Cain Velasquez felt the stakes were bigger than the pain in his surgically repaired shoulder or damaged knee.
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Velasquez wasn’t only defending his heavyweight title against Junior dos Santos in November 2011, he was doing so in UFC’s broadcast television premiere. Backing out — like several fighters have been forced to do in recent months — was only a fleeting consideration.
“I thought about it,” Velasquez told FOXSports.com. “I just manned up. I had to do it. I had to go out there and fight. I just felt like it was too late to do anything about it. I just sucked it up.”
Velasquez lost his first pro fight, and with it his belt, 64 seconds into UFC on FOX 1 as dos Santos claimed the knockout win.
“I don’t think it was the best decision,” Velasquez said.
Not that he’d likely admit otherwise, Velasquez said he’s healthy as he prepares for his rematch with dos Santos at UFC 155 in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Most thought Velasquez, 30, was dealing mainly with a rotator cuff injury sustained when he beat Brock Lesnar for the title at UFC 121. Then a video recently surfaced that purportedly shows Velasquez tearing his ACL in training two weeks before UFC on FOX 1.
“Physically and mentally, I’m back to where I was,” Velasquez said. “It takes time to get back to where you are skill-wise when you are inactive.”
Dos Santos, for his part, suffered a knee injury in training for the first bout that required a cortisone injection. Dos Santos, too, said he’s healthy for this rematch and, maybe better, not as stressed.
“I think, for this time, I’m feeling a little bit less pressure because at that time I got my knee injury 10 days before the fight,” dos Santos said. “And that was really tough for me. Now I am 100 percent healthy and I think ready to go.”
Velasquez (10-1) and dos Santos (15-1-0) have fought once since UFC on FOX 1, both at UFC 146 in May. Dos Santos beat Frank Mir (second-round TKO) and Velasquez dismantled Antonio Silva (first-round TKO).
It was clear as Velasquez picked apart Silva in one of the bloodiest bouts in UFC history that he wasn’t looking past Silva, although the fight was a means to an end.
“I had something taken away from me and I want what’s mine,” Velasquez said of the heavyweight title. “The belt is mine and I’m going to take it back.”
The strategy toward accomplishing that at Saturday’s fight, Velasquez explains, is simple.
“This time I’m going out there and not let his style dictate the fight,” Velasquez said. “There is going to be a lot of action. I’m not going to sit back and wait for him.”
Dos Santos stunned Velasquez with a punch to the side of the head that quickly ended the first fight. The brevity of the bout didn’t allow Velasquez, a former All-American wrestler at Arizona State, to use his ground game, something that was supposed to neutralize the hard-punching dos Santos.
“I know how he fights,” Velasquez said. “He’s got good boxing. I’ve just got to fight my style of fight which means a lot of pressure and a lot of offense.”
Dos Santos told FOXSports.com he expects this fight to go at least two of a possible five rounds before he claims victory. Velasquez didn’t put a number on it, but delved into what he can control: mainly his training.
“I’ve tried to be smarter about everything from the food I put into my body to training,” Velasquez said. “When your body isn’t responding, you just need to relax.”
Maybe the fact that Velasquez was injured at UFC on FOX 1 allowed him to compartmentalize his first professional defeat. It certainly didn’t alter his drive.
“Life has its ups and downs,” Velasquez said. “You just have to work your way back up. I like being the underdog. I like being in the position where I’m being told I can’t beat somebody. I’m going to go out there and prove them wrong.”