Cain Velasquez could be the UFC's greatest … could be

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Cain Velasquez hasn't fought since 2013. (REUTERS)
Cain Velasquez hasn't fought since 2013. (REUTERS)

Cain Velasquez's mixed martial arts debut wasn't heralded and came almost completely off the grid. Even when he joined the UFC after just two pro fights in 2008, his signing didn't generate much enthusiasm or attention.

The UFC had signed Brock Lesnar from the WWE a few months earlier, and his promotional debut was a big hit.

The UFC also announced Velasquez's signing at the same time it announced it had reached agreement with Shane Carwin, who at the time had a much greater reputation within the sport.

Velasquez, of course, would prove to be, by far, the best of them all. There were – and still are – few like him in the sport.

He's as close to a perfect fighter as there is – a combination of size, strength, power, quickness and conditioning that is unmatched in the sport.

No one, though, is perfect.

Velasquez's flaw, though, has little to do with skills, or anything to do with what happens when the cage door is shut and the bell sounds.

It's getting to the fight that is the problem.

No athlete ever wants to develop a reputation as injury prone, but that is exactly what is happening to the 32-year-old Velasquez, who will meet Fabricio Werdum for the heavyweight title on Saturday in the main event of UFC 188 in Mexico City.

Werdum holds the UFC's interim heavyweight title belt, which he got when Velasquez was injured last year and couldn't make their bout at UFC 180 in November.

And being injured has been a common theme, besides greatness, of Velasquez's UFC run.

He's 13-1 and, predictably, was injured when he went into the cage in the only fight he's lost. Though Junior dos Santos was injured, too, prior to that 2011 bout, the point is that Velasquez hasn't been able to make it to the post regularly or reasonably healthy.

His close friend and teammate, light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, calls Velasquez the "scariest man in the world." He hasn't scared anyone recently, though.

Velasquez hasn't fought since Oct. 19, 2013, when he routed dos Santos in a frighteningly good performance.

He's had injured knees and shoulders with stunning regularity, and has forced fights to be postponed or called off altogether. Since joining the UFC, Velasquez has had surgery on his knee and shoulder (twice each), as well as his elbow, hand and foot.

Only once in his career has Velasquez fought as many as three times in a calendar year, and that came in 2009, when he fought in February, June and October.

MMA is a young sport and it's at a stage where the greatest fighter of all-time hasn't been definitively determined. But Velasquez's name would unquestionably be mentioned were he more active.

For years, MMA's most ardent fans insisted that powerful Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko was the greatest fighter ever. UFC president Dana White disliked Emelianenko so much that he almost personally shouted down anyone who would put forward such a notion.

Anderson Silva, not Emelianenko, should be regarded as the greatest ever, White would regularly say. But when Silva lost back-to-back middleweight title fights to Chris Weidman, many began to point to the UFC's great light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, as the best ever.

There is a compelling argument for Jones, as he has regularly beaten the great opposition in his division.

Jones' only loss was a fluke, a disqualification to Matt Hamill in a fight he was on the verge of finishing. Velasquez was knocked out by dos Santos, but it came in a fight in which he had a serious injury.

Velasquez chafes at the notion that he's injury prone, despite the surgeries and numerous bumps and bruises he's fought through.

"When you train the way I do, injuries are going to happen," he said.

When he steps into the cage on Saturday – if he steps in the cage on Saturday – it will have been one year, seven months and 26 days between fights.

That's too long, and there have been far too many other lengthy absences for Velasquez to get into the conversation as the greatest fighter ever.

It's a conversation he could be in, and may yet join. Still, that recognition won't pay the bills. And the downside of a fighter being hurt as often as Velasquez is that he doesn't earn a paycheck.

UFC fighters are independent contractors who are paid only when they fight. And thus, Velasquez hasn't picked up a paycheck in nearly 20 months.

He still earned sponsor pay, but he's lost a lot of momentum there, too.

"Not being active, your name doesn't go out there as much and you lose the popularity thing," he said. "Also, you're not able to make a living. This is what we do to make a living; we go out there and fight. Not being able to fight for a year-and-a-half and not able to bring in money, it definitely sets you back. It sucks, but this is a sport where you know going in you can get hurt, you know, and injuries are a part of this.

"I have sponsors who have been great and who have paid us, so there was some money, and we have money saved. This whole thing is, our window to be able to fight and make money is very short. It's a short window to be able to take advantage of this and make as much money as we can and save it for the future. When you're not fighting and the money's not coming in, you can't do that and that's the part that sucks about this job."

Velasquez is a little better than a 4-1 favorite to defeat Werdum on Saturday and, once again, reclaim supremacy atop the heavyweight division.

A motivated, healthy, in-shape Velasquez is the guy no MMA fighter wants to see.

Cormier, who described his sparring sessions with Velasquez as "pure hell," said Velasquez has been his old, dominant self during training.

"There is nobody in the world like this guy," Cormier said. "Nobody. There's Cain and then there is everyone else."

More coverage of UFC 188 on Yahoo Sports: