After he pummelled Brock Lesnar to win the title at UFC 121 in 2010, there was good reason to believe Velasquez might set some sort of longevity record as heavyweight champion.
He wasn't just winning fights; he was assaulting his opponents. He was one of the UFC's best-conditioned athletes, if not its best. He punched ridiculously hard and was stunningly quick for a guy who weighed 240 pounds. Clearly, his wrestling was elite.
That combination led to a lot of battered and beaten opponents and all sorts of predictions of greatness for Velasquez.
Today, though, he's a former champion, and it clearly doesn't sit well with him. He's had to recount his stunning loss over and over, frequently doing so through clenched teeth.
As the rematch with dos Santos has inched closer, his answers to the questions about what happened at UFC on Fox 1 have become far more curt.
"I didn't execute," he said. "I didn't fight with the urgency I needed to fight with."
It's a pretty good bet that he'll fight with urgency when he challenges dos Santos for the belt at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday.
He gave a glimpse of his mindset in May when he tore apart Antonio "Big Foot" Silva. Velasquez savagely beat Silva, blistering him with elbows and punches and turning him into a bloody mess that wasn't for those with queasy stomachs.
When the fight was stopped, there was little celebration by Velasquez. It was simply a step toward getting back to where he wanted to be.
He was sick of hearing "former champion" in front of his name and battering Silva was just a step toward accomplishing that goal.
Much is being made of Velasquez's knee injury prior to the first fight with dos Santos, some of that fueled by Velasquez himself when he released a video of the injury.
As fight time approaches, though, he's refused to make much of it other than to acknowledge he wasn't able to train like he needed to in order to retain his belt.
He could have pulled out, though it would have been a difficult choice because the fight was the UFC's first on Fox and perhaps was more heavily hyped than any MMA fight in history.
Given his wrestling base and his need to be able to use his legs to explode into his takedowns, perhaps it would have been wise to postpone the fight.
He made the decision to fight and the results are what they are. He's not eager to revisit it.
Clearly, had he known then what he knows now, he wouldn't have fought. It does him little good to talk about it, though it's one of the primary issues heading into Saturday's rematch.
"I made the decision I made and I have to live with the consequences of it," he said. "I've moved on."
So he says. But everything about Velasquez says that he hasn't, that he's watched the replay in his mind over and over. The vision of dos Santos' right hand landing behind his ear and stealing his equilibrium is on repeat in his brain.
It takes a world-class athlete to claim a UFC belt. But it takes a special one to regroup and regain a title.
"I got into this sport to be the best and I've never lost that feeling," he said. "I believe I'm the best and I have to go out there and fight like it."
It's been a long 13 months for Velasquez and the challenge ahead of him is immense.
If he shows the same fury and urgency in the cage that he's shown in his public appearances since losing the belt, he might join Randy Couture, Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia as the only men to lose and then later regain the heavyweight title.
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts