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Cain Velasquez opens up on psychedelic journey that helped him heal personal, fighting trauma

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With a serene smile, former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez said he’s more interested now in the bigger fights of life than the ones in the cage. A recent journey with psychedelics has realigned his life priorities, he said Wednesday on The MMA Hour, and he wants to spread the word of their benefits.

“Life is a fight, a long fight, and in that fight of life, when do we really take a step back and take a really good exhale from all this?” Velasquez said, exhaling. “That’s what it felt like.”

Velasquez’s turn to psychedelics came this past year after the loss of his mother and brother within a two-month period in 2019. He ingested the powerful plant-based psychedelic ayahuasca with family members and said he came to terms with many of the unresolved feelings from that period of time.

The former UFC champ is one of several former UFC fighters who’ve turned to psychedelics as a method of treating trauma. In March, MMA Fighting spoke to several current and former fighters who said they’ve been pivotal to healing after years of physical and mental toil. Following a special on HBO’s Real Sports, the UFC recently met with the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research on potential backing for a study involving fighters and psychedelics.

“I didn’t know what I was looking for, or if I was looking for anything, but I really just focused on my brother, my mom,” Velasquez said. “The only thing that lasted between us was love, between me and my mom and me and my brother. We just love each other. That’s always been there, and that’s the strongest emotion. ... I lost my brother in the way that we lost him, but that love that was still there, is still there, and that was all that mattered. That made me heal so much.”

In total, Velasquez said he’s experienced psychedelics on four different occasions, also trying 5-MeO-DMT, a drug derived from the venom of a toad that’s reportedly several times more powerful than dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Longtime UFC commentator Joe Rogan has long been an evangelist for DMT.

“I’m from Sonora, the desert, from Arizona – my family, my lineage comes from the Sonora desert – [and] that’s where the toad comes from,” Velasquez said. “I didn’t realize how much trauma I had in my whole life. And I mean, as a kid, growing up, just living on this earth, the trauma that’s been put on me...put on everyone, really. Living with that, going into sports, keeping that with me and end up fighting, but I still get more trauma from the fighting.

“I really didn’t know how much I had with me, or what I was carried around, until I really let this medicine work with me on the things that aren’t serving me a purpose. I got rid of a lot of the trauma, just from the sh*t that we live through every day that society puts on you, but we don’t even know what we’re carrying around until we sit down and face the root of the problem.”

So far, Velasquez has convinced a few in his inner circle to try the experience. But some, like his longtime training partner and fellow UFC champ Daniel Cormier, haven’t taken the plunge.

“He hasn’t yet, and I’ve told him,” Velasquez said.

After a 13-year career in MMA and a recent turn to professional wrestling and Lucha libre, Velasquez believes that a turn inward via psychedelics has not only reversed damage he’s accumulated, but given him tools for thriving after the end of his professional fighting career. That’s one big reason he thinks current and former fighters should at least explore the subject.

“People that do this are a select, certain amount of people,” he said. “That warrior is in them. And when the music stops, and you can’t be a warrior like you could be anymore, it’s hard. It’s hard, because you still have that fire inside, and it’s not a normal fire like everyone else. It burns much hotter. So you need an outlet that is much more than that that you can learn from.

“It takes a mental rejuvenation to know that when I was fighting, those big wins did so much from me. But there are wins in the gym. There’s wins in sparring. There’s wins in a certain position. So what I learned is those little victories in here translate to little victories out there. And what is that? You with your kids, you with your family, that’s little victories when you’re out and putting gas in and have a connection with someone. ... Getting those little victories every day is what makes it. Not those big ones, because we only get a few of those, here and there. But those little ones add up.”

So ask Velasquez whether he wants to get back in the cage, and you’ll get a smile. There are plenty of them out there already, and he’s enjoying fighting – and winning – as many as he can.