Cain Velasquez: Channeling Fedor and Challenging Brock
One side of my brain tells me that beating the massive, athletic freak of nature that is the UFC heavyweight champion is a nearly impossible task, his combination of size and speed too great an obstacle for anyone to overcome. Since his debut defeat to Frank Mir, Lesnar has grown by leaps-and-bounds, and his evolution continues with each and every fight.
The other side of my brain knows that every man can be beaten. In addition to having seen Lesnar get submitted by Mir, the image of his reaction to being hit by Shane Carwin plays over and over in my head; the champion feeling for the fence, recoiling in retreat, bracing for a beating. While he survived the onslaught and would emerge victorious, the 10-8 round Carwin earned on my scorecard showed that like most normal human beings, Lesnar isn’t a big fan of being punched in the face.
What I do know is that if anyone is going to beat Lesnar, it’s going to be Velasquez, a fighter who bears a great resemblance to Fedor Emelianenko.
The American Kickboxing Academy product is the most complete heavyweight we’ve seen since Emelianenko, an unassuming man regarded as the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. While others were bigger and stronger or possessed better jiu jitsu and boxing, no one put it all together quite as well as Emelianenko, and now the same holds true for Velasquez.
That may sound like bold praise or be perceived as a gross exaggeration for a fighter with just eight bouts under his belt, but what Velasquez has shown over those eight fights is the all-world potential that had AKA head trainer Javier Mendez proclaiming Velasquez the most talented fighter to step through the gym doors.
Much like Emelianenko, Velasquez doesn’t look like the best heavyweight or boast off-the-charts excellence in a myriad of categories. Instead, he is as well-rounded a fighter as you will find, as comfortable on his feet as he is fighting off his back. It is that diverse skill set that separates him from the quartet of contenders who have tried to stop Lesnar following his debut.
The only category where Velasquez ranks ahead of the pack is cardio. While his endurance has only been put to the test once inside the Octagon, the proud Mexican-American fighter pushed the pace for the full fifteen minutes en route to a unanimous decision win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 99.
In every other category, another heavyweight ranks ahead of Velasquez, but comes up short elsewhere in the comparison.
Mirko Cro Cop and Pat Barry are better kickboxers, but lack the wrestling the #1 contender brings to the cage.
Lesnar himself sports a more-storied collegiate career on the mats, having been crowned National Champion in the heavyweight division during his senior year at Minnesota. However, the champion doesn’t possess the same diverse striking attack as Velasquez.
Frank Mir and “Minotauro” Nogueira have superior jiu jitsu games, but they too fall short in the striking department. And Shane Carwin has superior power, but cannot come close to matching the champion’s current adversary in the conditioning department.
All of this is eerily reminiscent of Emelianenko.
Various opponents were supposed to have the key to beating the Russian icon. Kevin Randleman’s wrestling, Nogueira’s jiu jitsu, and Cro Cop’s striking – all of these attributes were at one-time or another supposed to be “The Last Emperor’s” undoing, but after each encounter, it was Emelianenko who had his hand raised.
The similarities to Emelianenko exist outside of the cage as well.
While some fighters crave the spotlight and a camera constantly in their face, Velasquez, like Emelianenko, would rather let his performances in the cage do his talking.
Critics would say that both Emelianenko and Velasquez lack charisma and personality because neither man carries a grandiose persona that swallows up those around him, offering clever quips and self-praise at every opportunity. Instead, they are both quiet, humble fighters who put family before everything else and do what they do not to be rich and famous, but to provide for their loved ones and satisfy their hunger to compete.
Though it is understandable that people wanted more moxie from Emelianenko and now ask the same of Velasquez, at the end of the day, charisma and personality don’t win fights. That is all Emelianenko did for more than eight years, and it’s all Velasquez has done to this point in his career.
There is no question that Velasquez has a long way to go before equaling the incredibly dominant stretch Emelianenko enjoyed over the last decade, but he can take a big step down that road with a victory Saturday night.
Opinions on whether or not that will happen vary about as much as if you asked a group of school children “What’s the best favor of ice cream?” Depending on who you ask, Velasquez has anywhere from every chance to no chance, with the general consensus being the one echoed by Mendez.
“Cain is more skilled than Brock Lesnar at every aspect of the game, but can that overcome the size and strength? That’s the big question.”
That same question was asked of Emelianenko many times during his 29-fight unbeaten streak, with the Russian’s skills getting the better of bigger and stronger opponents time-and-again.
The question will be answered again on Saturday night in Anaheim. If Velasquez is indeed ready to become the most complete heavyweight since Emelianenko, we will see a new champion emerge, and skill will once again win out over size and strength.
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