MEXICO CITY -- Hobbled heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez became somewhat of a omnipresent figure as the days passed at UFC 180 fight week in Mexico City. This was supposed to be Velasquez's event, a moment years in the making when the popular Mexican-American fighter would lead the UFC's charge south of the border.
Instead another round of injuries forced Velasquez and his crutches into a secondary and increasingly sympathetic role, while Velasquez's rival on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, Fabricio Werdum, stole the weekend's adoration from the Mexican faithful. As Werdum crushed Mark Hunt with a second-round knee to become the interim UFC heavyweight champion, the narrative of Velasquez shifted from one of frustration to one of lingering concern, with UFC President Dana White continuing discussions of the promotion potentially stripping Velasquez of his long-held title if his situation worsens.
"I don't think it's that fair," Velasquez's AKA teammate, Luke Rockhold, said regarding the situation. "I mean, really, if you look at the picture with Anthony Pettis, how long has he been out? Dominick Cruz? Cain has proven himself as the best heavyweight of all-time, it'd be hard to strip that. I don't know, maybe it's emotions running high.
"Look at what's going on here in Mexico, I'm sure they're going to want to come back here real soon, right? Who better to headline that than the winner of this versus Cain? That's going to be a pretty big sell. Cain's doing everything right, he's on track. I talked to him last night, and he's doing what he has to do. He'll be ready by spring."
Earlier in the week, Velasquez brushed off talk of UFC 180's interim title by stating simply, "when I have my chance to fight, we'll fight for the real one." And while Werdum's victory on Saturday was nonetheless impressive, Rockhold can't help but agree with Velasquez's sentiment.
"That's not the title. Interim titles are not titles," Rockhold said. "You're not the champion if you're the interim champion, period.
"Cain is the champ. This is not the real title. Interim is interim, unless you're going out there defending and the guy is out for days. This is an obvious case where we all know who the champ is.
"There's no one who can touch Cain right now," Rockhold added. "He's on a different level than anybody. He's so well-rounded, there's very few guys who could get in there with him. There's very few heavyweights who have all the facets to the game."
Ultimately any talk regarding Velasquez's future is as this point strictly speculative, especially considering that the 32-year-old heavyweight still has an unclear timetable for his return from reconstructive knee surgery. But if spring passes and Velasquez remains stuck on the shelf, the UFC's decision will be a significant one, and it could have far-reaching effects on how history ultimately views Velasquez's reign.
"His legacy is cemented," said Rockhold. "Definitely there will be questions, but I think he's done his thing and he'll be back to prove himself once again."