Cain Velasquez will call it quits if he can't compete at a high level vs. Francis Ngannou

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Cain Velasquez hasn’t fought since July 2016 due to injuries. (Getty Images)
Cain Velasquez hasn’t fought since July 2016 due to injuries. (Getty Images)

In the aftermath of his dominant victory over Travis Browne at UFC 200, you may have been wondering when Cain Velasquez would fight again. During that same time frame, Velasquez was wondering why simply standing for 15 minutes put him into such excruciating pain.

One of the great fighters in the history of mixed martial arts, it wasn’t long after that win over Browne which Velasquez said was his peak performance that simply doing everyday tasks got to be physically too much for Velasquez to handle.

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This is not a guy with low pain tolerance, but he was in such horrendous pain that he was beginning to believe his days as a professional fighter had ended.

“When I had the injury, it was something that was extremely hard to deal with, to live with,” Velasquez told Yahoo Sports. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. When it was at its worst, it was bad. It’s something I’d say was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through physically.”

The pain was being caused by his spine pinching his sciatic nerve.

“Just standing for 15 minutes is probably the worst pain I’ve ever gone through,” he said.

He had surgery — for a second time — and the doctor created room so that the sciatic nerve was no longer being pinched. The difference was remarkable post-surgery, and led to his return.

He’ll compete in the Octagon for the first time since that UFC 200 victory on Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix in the main event of a card televised by ESPN when he meets the powerful Francis Ngannou.

Cain Velasquez (L) overwhelmed Travis Browne in their UFC 200 matchup resulting in a first-round TKO for the former heavyweight champion. (Getty Images)
Cain Velasquez (L) overwhelmed Travis Browne in their UFC 200 matchup resulting in a first-round TKO for the former heavyweight champion. (Getty Images)

In his absence, first Stipe Miocic and then his close friend and teammate, Daniel Cormier, were lauded as the finest heavyweight in UFC history.

Cormier, who himself is one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the sport’s history, has raved about Velasquez for years. Cormier told Yahoo Sports that we haven’t seen the end of Velasquez just yet.

“He’s got more to give,” Cormier said. “We’ve never seen a heavyweight with that type of movement, cardio and desire to compete and win. Every movement is effortless. [He’s] just a perfect machine built for fighting.”

Cormier knocked out Miocic in the first round last summer to win the heavyweight title and, at the time, become only the second fighter to hold two UFC weight class titles simultaneously.

He gave up the light heavyweight belt in December, but remains the heavyweight champion and will defend that belt later this year after he recovers from injuries he suffered in his UFC 230 title defense in November against Derrick Lewis.

Given that Velasquez and Cormier won’t fight, the longer Cormier hangs around past his original retirement date of March 20, the longer it’s going to be before Velasquez gets back in the title mix.

It’s hardly upsetting to him, though.

“Whatever D.C. wants to do, I support,” Velasquez said.

As long as he remains healthy, though, Velasquez is eager to keep fighting. He’s only fought once in two-and-a-half years and has had other long periods of inactivity as his body has betrayed him. After winning the title from Brock Lesnar on Oct. 23, 2010, Velasquez fought once in 2011, not at all in 2014, once in 2015 and 2016 and not at all in 2017 and 2018.

Yet, he expects to surpass the performance he gave in a one-sided first-round TKO of Browne on Sunday against Ngannou. And if he doesn’t get injured, he wants to keep going for as long as possible.

He’s not going to accept a lesser version of himself, though.

“The reason I do this is to be the No. 1 guy,” Velasquez said. “And if I’m not as competitive as I was before, then I’m not doing it. But I also believe that I am that same guy. I’ve improved a lot and right now, I feel stronger than ever, stronger than in the past. Obviously in that fight against Travis Browne, I am stronger than that. My body feels better than I did then with the time off I’ve taken.

“I just have a lot of confidence to go out and win this fight. I expect to go out and compete at a high level. If I can’t do that, then I’m not going to do this any more, but the way I feel now, I feel great and feel like I can keep going for quite a while more.”

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