Cain Velasquez may have only fought five times since he captured the UFC heavyweight championship from Brock Lesnar four years ago, but Velasquez's latest knee injury all but assures that 2014 will gain the dubious distinction of becoming the first calendar year of his UFC reign in which Velasquez fails to compete at least once.
This is the road it seems we've come to with Velasquez, a man many consider to be the most dominant heavyweight in UFC history, a potential Mexican-American crossover star like the sport has never seen before, but an athlete who increasingly can't seem to stay healthy enough to live up to his vast promise.
In this latest round of setbacks, Velasquez was slated to headline the UFC's grand entry into Mexico, UFC 180, right up until he wasn't. Now Velasquez is stuck once again on the sidelines, rehabbing another round of knee surgery, while the UFC perseveres this Saturday with a makeshift, glaringly non-Mexican interim heavyweight title fight.
"I've been through this before, so it sucks," Velasquez admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "But it's something that I have to do for my career. I tried everything I could do to make the fight, and I just couldn't."
Velasquez ruptured his MCL late last month while preparing for his fight against fellow The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America coach Fabricio Werdum, but even before the tear, Velasquez says he was struggling with a torn meniscus in the same knee. Given the importance of his main event slot at UFC 180, Velasquez still intended to fight with the meniscus injury, but ultimately the compounding MCL tear rendered that option impossible.
"I felt (like my knee) was pretty loose," Velasquez explained. "In training I felt like my body would switch one way but my leg would kinda stay in one direction. So I kinda felt like, it wasn't stable.
"It just sucked, you know what I mean. Going through practice everyday, and just limiting (myself), not really doing the stuff that I could do as far as rolling. I tried to roll, some days I could, some days I couldn't, and I just said, hey, I'm going to just baby it until I get two weeks out, and once I get two weeks out I'm going to try to do everything. Kick, be on the ground, it doesn't matter, but I'm going to do what I can to make the fight.
"And when I finally realized that I can't do it, it's just not working for me, it just sucked. It felt like something was destined, you know what I mean. Like, this is where I'm destined to be, I'm destined to fight on this card, and it just didn't turn out that way. So it was just kind of devastating to me."
Velasquez infamously fought with a grievous injury once before, and from that sprung his 64-second knockout loss to Junior dos Santos on the UFC's nationally televised FOX debut. To this day, the performance remains Velasquez's only documented loss, and he says he "made a promise" to himself that he would never make the same mistake again.
Now 32 years old and eyeing an uncertain 2015 timetable as he rehabilitates his rebuilt knee, Velasquez may ultimately be facing nearly two years of ring rust the next time he fights again. But while his situation is far from ideal, Velasquez isn't among those who wonder whether his failing body will ever be able to hold up to the rigors of a lengthy fighting career.
"No, because when I train, I train well," Velasquez said. "I think if something's wrong with me, I just kinda work through it. That's my mentality. If something hurts or something is injured, I think my pain tolerance is pretty high to where, it's pretty bad where I might need surgery, but I'll just kind of work through it. So, you know, again it's part of the sport. We all go through it. I might've gone through it more than most, but I'm going to keep doing it."
Velasquez added that he was "fine" with the UFC instituting an interim heavyweight title, acknowledging that he's "been inactive for a while" and as long as his next fight is for some type of belt, everything else is ancillary to the long road to recovery that rests ahead of him.
Though to that end, Velasquez expects to once again be squared off against Werdum when the time comes and he can be cleared for an Octagon return.
"I think Mark Hunt just has that knockout power, and that's pretty much it," Velasquez said. "I think Werdum, with his length, also if it goes to wrestling, if it goes on the ground, Werdum has it. I think on the feet, with the power that Hunt has, I think he has a good chance of winning it there. But I think that's pretty much it."