The Big Payback: The Redemption of Cain Velasquez
When Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight title on October 23, 2010, many thought the “Reign of Cain” would be a long lasting era in a division where no champion has ever defended his title more than two times. Unfortunately, an overhand right from Brazilian Junior dos Santos 64 seconds into his first title defense last November smothered any chance for that to happen. While suffering his first defeat, Velasquez immediately asked for a rematch but the UFC was reluctant considering just how easy it was for dos Santos to dispatch of the Mexican. It’s like Mike Tyson’s 37 previous opponents before Buster Douglas suggesting they could do better given the chance after being annihilated.
But Velasquez wouldn’t be cast aside as a mere placeholder at the table of champions. He ran roughshod over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 146 in May with a performance equaling a rabid wolverine consuming a baby calf and began to jockey for a rematch. Meanwhile, the presumed #1 contender, Alistair Overeem, was hit with a suspension and lost his chance at the title due to a failed pre-fight drug test. The door was open for Velasquez to prove that the first fight was a glitch in the matrix and the rumored ACL injury he suffered before the fight altered his performance. The “I-didn’t-perform-at-my-best-because-I-was-hurt” excuse carries little to no weight because it’s usually bullshit. But Velasquez would be granted his rematch considering that the chasm he and the rest of the division was about as wide as the Pacific Ocean. Fans still met the rematch with a collective sigh figuring that a repeat of the first fight would take place in the confines of the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
At UFC 155, Cain Velasquez would not be denied and being cageside for that fight delivered an experience like no other.
The atmosphere in an arena where 12,423 fans waited patiently through several stale fights finally exploded as the moments ticked down to the rematch. Regardless of all the advantages that dos Santos presumably had including impregnable takedown defense and spectacular boxing skills, the nervous energy in the building had fans on the edge of their seats as Velasquez made his way down to the Octagon with Mariachi music blaring from the arena speakers. One half of the crowd erupted into a “Mexico” chant, the other booed relentlessly. If it wasn’t for his Mexican heritage, one would have been disappointed that he didn’t use James Brown’s “The Big Payback.”
Shortly after, dos Santos’ trademark ring walk complete with the “Rocky” theme song began and the signs slowly emerged that something shocking was going to take place. It appeared that the setting was too perfect for “Cigano” to retain his title. The ring walk, the all-of-a-sudden Brazilian fans in an arena known to have an overwhelming majority of Mexican fans shouting their support, the true blue Swoosh that graced dos Santos’ shorts and banner as the third mixed martial artist sponsored by Nike; it was a celebration destined to be ruined and Velasquez was determined to crash the party.
MMA pundits leaned toward picking dos Santos while few figured that Velasquez could dethrone “Cigano.” But nobody anticipated what took place on Saturday night. Channeling the souls of the Mexican soccer team that captured Olympic gold and Juan Manuel Marquez whose stunning knockout of Manny Pacquiao had his fellow countrymen celebrating in the streets, Cain Velasquez set out to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “Brown Pride” tattooed on his chest was more than cosmetic.
After several failed takedown attempts by the Arizona State collegiate wrestler in an ultra aggressive opening minute, Velasquez opted to step into dos Santos’ wheelhouse and trade punches with him. “Ah, I got him” dos Santos must have thought to himself. Little did he know that the Velasquez he met on November 12, 2011 had died and this version of Velasquez rose like the phoenix with a vengeance. A hellacious right hook was uncorked by Velasquez and struck down dos Santos in a manner that nobody had seen before. This Cain Velasquez lacked the tentativeness and respect for dos Santos’ power. Not only that, he was on a mission to shatter the veil of invincibility that surrounded Cigano. Perhaps more impressive than Cain’s right hand was the Brazilian’s chin. He hit the canvas with a wincing thud and a collective “Oh!” escaped the lips of the rowdy crowd. But somehow, someway, dos Santos survived the relentless assault until the first round ended. A three minute pounding was bad, but, damn, there was still another 20 minutes to go as JDS staggered like a New Year’s drunk to his corner. Across the cage, Velasquez marched to his corner and tossed aside the stool waiting for him. Any thoughts dos Santos had of Velasquez gas tank being emptied with the brutal assault had been dashed. His foe was driven by calculated rage and certainly wasn’t going to let something as trivial as getting tired keep him from reclaiming his title.
The second round opened with Velasquez repeatedly taking dos Santos down and lumping him up with fists and elbows. Rather than it being a competitive fight, it became an exercise in how much punishment a man can take. Maybe JDS got used to being hit, or maybe his body fell numb. Either way, Cain continued the assault. If the referee wasn’t going to stop the fight, maybe the police would. As the rounds passed, dos Santos face morphed from jovial Brazilian to the cousin of Sloth from “The Goonies.” It was brutal and a lesser man may have submitted or quit on the stool between rounds. The savage beating was just as much of a testament to the heart of dos Santos as it was the ability of Velasquez. When the final horn mercifully sounded, Velasquez broke his stone face and sank to the canvas in about as much glee as you can expect from a man as stoic as the Mexican.
He did it. Revenge was his in the most emphatic of forms. The scores of 50-45, 50-44 and 50-43 were elementary but will remind us years from now how savagely one sided this fight was. Here’s an interesting tidbit. In his previous nine fights, dos Santos had spent a grand total of 13 seconds on his back. It took me longer to write that sentence. Velasquez took him down 11 times. Velasquez also landed 210 strikes; which would lead to any man’s face lumping up like Martin Payne after being beaten up by Tommy Hearns.
Even though he was utterly demolished on this night, dos Santos stood in the center of the Octagon and said to Joe Rogan during the interview “Cain Velasquez, like you said, I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna take my belt again.”
The series is even at 1-1. It’s only right they do it again.