Less than one year later, Velasquez was forced to reassess his path when the coronavirus pandemic triggered layoffs at the industry-leading pro-wrestling promotion. But he has no regrets about what happened.
“I think it was meant for me to go there,” the ex-UFC champ said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I’m glad I got the experience of knowing what it’s all about, knowing how the company works, how the guys work, everything. It was a great learning experience. I learned a lot from it, and all I can do is take that and make it better the next time if I do get another chance, or just know what that is and appreciate my time in doing that.”
Velasquez’s professional wrestling career didn’t end with his WWE departure. In December, he’ll make his return to the ring under the Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide banner, where he debuted as the character “El Toro” and cut his teeth before the move to WWE.
Lucha Libre is the style of wrestling Velasquez feels most closely aligned with, and it’s one he hoped would become his signature in the WWE. But as it turned out, the Vince McMahon-led company had different plans.
“I think they wanted me to stay in that MMA zone,” Velasquez said. “They wanted me to have that rivalry with Brock, but they really weren’t willing to put the time in to have us work together to really do that. They wanted us to do that, and well, you know how that is.”
When Velasquez and Lesnar eventually did meet in the ring for the Crown Jewel WWE event in Saudi Arabia, Lesnar prevailed in a quick match ended by a kimura. According to Velasquez, the whole experience left him wanting more, though he wasn’t upset to take a “loss” to Lesnar.
“It is what it is, man,” he said. “That was me just going into it and really just trying to figure out what it was. It was all thrown at me at once, a new organization and I was there for whatever anybody needed, as far as to have me build, or whatever they wanted me to build into. I’m sorry to everyone that got let down. That does hurt me as well, because I expect a lot out of myself. I expect more for myself.”
Velasquez said his previous UFC win over Lesnar did play somewhat of a factor during his time in the promotion, though he expected that and tried to rise above it.
“There’s always going to be friction with that,” he said. “So yeah, there was, but working together. ... We didn’t work much, but talking to him just for that little bit, I just know where he comes from, just from that little time spent, and I mean very little. I know what he’s about, and I respect him for that.
“What you see out there when he performs, all that sh*t, he lives it, he breathes it. That’s him. That persona that you see, that’s him out there. That’s his true self. Close quarters, he’s obviously more human, but that’s him, and I saw that.”
The main disappointment for Velasquez was not getting more time to train himself for a completely different type of competitive art, one more dependent on showmanship than effectiveness.
“It all came down to the development,” he said. “Once that’s there, it doesn’t matter who you go with. You can be prepared for anything. But me being so green, I’m almost in the middle, like what do I do, what do I need to learn. Because I’m not sure about it. In MMA, I’m so sure about it. In collegiate wrestling, I’m so sure about it. Those type of things, I know. These different types of sports, they’re a little different type of dance, a little bit different rhythm.
“It’s the opposite of MMA. Every moment is the opposite of MMA, where you need to show the emotion, you need to show the technique, and always be opened up so everyone can see it, so everyone can see the punch. In MMA, it’s the opposite. We hide it so no one can see it until it makes contact.”
Velasquez has been incredibly successful in that field, of course, and he hopes to continue his development in the Lucha libre style he grew up with and loves. There are no hard feelings with the WWE.
“Hell no,” he said. “I love what they’re doing and what they did. They helped me out so much.”