Elite athletes enter competition expecting to win. Cain Velasquez, a two-time UFC heavyweight champion who began his career with nine straight wins, certainly does. Even after losses, he expects to win his next mixed martial arts bout. Such beliefs carry weight.
“In the UFC, for me, it's a lot of pressure going in,” Velasquez said. “It's a lot of training for 15 minutes, or a lot of training for 25 minutes of a fight, so you have to go out there and make sure that you're 100 percent on that night.”
In the world of pro wrestling, of which Velasquez now dabbles in, he knows the outcome in advance. That should alleviate some pressure, yes? Well, sort of.
“I got the same exact feeling and as I would in [an MMA] fight as far as a little bit of the nerves, but I would say a lot more enjoyment just in the moment,” Velasquez told Newsday about his appearance at Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide’s Triplemania event last month in Mexico City. “I kind of felt those same feelings driving to the event for that night. I just had to take a step back and just say to myself, ‘OK. This is different. This isn’t like fighting. It's not the same feelings. I should have fun with it.’”
Velasquez did have fun, competing as a luchador, using the nickname “El Toro,” wearing a black mask, performing in the country his father was born in, starring in a sport he grew up watching and admiring.
Presumably, he’ll have as much fun if not more when he returns to the ring for Lucha Libre AAA’s “Invading NY” event on Sept. 15 at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Velasquez again will compete in a six-man tag-team match.
Now, about that hurricarana that Velasquez, a 250-pound heavyweight MMA fighter and former NCAA All-American wrestler, pulled off? Yeah, he started practicing that the night before the fight.
“Psycho Clown, who is my tag team partner, he was telling me I should do that move and I've never done it before, I've never even practiced it before,” Velasquez said. “He just said, ‘Hey do the move.’”
Konnan, a behind-the-scenes official and a legendary luchador in his own right, wasn’t so sure.
“Well, let me try right now and then you can tell me if I could even do it,” Velasquez responded. “So I did it, landed it, it was all good, and then they’re like, ‘OK, let’s do it again one more time just to make sure you have it. And then that was it, we just added to the show. So it was all done the night before.”
Impressive performance, indeed, for Velasquez, who prior to his last UFC fight in February had missed nearly three years because of injuries. Velasquez, 37, is 14-3 in his MMA career, which began in 2006. But since the end of 2013, Velasquez had only fought three times, losing his title to Fabricio Werdum in 2015, beating Travis Browne in 2016 and then losing in 26 seconds by knockout to Francis Ngannou last February.
“MMA is a sport that I still love, that I still practice,” Velasquez said. “I don't consider myself as being finished or retired with MMA. I still do want to fight. But, as of right now, I'm having a good time learning this sport. My wife, my two kids are loving it as well. I don't know, it's just something new that we're just kind of getting into, and it's just a lot of fun and I just want to keep getting better in this sport."
Velasquez said he does plan to be on the Oct. 13 Lucha Libre AAA card in Los Angeles. He said his body felt “great” after his first pro wrestling match last month.
“I'm only going to do things that I that I feel like I can do, that do not put my body in harm,” Velasquez said. “Obviously there's a risk to everything.”
You mean, like, jumping off the top rope and flying through the air and crashing into another bulky human being?
“What am I doing? This is nuts. I’m going to get hurt, don’t do this,” Velasquez recalling thinking the first time he did that.
That also happened in the days leading up to his pro wrestling debut in front of thousands of fans in Mexico City.
“Psycho Clown was pushing me to do different things that that they did, so he was like, ‘You wanna try going off the top rope?’” Velasquez said. “Inside, I was like, ‘No,’ but I just said, ‘Yes, of course, I want to try that.’ So, we did it three or four times. It was crazy at the time, but I'm glad I did it and I want to keep continuing to try things like that.”