Marking his return to the octagon after nearly 20 months away, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez (13-1, 11 KOs) squares off against submission artist and interim champ Fabricio Werdum (19-5, 6 KOs) in UFC 188's main event Saturday in Mexico City.
Originally scheduled to meet late last year before the 32-year-old Velasquez suffered a major knee injury during training, the bout finally comes to fruition and could serve two very different purposes for the combatants.
Despite his vast accomplishments and impressive record, Velasquez is looking to dispel any indication that he’s a brittle champ that’s incapable of defending his belt on a more regular basis.
Werdum, born in Brazil and now 37, is instead eyeing a quick two-bout stand against Velasquez as the finishing touches on a nearly 13-year pro career that’s spanned the UFC, Pride, and Strikeforce.
Velasquez told MMA Junkie the most recent injury hasn’t resulted in a different training methodology, and that worrying over any future mishaps brings more harm than good ahead of any fight.
“I’ve gone through this before, where I’ve had injuries,” Velasquez said. “I felt like the surgeries I’ve had, I needed, and after getting them, I felt, yes, my body is back to 100 percent. I feel the same now. I get to train how I want. I get to train 100 percent and not worry about anything injury-wise. So yeah, I feel like I’ve done the fight think as far as trying to get my body healthy. I feel good.
“But we don’t think about it. There’s no good in having that in the back of your head as you’re working out. You just need to be in the moment. … You don’t stress. We try not to have it in the back of our minds when we’re working out. You have to just focus on the workout, itself.”
Prior to the injury, Velasquez was riding high as one of UFC’s most decorated heavyweights and he’s won four straight matches over the last three and a half years. He most notably took two out of three bouts with rival Junior dos Santos, claiming a technical knockout in his last trip to the octagon in October 2013.
All but two of Velasquez’s victories have come via his brute strength and expertly timed strikes, but he’ll have to be wary of Werdum’s well-honed propensity to submit opponents and for his ability to inflict pain with power as well.
When Velasquez went down, Werdum took the interim crown with a flying knee strike to New Zealand’s Mark Hunt for a TKO and fifth straight victory. With only six knockouts to his record, it was a bit of a surprise to see the jiu-jitsu specialist unleash such a devastating blow.
Fans have really grown accustomed to Werdum’s array of submission moves. He’s forced nine opponents to tap out over his career, with the last coming in June 2013, an armbar that proved too much for Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Werdum, however, doesn’t anticipate such a result. While also bringing the possibility of retirement in 2016, Werdum questioned Velasquez’s mentality before the fight, and doesn’t believe the champ has enough to withstand the higher altitudes in Mexico’s capital.
"I expect a different win. I want to surprise the entire world one more time, especially the doubters. It won’t be easy, though," he said to MMA Fighting. "In a perfect world, I see him trying to take me down. I land a front kick to the body or his face, or I submit him quickly after he takes me down.
“In a more realistic scenario, I see him gassing after three or four rounds. People will be surprised. They are used to watching Velasquez with that non-stop rhythm, but he’s not used with high-altitude and hasn’t fought in two years. We’ll see."
Betting Odds: Velasquez enters the bout as a -550 favorite, via Bovada.lv
Prediction: Velasquez in a decision