending a takedown.

"Originally he had a slight tear in the meniscus, but he was fine," Vasquez said. "He was training. He was doing everything necessary for the fight, everything was fine. The fight was going to go on. He was having great sparring sessions.

"And then he was working on sprawling drills, and it was a little slippery. As he went to sprawl he kind of went one way and his body went another way, and next thing I know I hear a yelp and I thought, oh crap. So, the combination of the MCL and the slight tear in the meniscus that was just kind of a little much."

Velasquez underwent surgery a couple of days ago to repair the MCL. While under the knife, they discovered the injury was more extensive than originally feared. 

"The surgery went well, but there was more damage than anticipated, which didn’t make sense to me because he’s so freaking tough," he told Ariel Helwani. "If Cain says ‘oww’ it must be a lot worse than he’s making it out to be, because that guy can take pain like I’ve never seen. So when it turned out that his MCL was worse, they put two anchors on it, it turns out he’ll be out a little longer than anticipated."

As for a timetable for how long Velasquez will be out, Mendez said he wasn’t entirely sure, but that the doctors were doing everything in their power to help accelerate the recovery. If all goes well, a springtime date in 2015 would be the goal.

"[Velasquez]’s on crutches right now," he said. "Two weeks on crutches, and then he’ll be on the knee brace for I believe six weeks. So, if you count all that, you can’t figure out the numbers."

Because of the latest injury, UFC 179 will now feature Mark Hunt standing in his stead against Werdum, and the bout will be for the interim title. Mendez said that he doesn’t think that Velasquez is particularly injury prone, but conceded that it’s part of Velasquez’s nature to push himself hard in training.

"He pushes beyond what other people do," he said. "But, that’s just who he is. How do you tell a fighter not to push himself. That’s who he is." 

Even with the setbacks due to injury and long layoffs, the 32-year old Velasquez is still thought to be among the greatest heavyweights in UFC history -- if not the greatest. He has tied the UFC record with having two title defenses in the division, and has won 11 of his 12 fights in the UFC (his overall record is 13-1).

Asked if he thought Velasquez would live up to his full potential with the rash of injuries, Mendez said he believed his champ will still become known as the greatest UFC heavyweight we’ve seen.

"If he had never got injured he’d be the greatest heavyweight of all time right now because of what the guy can do," he said. "What I do believe is that it’s just going to take longer for people to recognize him as the greatest. Even if he doesn’t get injured going forward, he still has a good…depending on him, he still has a good six to seven or eight years -- even ten years of fighting, if that’s what he chooses to do. So he’s still going to hit that goal of being the greatest of all time. Obviously, we can’t label him there. Not yet, because he needs more fights I think. He will get there. It’s just going to take a little longer."

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