Cain Velasquez is up to a heavyweight challenge (Yahoo! Sports)


LAS VEGAS – It would be demeaning to Junior dos Santos, the UFC's classy and oh-so-talented heavyweight champion, to suggest that his title-winning victory over Cain Velasquez was remotely close to a fluke.

Dos Santos disposed of Velasquez in savage, conclusive fashion on Nov. 12 in Anaheim, Calif., needing only 64 seconds to land a punishing right hand and then finish Velasquez on the ground.

But I have this nagging feeling that the best heavyweight in the world won't be in the main event on Saturday in UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Garden, where dos Santos and Frank Mir will meet in a hotly anticipated fight for the belt that once was wrapped around Velasquez's waist.

Meanwhile, Velasquez settles for a spot in the co-main event against ex-Strikeforce star Antonio "Big Foot" Silva as he begins his road back.

[Related: Order UFC 146 and see all the action]

It's far easier to win the UFC heavyweight title than it is to regain it, but if anyone is capable of doing so, it's Velasquez. The UFC has put a heavyweight title belt around the waist of 15 men, but only Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia and Mir ever regained it.

That's not too surprising because mixed martial arts is one of the most humbling sports on the planet. There are so many ways to win – and lose – that anything can happen at any time.

It explains why a second-tier guy such as Ryo Chonan has a win over arguably the greatest MMA fighter in history, Anderson Silva. It's why Matt Serra was able to knock out Georges St. Pierre, arguably the greatest athlete to enter the Octagon.

And it also explains the seemingly inexplicable 64-second loss Velasquez suffered to dos Santos in November. Nearly everyone who had seen either of them fight expected a long, classic battle rather than the fast, uneventful bout that occurred.

That loss has left Velasquez answering the same question repeatedly over the last few months, explaining daily what happened.

Velasquez, though, never bought the hype and is not too worried about the gloom-and-doom gang who are saying he was little more than a product of the UFC's fertile hype machine.

[Related: Six questions that will be answered at UFC 146]

He was a collegiate wrestling star at Arizona State and learned early on that losing is part of being an athlete.

"I'm definitely able to let it go," Velasquez said. "In wrestling, I've lost matches before and stuff like that, so it's always a thing where you kind of learn from it. You just watch film, but you don't really keep it with you and always think about it. It's the kind of thing where you just learn from it right away and then move on. I mean, that's what you have to do.

"I wasn't thinking that I was going to go through my entire career undefeated. You kind of expect to lose sometimes. It's the kind of thing that just happens. If you were better on that day, then that's all it is."

Velasquez, who has the best cardiovascular conditioning in the sport along with explosive takedowns and more power than Josh Hamilton, shouldn't get too used to losing.

Any time a well-trained heavyweight throws a punch, he's dangerous, but Velasquez simply is more lethal than most.

Mir called Velasquez "more of a multifaceted threat" than dos Santos. And Silva raved about Velasquez's speed.

[Related: Junior dos Santos fulfills 9-year-old boy's dream by taking him to UFC 146]

Still, it's incumbent on Velasquez to go out and live up to his vast potential. He knows most people in the sport blame him for spoiling the party on Nov. 12 on the UFC's national-television debut. The card was set up to highlight the heavyweight title fight, and after hours of talking, the fight lasted barely a minute.

That, though, is what heavyweights do, and it's why fans were so excited by the makeup of the UFC 146 main card.

There are few areas of the sport in which Velasquez isn't extremely above average, but when a man with dos Santos' skill hits you on the side of the head, things tend to end quickly.

Velasquez is as low key as he is talented, and he has been comfortable taking a secondary position on the show as dos Santos and Mir have grabbed the spotlight.

He's just eager to put on a good show and remind some that the best guy isn't always the one wearing the belt.

He has changed nothing in his approach and is the same driven, highly motivated competitor he always has been.

"You know, [I'm] just always trying to get better," Velasquez said. "There is always room for improvement in every area, [standing], on the ground, just overall."

MMA is about as unpredictable as it gets, but if Velasquez indeed has gotten better, chances are pretty good that Silva's face will be turned into mush late Saturday and a bunch of naysayers quickly will forget the events of Nov. 12.

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