Cain Velasquez will return to action after 20 months off to face Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 on Saturday, at an altitude of over 7,000 feet. Is that enough to worry his coach Javier Mendez?
Not really. Cage rust doesn’t apply to a cardio-bull like Velasquez.
And especially not when the opponent is Werdum, whom Mendez thinks is a far lesser opponent than the guy Velasquez last beat, Junior dos Santos. American Kickboxing Academy’s owner and head MMA coach Mendez has gone on record about how unconcerned he is with the interim heavyweight’s chances against Velasquez, even going so far as to tell MMA Fighting in a recent interview that Werdum had no chance.
On Monday, just five days before the fight, Mendez appeared on The MMA Hour and explained why he was so confident.
"By saying a zero chance, it’s not an actual statement," he told Ariel Helwani. "I’m saying he has little chance. The bottom line is from what I viewed of the Mark Hunt fight [at UFC 180], Mark Hunt was beating him in the stand-up the first round, thrashing him somewhat on the ground…is Mark Hunt some great jiu-jitsu guy? No. So why was Mark Hunt able to do what he was doing to him? Because Mark Hunt’s a tough fighter. And Cain’s above that as far as the grappling area.
"As far as the arsenal that Cain has, it’s by far higher than just about anybody in the division. On top of the fact that nobody can deal with the pressure that Cain puts on everybody."
Mendez was quick to point out that Velasquez has already defeated the only heavyweight on the roster that gave him real concerns. That was former heavyweight champion dos Santos, whom has fought Velasquez three times.
"You know what, outside of JDS -- and JDS has got a while before the fans will believe in that -- that to me is still the second toughest son of a gun out there. I think JDS would be a great champion in his own right if Cain Velasquez wasn’t around."
Asked pointedly if Werdum was a step below dos Santos as far as challenges went for Velasquez, Mendez doubled-down.
"For me, yes -- one hundred percent yes," he said. "Every time we fought JDS man, my mind was going, ‘oh crap…okay, I can’t screw up, I’ve got to be on point and I’ve got to make sure we don’t screw up because one bad move with that guy, you’re out.’ In all three fights I was that way. The first one was the most nerve-racking because he couldn’t wrestle. But even regardless if he couldn’t wrestler, JDS, he still landed that shot. We can’t forget that.
"I’ll never forget how great of a fighter JDS is, and I’m sorry -- Fabricio is good, I don’t take that away from him, he’s really good -- but he’s not JDS. And there’s no one out there that’s at the level of JDS. There isn’t."
Werdum has been sneaky good for a long time, scoring a huge upset victory over Fedor Emelianenko back in Strikeforce, and dominating such UFC names as Roy Nelson, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Travis Browne. His last loss in the UFC came back at UFC 90 against dos Santos, who was making his promotional debut. In his last fight, which happened in Mexico City – the same spot that he’ll face Velasquez on Saturday – Werdum turned the tables on Hunt by scoring a second-round TKO that began with a perfectly timed flying knee.
The 37-year-old Werdum (19-5-1) is also a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which makes the ground a scary place to be with him as well.
Still, Mendez doesn’t see Werdum being able to match Velasquez’s intensity for a single round, much less five. When asked for his prediction, Mendez said it would be a beat down.
"Well, I can’t predict how he’s going to how he’s gone to win, all I can tell you is this: He’s going to win every round," he said. "He’s either going to stop him or give him the beating of his life. He’s never going to make…if [Werdum] makes five rounds, he’s going to get beat up worse than JDS. I tell you that, I say that, and it will happen."