When Cain Velasquez's knee injured Sunday night, only seconds after the start of his fight with Francis Ngannou, it was a further reminder of the prophetic conversations of more than twelve years ago.
Velasquez arrived in San Jose through a bond with one of his college wrestling coaches, while he was looking to enter the MMA after being ranked fourth in the tournament's heavyweights. NCAA Division 1 fight in 2005 for Arizona State University. Almost immediately, he became the star of the former American gym of the Kick Boxing Academy.
Javier Mendez, head coach, called Velasquez "the most talented fighter ever to cross that door," indicating early on the front door of his first fitness center. It was quite a statement as fighters from around the world had been training there regularly, including Frank Shamrock and B.J. Penn, who were then considered two of the true legends of the sport.
Mendez noted that in addition to Velasquez's All-American wrestling pedigree, he was developing K-1 batting skills and had unprecedented endurance in the heavyweight division. Mendez said that even then, Velasquez would defeat Randy Couture, who was UFC champion at the time. The hype around Velasquez was such that the UFC signed it after only two fights and touted it, from the start, as a future world champion.
It seems foolish to say that Velasquez's career was a disappointment. He held the heavyweight championship twice. Host John Anik has repeatedly described him as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter in history. One could argue this statement, but when it comes to completing skills, Velasquez must be in this conversation. But for all career results, the argument is more difficult.
Sunday was the last chapter of a career that will almost certainly be considered a "But if?
Like its championships, Velasquez's career will be remembered after constant injuries. And prophetically, we heard about that as well a dozen years ago.
One of the gym fighters praised me very early about Velasquez, because of his varied skills, that no one could beat him even then. Endurance was the key. He noted that Velasquez's work ethic was unparalleled, as were his other skills. But he warned that his work ethic was training at a level that, at some point, would burn his body. The fighter's prediction was that Velasquez would win the heavyweight title, keep it for a while, but when he was 30, his body would begin to collapse and he would become vulnerable.
This conversation was almost a perfect description of Velasquez's career. He lost only one fight at the beginning, the killer against Junior Dos Santos during the first FOX show in 2011, while fighting with a serious knee injury. In all fairness, Dos Santos was also injured in the knee. But the question of who was the best two-time heavyweight fighter in this UFC period was resolved when Velasquez returned and gave Dos Santos two of the most brutal and prolonged beatings in the history of the weights. heavy in their subsequent battles.
But then, his body started to turn against him. Velasquez has only fought three times in the last five years. Although most of last year's sabbatical was tied to renegotiation of his contract, most of his long delays between fights involved a variety of injuries.
On his return, two and a half years after a skill that few heavyweights could match, in his first-round victory over Travis Browne, his body immediately collapsed. His camp said in training for the fight that he was the old Cain. Velasquez described the injury as a stroke of luck, saying he had never even had a problem with this knee. But while he's heading to his 37th birthday, there are many more questions than answers about his future.
Let's see how Fortunes has changed for five fighters on Sunday's show.
FRANCIS NGANNOU – The big winner on Sunday was the fighter whose career had stopped just a year after UFC started promoting him as the modern Mike Tyson. A quick victory over a former champion like Velasquez would normally be enough to get a championship fight. And with Velasquez's teammate and training partner, Daniel Cormier, as a champion, history is written.
But Dana White has since indicated that she wants to go in another direction with Cormier, without however specifying what that direction was.
Ngannou could face Stipe Miocic (18-3) in a fight to determine a future heavyweight contender, or even the championship as Cormier could retire sooner rather than later. But their first fight was a unilateral victory for Miocic. Otherwise, Ngannou's best opponent would be Dos Santos (20-5), provided he overtook Derrick Lewis on March 9th. If Lewis wins this fight, then his Ngannou clash could make sense from the point of view of the standings, based on their first match. meeting, this is not a fight anyone would want to see fleeing.
CAIN VELASQUEZ – If Sunday's injury was really a stroke of luck and he could get through a camp and face off, a good opponent would be Alistair Overeem (44-17). It's a fight we've been talking about for years, but it never happened. Velasquez vs. Miocic, if Velasquez was healthy, would be somehow a heavyweight dream match. But at this point, Velasquez would need a strong performance to win before he could play with Miocic.
PAUL FELDER – Felder (16-4) won a unanimous decision over James Vick (13-3) in the semifinals. Residing in the deepest division of the UFC, the lightweights, a good next opponent would be Charles Oliveira (26-8) or Gregor Gillespie (13-0).
CYNTHIA CALVILLO – Calvillo (8-1) made a unanimous decision against Cortney Casey (8-7). Calvillo then challenged Tatiana Suarez, but Suarez is already engaged for a fight with Nina Ansaroff, where the winner would probably get a straw-weighted title shot. For Calvillo to reach this level, he will need a victory over a fighter like Livinha Souza (13-1) to climb the ladder.
ALJAMAIN STERLING – Sterling (17-3) won a one-sided victory over Jimmie Rivera (22-2) in a mid-cockweight contender battle. The win was impressive enough to allow Sterling to play in a title game, with the exception of Marlon Moraes who defeated Sterling and Rivera in 67 and 33 seconds respectively. Moraes should be T. J. Dillashaw's main contender, but Henry Cejudo's victory over flyweight Dillashaw complicates things.
Sterling will then face the winner of the March 2 fight with Cody Garbrandt (11-2) against Pedro Munhoz (17-3).