clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Javier Mendez, AKA stars respond to Dana White's critical remarks about their gym

Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

Hard driven elite athletes, by their very nature, are usually going to train far harder than their average competitors. And most at the top feel it's necessary to train harder than their opponent to have both a physical and mental edge.

The harder the training, the tougher the body and mind becomes in some ways. But it also leads to wear and tear, and can lead to a higher percentage of injuries. Every camp, in time, has had to learn and adjust to hit the fine line between training to have your guy in better condition than their opponent, and overtraining, where the body breaks down and injuries become too common.

Earlier this week, Dana White put the American Kickboxing Academy Gym in San Jose, Calif., on blast. White's frustration is that heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has been injured so frequently since the night he beat Brock Lesnar to win the title for the first time, some four-and-a-half years ago.

Velasquez is scheduled to return to action after 20 months out to defend the heavyweight title against Fabricio Werdum on June 13 in Mexico City. His success and inactivity give both ends of this frustrating debate.

Velasquez has proven to be the UFC's dominant heavyweight, the best inside the cage in company history. He's also arguably the best conditioned heavyweight in the history of the sport. Former training partner Herschel Walker, who has been around his share of top-tier athletes in a number of sports, called Velasquez the best conditioned man of his size that he's ever seen. So on one hand, you can argue Velasquez's training has been as effective as anyone's. But the flip side are the injuries and long delays between fights. Now almost 33, he's only fought 14 times.

Mendez notes that he believes Velasquez is the best heavyweight in MMA history, but due to injuries, he doesn't have enough fights under his belt to where he can really be given that label.

"Some of the camps are still in the stone ages and need to be brought up to date," said White in an interview with Setanta Sports earlier in the week. "AKA is one of those places. You've got Cain Velasquez, our heavyweight champion, who's always hurt.  Those guys go to war every day."

"I love the fact that he's bringing attention to that and it does help me look to ways to improve," said Javier Mendez, the head coach of the AKA team. "I've been looking to improve the injury rate, and it does concern me."

"That's why I love Dana, he brought attention so we can correct ourselves. From the beginning of MMA training, we're always going to evolve. It shows he cares, but he's wrong for accusing us. I think he's primarily accusing us because we have the heavyweight champion."

But Mendez, and several of Velasquez's teammates, noted that his worst injuries, which led to operations on both shoulders, were not in training, but came from fights with Brock Lesnar and Junior Dos Santos.

"If you want to get rid of injuries, you'll have to get rid of the UFC," said Mendez.

Mendez said they've changed training as time has gone on, focusing on increasing boxing in training, which when it comes to actual injuries, Mendez feels history has shown leads to fewer injuries than wrestling.  According to Mendez, wrestling leads to the most injuries, followed by jiu jitsu and then kickboxing. But he said you can't go into a fight without significant wrestling training either.

"Are we gonna not wrestle?" asked Mendez. "If you don't wrestle live (all out), and you face the guy from the other gym who is wrestling live, who is going to have the advantage? You have got to wrestle."

But boxing has its issues.

"Brain damage, yeah, that's part of the risk of boxing," he said. "If you get hit too much in the head, it kills brain cells, but the body doesn't get injured."

He also noted the gym rule is that if somebody gets dropped, even if they don't get a concussion, they aren't sparring for 30 days.

"If they want to come back, they have to give me a doctor's excuse. And I make them put on headgear, because stuff happens, accidental head-butts, and they get cut."   

Velasquez chose to take the stone age comment as more of a compliment, even if it clearly wasn't meant that way.

"You know what, I've always considered this gym as an old school gym," said Velasquez. "He says stone age, I say old school.

"The best way to prepare for a fight is to fight. Yeah, I've had some injuries. But when we fight, nobody says we're not training right when they look at the way we fight. We're going to keep doing it. We could get injured again, but you don't come into training with those thoughts. I don't go in thinking about getting injured. We go to work, beat each other up, just like a fight. We don't go into a fight with those thoughts either."

Luke Rockhold, who just came off a big win over Lyoto Machida, said that Velasquez's injuries have reflected on the team as a whole, but he doesn't think it's as big a problem when you look at the big picture.

"It's my camp, but I think a lot of that falls on Cain because he's the face of our gym, he's the heavyweight champion and the baddest man on the planet. Him having injuries and not fighting that much reflects on us, but at the same time, we're the best gym in the world. You want to say that we don't do things right, but we're the best gym in the world. I think we have a lot of healthy fighters who are constantly fighting."

Rockhold thinks a lot of the UFC's frustration was because Velasquez fell out of the first show in Mexico City, a card built around him, back in November. Rockhold noted that everyone is injured before a fight to some degree. He can rattle off problems with his hand and bronchitis that plagued him in camp in recent weeks, but in the end, after a tough camp, he fought the best fight of his career.

"It's hard to pull out," he said, noting Velasquez was hurt in the last camp and his knee, injured back in 2011, wasn't giving him enough stability, so he was training around it.

"When you pull out at the last minute, it hits Dana so much harder," said Rockhold. "I was there for that training camp. He was trying to work around it (the unstable knee), but sometimes you can't. Some things you can work around. For me, (during the Machida camp), it hurt so bad to punch in camp (due to a left hand injury), but I knew in the fight I could let it go. With Cain, the knee wasn't sturdy and it was something you can't work around."

Velasquez also has the bad memory of going into the Dos Santos fight with a blown out knee, and losing the championship in the only loss of his career.

"I've been in a fight where I'm hurt before and not able to do what I want to do," Velasquez said about his first bout with Dos Santos, one of UFC's highest profile fights ever because it was its first event on FOX in 2011. "It's so tough. It was not fair to me and not fair to the fans."

Mendez talked about Velasquez's original knee injury, saying they had a physical trainer who worked with football players having the fighters do platform jumping. Mendez noted that this wasn't his area of expertise, so he was talking to Walker while this was going on. Walker had issues with it, telling Mendez that what they were doing wasn't good for the knees.

"As soon as he said that, Cain got hurt," said Mendez. "I said, no more of that s***. At the time it was, he's the expert, you're not, so it is your fault?  Am I to blame. Yes, if I continued to let that happen."

Josh Thomson feels that in the next year, the sport will change again, and the hard training will become even more important.

"Maybe we do get hurt more than other camps, but you're going to find with the more stringent drug testing in this promotion that guys will have to come back to reality, and they'll have to train hard," he said.

Daniel Cormier, who is Velasquez's main training partner, which both feel have led to each becoming two of the top fighters in the sport, said that they are learning as time goes on.

"As the captain (of Team AKA), this is my thought," said Cormier, who is gearing up his training for his June 6 fight with Ryan Bader in New Orleans. "We've made some changes in our training. Cain and I go super hard, like really hard. For all the praise we get inside the Octagon for our ability to control fights, it all develops from inside that room. It's not like we just turn it on in the Octagon. We get it from that room. It's tough because we're both good fighters. We go hard on Monday, really hard. Tuesday we wrestle hard. Wednesday we spar differently. Cain and I spar and it's hard and it's like a fight. But with everyone else, it's not as hard. It's still good sparring, but you can control the sparing. Friday we use smaller gloves and focus on wrestling. We're only sparring hard one day a week and that's the most we're willing to do.

"Cain's had some bad luck with injures, but as bad as they are, most of them were from fights. It'll get better. That's the most we're willing to change to we can be confident going into the Octagon."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting