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No Room for Error: Velasquez Steps Up at UFC 110

Story by Brady Crytzer

There is nothing more trying for a young hopeful than staring down his first big test.

With a perfect record, UFC heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez has made it look easy to this point, but with a showdown with former PrideFC and UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira looming, the young fighter knows that it’s now or never. A powerful wrestler with heavy hands and excellent cardio, Velasquez now must ready himself for an opponent who’s known for winning at all costs (mostly from his back) and has only been stopped once in thirty-eight professional fights. While Velasquez has the edge in youth, speed, power, and cardio, there is one mantra that he has lived by for the last eight weeks of training: fight smart.

“I’m going to use the same gameplan I always use when I’m fighting,” Velasquez explained. “When I get him down on the ground I have to be smart, I really can’t do anything stupid.”

With a perfect professional record of seven wins, six by KO or TKO, Velasquez has been dubbed as “the next big thing.” That means a lot considering the fact that the 27 year old is fighting in a forest of Redwoods. Although many pundits are looking toward future high profile match ups for the former NCAA All-American, Velasquez is only thinking of his February 20th date with “Minotauro.”

“We’ll see what happens,” Velasquez said. “(Frank) Mir has to fight Shane Carwin, and we’ll see what Brock does when he gets back. I think with those three guys anything can happen. I don’t really think about what could happen after this fight, all my energy is focused on Nogueira right now. He is a great fighter and he has been in this game a long time.”

His opponent on Saturday is future hall of famer Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, known more widely as “Minotauro.” At 33 year old the Brazilian is no spring chicken, and adding the damage he has sustained in a long career of brutal battles only ages the former champion further. All that aside, Nogueira has made a living as the most dangerous heavyweight in history fighting from his back. With a diverse arsenal of triangle chokes and armbars, Nogueira is the living embodiment of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Has wrestling overtaken jiu jitsu as the premiere grappling art in mixed martial arts? The amateur wrestling standout Velasquez doesn’t think so.

“I don’t believe that,” Velasquez explained. “I believe the sport is always growing. Everybody’s game is different, especially on the ground. I wouldn’t say that, because everybody has a chance to submit people. This game is so big, and people are so good in every area of MMA. I don’t believe that.”

Jiu jitsu isn’t going disappearing anytime soon as long as Nogueira still prowls the heavyweight ranks.

“It just shows how much Nogueira…has evolved in this sport,” Velasquez said. “This is just a great opportunity.”

Saturday’s heavyweight showdown is historic for many reasons. As the main event of UFC 110, it marks the first time in history that the UFC will be hosted in Sydney, Australia. With both fighters being natives of the Western Hemisphere, Velasquez has readied himself for the time difference.

“I’ve fought in a couple international events already,” Velasquez explained. “When I get to Sydney I will go to bed around nighttime. The next day I thought I felt good, I felt fine. I felt a little tired the second day, but I train around the same time I’m going to fight.”

Questions will be answered on Saturday night in Sydney. Is Velasquez ready for the next step? Is the aging Nogueira still a factor in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions? If you ask Velasquez, he’ll answer with the same old story.

“I need to fight a smart fight, and that’s all I’m worried about."

 


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