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EDMONTON – Former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has been out of competition for more than a year, and while his return is starting to loom, he’s reluctant to put an exact date on when he’ll be able to fight again.

The past several years of Velasquez’s (14-2 MMA, 12-2 UFC) career have been nothing short of challenging. Injuries have restricted him to competing just twice in a nearly four-year stretch, with his most recent bout being a first-round TKO of Travis Browne at UFC 200 in July 2016.

Once touted as the man who could rule the heavyweight division for as long as he desired, Velasquez, 35, hasn’t been able to stay consistently healthy. He wants to make sure there’s no doubt when he returns to the octagon, even if it requires putting it off until next year.

“When I come back I want to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy,” Velasquez told MMAjunkie at a Bud Lite Living Rooms event today in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “I owe it to the fans, and I owe it to me. I can’t mess around anymore. I have to be ready. … I’m about 80 percent. I would say sometime next year I’ll be ready to fight.”

In the meantime, Velasquez, No. 4 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings, said he and his wife are expecting their second child in November. He’s enjoying spending his time with family, but he’s also been keeping an eye on happenings in the heavyweight division.

During Velasquez’s absence, current champ Stipe Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC) has evolved into arguably the most dominant titleholder in divisional history. Miocic has knocked out his past four opponents inside the first round, making quick work of the likes of Junior Dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, and more.

“The way that he’s gone out there and won (is) definitely impressive,” Velasquez said. “He looks great out there. Good for him.”

Although Velasquez has been impressed with Miocic’s performances, he’s not going to demand a title upon his return. Velasquez would certainly take the fight if offered but said if the UFC brass feels the need to see him prove he’s healthy, he’s understanding of that as well.

“I think whoever the UFC wants to put in front of me (I’ll fight),” Velasquez said. “I’m all for taking those big challenges. Whoever they want to put in front of me, that’s how I’ve always been.”

For more on the upcoming UFC schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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