It’d be understandable if any fight fans were concerned that Cain Velasquez’s time in mixed martial arts is nearing its end, considering the way Velasquez’s last two months have gone.
The former UFC heavyweight champion suffered a disastrous 26-second loss to Francis Ngannou in his return from a near-three-year layoff in February at UFC on ESPN. Velasquez appeared to suffer a knee injury in the fight as well, further compounding matters for the oft-injured contender. Then, last week, reports emerged that Velasquez is set to make his professional wrestling debut on Aug. 3 in Mexico City for Mexican promotion AAA.
The combination of factors left some observers to wonder whether Velasquez’s move to pro wrestling is a potential harbinger of things to come in regards to his MMA future. But according to Velasquez’s longtime coach at AKA, Javier Mendez, any concerns about the 36-year-old heavyweight making his exit from the sport are premature.
“I would say 100 percent [that is] a panic response,” Mendez said Monday on The MMA Hour. “He hasn’t said anything. All I hear from him is he can’t wait to get back in.”
Mendez said he hasn’t had any concrete discussions with Velasquez about an MMA return, but if the former heavyweight champion does fight again, Mendez thinks a target date in the first or second quarter of 2020 would be most likely. He also hasn’t spoken to Velasquez about the status of his knee, but he figures, in this instance, no news must be good news.
“He was at Daniel Cormier’s [40th] birthday party that we all had [last month] and seemed fine,” Mendez said. “I didn’t really ask him how he was. We were just chatting about other stuff, but he was walking around fine. But I don’t know, I didn’t ask him. I figured he’d tell me if I needed to know something.”
Mendez said Velasquez hasn’t yet been back in the gym at American Kickboxing Academy since his loss to Ngannou. Mendez also noted he was previously aware of Velasquez’s planned pro wrestling trip to Mexico and that the UFC gave its blessing on the agreement.
As for the Ngannou fight itself, Mendez expressed regret about how things played out. He explained that Velasquez’s knee was in rough shape after the loss, and said that there was one overlooked — and illegal — factor that played a part in Ngannou’s finishing sequence.
“[Velasquez] wasn’t getting around too well (after the fight),” Mendez said. “But the screwed up [part] about that whole thing, originally when I saw the fight, I kept having to replay it, replay it, and I never saw what the hell happened. And I was thinking, well, what the hell? It’s just his knee gave out, right? And of course his knee gave out, right?
“But then it wasn’t until I was home and he leaves me a text message and he goes, ‘I was fine until he hammerfisted me in the back of the head.’ And I’m like, what? What are you talking about, hammerfist? So I replayed the goddamn video and the very first strike that was hit was an illegal shot right behind the back of the head, when he shot in. And he said that dazed him a teeny bit and that’s what started this whole sequence, and nobody ever saw it. It was an illegal shot. If the ref would’ve caught it, it would’ve been a no contest.
“But he didn’t catch it. Hell, I didn’t catch it and I watched it over and over again. I’d made up in my mind what I thought it was — and it wasn’t. I was completely wrong. … It was one of those weird freak accidents, man. Whether intentional or not, I don’t know. All I know is that he got a hell of a shot. When you slow it down and you watch it, it was a clear shot: Illegal, back of the head. And nobody talks about that because it’s over, it’s done.”
Either way, the Ngannou loss continued a frustrating trend that has plagued much of Velasquez’s MMA career. Many of the former champion’s best years have been lost because of injuries, long layoffs, and just simple unlucky turns of events. And as Velsaquez inches closer toward the end of his run, whenever that time may come, Mendez can’t help but lament what could’ve been if things had worked out differently.
“I’m honestly heartbroken,” Mendez admitted. “Here, in my opinion — this is my opinion, okay — I think he could’ve been the greatest heavyweight of all-time had none of these stupid things happened to him. I mean, there were some by his cause, some by my cause, some by just unforeseen things. And almost anybody that sees what he’s capable of doing and what he had been doing obviously knows that there’s no one like him.
“But this is an unforgiving sport, and he’s had a lot of mishaps happen to him. And like I said, some are my fault, some are his fault, some are other people’s fault. But it’s happened and we’ve just got to move forward. But, is it depressing? Yes, it is. It’s heartbreaking for me when I see these things happen to him.”