WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Cain Velasquez can’t really plan his next steps after he fights Francis Ngannou in the main event of UFC Phoenix on Sunday.
It’s not just that Ngannou is a tough opponent, not one to look past. Velasquez could theoretically be in a No. 1 contender or even title fight if he wins in the ESPN headliner. But there could be limitations to what the former UFC heavyweight champion can do.
Daniel Cormier, Velasquez’s close friend and longtime teammate at American Kickboxing Academy, is the current heavyweight titleholder. Velasquez and Cormier will not fight each other — that is well documented. So Velasquez will go into this bout with Ngannou without truly knowing what he’s fight for, other than a victory in his first walk to the Octagon since UFC 200 in July 2016.
Cormier, 39, was supposed to retire next month on his 40th birthday. That will no longer happen, he said Monday on The MMA Hour with Luke Thomas. A back injury has sidelined him temporarily and he still wants to fight at least one more times. Meanwhile UFC president Dana White foresees three more fights for DC: rematches with Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic and a big money fight versus Brock Lesnar.
If Cormier remains the heavyweight champion for three more fights, which could very well last more than a year, Velasquez could be in some limbo. And he’s completely fine with that.
“For Daniel, it’s just like whatever he wants to do,” Velasquez said. “Whatever he wants to do. If he wants to retire soon, then I believe in that, then do that. But if he doesn’t I understand him as a competitor. He’s an extremely competitive guy. He’s a gamer. When the time comes, he’s on. It all depends on what he wants to do in his career right now. So, I’ve got his back 100 percent, whatever he wants to do. He has my support.”
Velasquez, 36, and Cormier have both called each other “brothers.” Cormier has spoke about how Velasquez cried when he became double champion, beating Miocic for the heavyweight title at UFC 226 last July. So it’s no surprise that Velasquez has no problem deferring to his teammate.
“I see it as, because we’ve helped each other out with our whole careers, coming into the UFC, into fighting,” Velasquez said. “Whenever he goes out there and wins, that’s a part of me winning out there. I’ve helped him and vice versa. He’s helped me and I know he feels the same way. When he fights, there’s a lot of pressure on me. It’s like I’m fighting out there. When he wins, it’s like I won. I was able to be a part of that.
“So again, whatever he wants to do, I’m behind him. But I’m just glad that I got to do that with him. I got to experience those years of training with him. And that we got to help each other through this career.”
Velasquez (14-2) is taking the same tact when it comes to a potential third fight between Cormier and Jones at heavyweight. If DC wants it, Velasquez said he’ll be behind it. If not? That’s OK, too.
“I’m supporting him,” Velasquez said. “If he doesn’t, then I understand that as well. That’s not for him. I understand that. So it’s not so much, yeah I want to see that matchup so bad. It’s what DC wants to do. Look what he’s done. Does he need to do more? That’s up to him. Whatever he wants to do, I’m good with. I’m happy with.”