What a difference 30 months make? For former two-time heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, it just made him a “better, more matured, and high-paced” mixed martial artist.
More than two years since his last UFC outing, the 36-year old veteran is finally returning to actions this year and is slated to go up against knockout sensation and rising star Francis Ngannou on February 17 in the promotion’s debut on ESPN, with the eventual winner potentially getting the next crack at a UFC gold.
While his last Octagon appearance feels like forever, Velasquez’s coach, Javier Mendez, assured that the long layoff did not produce any rust to Cain’s engines and that he remained an “omnipresent force” in the cage ready to fulfil his ultimate mission – to reclaim the heavyweight title he held twice during his glory years.
Fighting between Cain Velasquez and Francis Ngannou will be held at UFC on ESPN 1 on February 17 in Phoenix.
— MMA_Monkey (@DaniloCalic) January 9, 2019
Cain Velasquez hammered Travis Browne at UFC 200 in 2016 before being sidelined for two and a half years due to health struggles. A year before his most recent victory, the 36-year old fighter surrendered his heavyweight strap to Fabricio Werdum following a third-round submission loss.
A rematch with Werdum was booked for December 2016, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled Velasquez out due to a back injury. Since then, he has not been active in professional fighting while a major shakeup has taken place in his kingdom at 265-lb during his absence -one of them was Daniel Cormier, his teammate at American Kickboxing Academy, taking over the throne.
After years of getting over injuries and restoring his health, the time has come for Velasquez to finally make a return trip to the Octagon, defying fans doubts that he would never be able to return to the sport again. This time, his MMA comeback would be much sweeter as he will fight in front of his home fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
“At ASU, I never lost at home. Never. Throughout my whole life, I never lost at home. I only lost once — in high school I got upset. But all throughout junior high, high school, college: We don’t lose at home. That’s just what happens. So man, to be here again, to fight here in front of friends and family — this is just like old times again, right?,” Velasquez told MMA Fighting.
“I still definitely do feel the same. I feel like the time off that I’ve had, I’ve been able to work on some stuff that I really can’t when you’re in fight training because you’re obviously training for a specific guy, just for a specific style. But to not have anything on the books and to be training just kinda the stuff that you want to train, different techniques and stuff, it was great time off.”
Man On A Mission
His coach, Javier Mendez, claims that Velasquez has become more matured, smarter, and better now compared to what people saw at UFC 200.
“He’s gotten smarter in training. He knows when to back off now. His time off has actually helped him, his body heal, and he’s quick like always. He hits a little harder and he’s motivated more than ever. He’s watched everybody else come onboard, and realistically I think he’s come back to regain what he always knew was his. And once DC’s done, which will be hopefully this year, then Cain will take over. That’s what I’m looking at.”
With his close friend and reigning heavyweight champion, DC, on the brink of hanging up his gloves this year, Velasquez is setting his sights on regaining the belt should the 39-year old fighter call it quits or if he fails on his title-defense. Cormier is rumoured to face WWE star Brock Lesnar in his swan song this March while the winner between Velasquez and Ngannou might be in line for the next title shot.
Asked if he is willing to face Jon Jones at 265, Velasquez said:
“I hope so. I’ll try to make that happen.”
(Featured Image Source: Instagram/Cain Velasquez)