Given that it’s been 30 months since Cain Velasquez last competed, it’s understandable that one might be skeptical as to how the former UFC titleholder will perform this weekend.
It wasn’t long ago that Velasquez was on track to become the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. He won 13 of his first 14 fights, making short work of names like Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira before going on to win his eventual best-of-three series against Junior dos Santos. Unfortunately for Velasquez, injuries piled up and he’s managed to make the walk to the Octagon just two times over the last five-plus years, and one of those appearances was a submission loss to Fabricio Werdum that ended his second reign as UFC champion.
Velasquez looked like his old self delivering a four minute, 57-second drubbing to Travis Browne at UFC 200, only to disappear again as his body continued to fail him. When he fights Francis Ngannou on Sunday at UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, it will be his first taste of actual competition since July 9, 2016.
So what should fans expect? UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, Velasquez’s close friend and longtime training partner, foresees another dominant win being added to his resume.
“You’re going to see vintage,” Cormier told Luke Thomas on The MMA Hour. “Like, the best. Nothing’s changed. He’s still as good. He’s still as fast. He still can wrestle as well.”
If anyone knows what Velasquez is still capable of, it’s Cormier. The two heavyweights have constantly pushed each other during their time at the American Kickboxing Academy, with Cormier becoming an elite fighter at 205 pounds while Velasquez was cleaning house a division above.
That’s why Cormier is so confident that the Velasquez of old will show up against Ngannou. Cormier, then the light heavyweight champion, returned to the heavyweight division last year to defeat Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 and capture a second UFC title and he has always credited Velasquez as one of the reasons that he was able to become a dual-division champion.
All the while, Cormier looked forward to the day that Velasquez returned to action.
“I think I always was hopeful that he would come back,” Cormier said. “I’m a massive Cain Velasquez fan if you haven’t learned that over the past 10 years that I’ve been here. He’s just everything you want in a fighter. He’s got great cardio, every single aspect of mixed martial arts he’s efficient and he’s good at. I was like, I just want to get to watch him fight again and compete again, so as you’re excited, I’m excited. Not as a teammate, but also as a fan of the sport.
“Dude’s just a buzzsaw and I can’t wait to watch him where he belongs. He belongs in that Octagon and I’m excited that he gets an opportunity to go and put his skill on display again.”
With Cormier’s own retirement around the corner, he’s excited about what the future holds for Velasquez.
A two-time UFC heavyweight champion, it’s feasible that Velasquez is only a fight or two away from getting a shot at the title that Cormier currently holds. Once Cormier is gone he sees Velasquez reclaiming the top spot and more importantly, he’s optimistic that Velasquez will actually stick around to hold on to it.
“He’ll be the champ very, very soon. Soon as I’m out of there, he’ll be the champ,” Cormier said. “The only issue with that is the UFC has to know that now Cain is healthy and they can trust him because he’ll be around for a while.”