Velasquez adjusts to life as UFC champion

November 4, 2010, 8:55 PM

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Since beating the baddest man on the planet, Cain Velasquez hasn’t stopped moving.

From Los Angeles to Miami and Mexico (later this month), the newly minted UFC heavyweight champion is in demand after beating man-mountain Brock Lesnar less than two weeks ago at UFC 121 in Anaheim.

The soft-spoken 28-year-old is quickly learning how to deal with being the centre of attention. That started the night he won the title, at his after-party at Ecco nightclub in Hollywood where he celebrated with family and friends.

"The place was packed, the place was full," he recalled.

"It was kind of weird, we were at a busy nightclub, the music’s going on and nobody’s dancing. They’re all staring at you," he added with a laugh. "A little uncomfortable."

On Thursday, it was Toronto’s turn to meet the champ.

The six-foot-one 240-pound Velasquez, sporting a poppy, chatted with reporters at a lunchtime session at the Real Sports Bar & Grill. Then he had a meet and greet with contest winners, one of whom came in from Montreal just for a few minutes with the new title-holder.

He acknowledged he is still getting used to being champion.

"Bits and pieces have brought it together, that I finally did it, but it still feels kind of surreal," he admitted.

He hasn’t spent enough time at home to figure out what to do with the shiny new belt.

"We went back home for like a day, so I just had it on the couch pretty much," he said. "I had no place to put it."

He has it with him on tour, because people want to see it. So what it’s like taking a championship belt through customs?

Petty easy, he said, even if carting it around is a workout in itself.

"It’s a pain in the butt trying to carry it around because it’s heavy. like 20 some pounds at least."

That’s probably good since his only visit to the gym since winning the crown has been to say hi to his training partners at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose.

Away from the media hoopla, Velasquez attended the wedding of Ryan (Darth) Bader, a rising UFC light-heavyweight who wrestled with Velasquez at Arizona State.

Velasquez also tended to some prep for his own May 28 nuptials. He and fiancee Michelle Borquez — they have an 18-month-old daughter in Coral Love Velasquez — tasted food, chose colours and did other wedding chores.

Velasquez’s profile isn’t the only thing to grow since thumping Lesnar. His bank account has undoubtedly ballooned.

There is a special lustre to heavyweight championship belts and Velasquez’s glitters even more so because of his Mexican heritage. Having conquered north of the border, the UFC is now looking south.

Velasquez is bilingual and fiercely proud of his roots. He has the words Brown Pride tattooed on his torso.

Velasquez’s purse for the Lesnar fight was US$100,000 with a matching win bonus, according to the California State Athletic Commission. He also got a $70,000 bonus for fight of the night.

But the fighter likely also received another private bonus cheque of between $500,000 and $750,000 in the locker-room, according to one insider.

"They will take care of you," the insider said of the UFC. "They play fair."

If Velasquez keeps winning and can show audiences swell when he steps into the cage, he will earn millions more via a cut of the lucrative pay-per-view.

Velasquez has already won a legion of fans, including fighters.

He’s a cardio machine with superb wrestling, good hands and a granite chin. His college coach cites his superb work ethic, pointing to how Velasquez used to pitch watermelons at age 12.

The former PAC-10 champion wrestler left Arizona State with a degree in education and an interest in MMA.

"He’s a real gentleman," said Tom Wright, who heads up the UFC’s Canada division.

"Someone asked him the question today if he weren’t a fighter, what would you be? He said I’d want to be a teacher, a coach, a phys ed teacher. And he’d be an incredible teacher."

Velasquez entered the UFC — at UFC 83 in Montreal in April 2008 — with just two fights under his belt and hasn’t missed a beat since.

He survived the hardest shots Cheick Kongo had to offer, rag-dolled (Big) Ben Rothwell and iced the legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira before dethroning Lesnar.

"The guy’s a monster," said English lightweight Andre Winner, who won 20 pounds (C$32) off fellow fighter Dean Amasinger in picking Velasquez to beat Lesnar.

"He reminds me of a shark. He’s got those deep piercing, kind of really dark eyes. He just looks right through you. There’s no faking with him."

"Yeah, obviously Lesnar had the big size advantage but Cain weathered the storm and I was really impressed with that. It was kind of like an inspiring fight."

Canadian light-heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski also picked Velasquez but was still taken by how calm the challenger looked in the cage.

"The fact he was just so relaxed in that whole fight from start to finish, never panicked," Soszynski said. "When Brock took him down, he got up right away, immediately. It was beautiful to watch, and his striking is just so precise. He’s just so relaxed in there. Very impressive for a guy who’s only had nine fights.

"Props to him. I think he’s going to be our champ for quite a long time. I don’t think there’s too many guys out there who are going to be able to beat him."

Velasquez made his MMA debut in October 2006 and is 9-0 as a pro. But the two-time all-American wrestler says years of competition keep him on an even keel when the going gets tough.

"It doesn’t overwhelm me, the crowd doesn’t affect me, the pressure of the fight doesn’t affect me either," he said. "I know what my plan is, I know what I have to do."

Velasquez’s camp was bursting with confidence ahead of the Lesnar fight and their fighter said he shared their optimism.

"Yeah I did, but then you always have in your head ‘This could happen too’ where the stuff doesn’t go your way. I’d gone through all the scenarios in my head, before the fight, what I’m going to do. But I definitely was well-prepared, my coaches prepared me well, I felt good going in."

His next opponent will be Junior Dos Santos, whom he calls definitely "the best standup fighter, boxer in MMA right now."

Velasquez says his wrestling will be a big weapon against the hard-hitting Brazilian.

"But he’s an athletic guy, he has great hands and good takedown defence. So it will be tough."

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