Posted: Wednesday October 27, 2010 6:15PM ; Updated: Wednesday October 27, 2010 6:15PM
Josh Gross
Josh Gross>INSIDE MMA

Velasquez's title shocker opens UFC to Hispanic market, more mail

Story Highlights

Cain Velasquez's heavyweight shocker can give UFC inroads with Hispanic market

Look for Brock Lesnar, Saturday's upset victim, to fight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Jon Fitch should meet Jake Shields; the winner would be a true No. 1 contender

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The UFC is openly trading on Cain Velasquez's Mexican-American identity, a move some readers are calling "shameless."
AP

UFC 121 has come and gone, and Brock Lesnar is no longer champion. That honor belongs to Cain Velasquez, the first fighter of Mexican descent to hold a major combat sports heavyweight title. Seems like something worthy of generating discussion among fans. On Twitter and via e-mail, SI.com's MMA followers chimed in on all things Lesnar and Velasquez, as well as other topics tied to a busy week in mixed martial arts.

@CritRegionalist The whole business re. Velasquez's identity as Mexican: shameless marketing ploy, is it not? Has too much been made of it?

No, it is not. Like you, I initially questioned the use of "first Mexican champion" rather than the more accurate "Mexican-American." But Velasquez has no issue with it, neither do people like Carlos Arias of the Orange County Register, who have more insight into this than I.

Really, it was smart marketing by Zuffa to make this the moment UFC went hard after an audience it's wanted for years but could not grab. There is something genuine about Velasquez that the UFC picked up and ran with. If you saw the new champ Monday on Lopez Tonight, he's a natural. His success, as it should be, will be directly tied to his results in the cage. And I don't think there's any doubt that winning and defending the UFC belt would cement his status as a sports start among Hispanic audiences.

@isho21 Next fight for Lesnar? I'm thinking winner of Carwin/Nelson, and if Lesnar wins it's another fast-track title shot.

Shane Carwin announced early Tuesday that he was backing out of his New Year's Day fight against Roy Nelson because of an injury, and would need to undergo surgery. So that ends that.

Lesnar's camp is a vacuum. There's a "no comment" policy on basically anything associated with him. So it's difficult to know what they're thinking. We know this though, medical suspensions by the California State Athletic Commission guarantee Lesnar can't compete by Jan. 1.

There's talk from fans and media about Lesnar-Mir III, which might interest some people I guess. Not me. If Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira heals up by the first quarter of 2011, now would be the time to make that fight. Lesnar-Nogueira, despite the Brazilian's brittle body, still has appeal.

@NJDave0576 Has the removal of Greg Nelson from team Lesnar stunted his growth as a fighter? Seems more tentative since Mir II.

I don't believe so. Lesnar has top-notch coaches working with him in what's effectively been a crash course on MMA. If anything, it may be that he hasn't done enough sparring against guys that can lump him up. But outside of that, it's hard to find fault with his preparation.

@luke4MMA How is Cain being called the first Mexican HW champ? What about Ricco Rodriguez? Does he not count?

Nope. Rodriguez is Puerto Rican and Italian.

@LucaFury In your opinion, what does Cain Velasquez have to do to equal/surpass the greatness of Fedor's legacy?

He's nine fights into his career. If Velasquez beats Junior dos Santos and continues to hold onto the UFC belt for the next three years then you can begin having that conversation.

@MVanderby Twitterbag question: How do you rate Paulo Thiago after his defeat against Diego Sanchez?

He's going to be No. 10 or out of the rankings completely, I haven't quite figured it out yet. Thiago has taken a step back since knocking out Josh Koscheck in 2008, losing to Jon Fitch, Martin Kampmann and now Sanchez.

@SPC8 I like Nightmare Sanchez a lot. Where can this win take him?

Back into the welterweight picture, at a minimum. He was tremendous in Rounds 2 and 3 against Thiago. If Sanchez focuses on wrestling and ground-and-pound as his tactical preferences during a fight -- he should since they're what made him a force to begin with -- his victory on Saturday could mark a positive turning point in his career.

@sonochamp What's next for Jon Fitch? Do you feel he should get a title shot before Shields? Or should he fight Shields for it?

I'd like to see Fitch fight Jake Shields next. The winner would be a true No. 1 contender. There's a sticking point, though. What if Josh Koscheck defeats Georges St. Pierre and Fitch beats Shields? The American Kickboxing Academy teammates already said they won't fight one another. So despite Shields' less-than-stellar showing against Kampmann, his status as top contender is the easiest route for the UFC.

@Aron_G Machida. Royce. Are there any others fighters who won UFC titles without losing a fight? And is there any significance?!

Mark Coleman. Randy Couture. Tim Sylvia. Shane Carwin (interim title). Rashad Evans. And now Cain Velasquez. It's a nice footnote, but doesn't mean much otherwise. Unless you want to read something into the fact that Coleman, Couture, Carwin and Evans lost their first fight after winning the title. And many people think Machida should have lost his first fight as champion against Mauricio Rua. If Junior dos Santos happens to be reading this, I bet he's smiling.

Two-part Question: In consecutive fights Brock has been overwhelmed by a barrage of striking by his opponent. His response has not been to counter-strike but rather to "turtle-up." Is this strictly his lack of MMA experience on display, or perhaps worse, and very un-Viking-like, a lack of heart? And now that he has disposed rather easily of Brock, has the UFC ever seen a HW with Cain Velasquez's package of speed, power, skill and intelligence?
--Marc Kravitz, Philly

After his comeback against Shane Carwin in July, there's no way you can question the guy's heart. His instincts? Sure. And there's evidence, based on the examples you cited, that he simply doesn't deal well with being punched in the face. Considering the list of occupational hazards in MMA, that's a tough one to work around. He's going to have to find a way to become comfortable taking a shot to the chin. Simple as that.

As far as Velasquez goes, he has every attribute you want in a great fighter. Physically he's on par with anyone out there. He can handle getting his clock cleaned. Mentally, he's relaxed and confident. In the gym he's dedicated and has the benefit of working with trainers smart enough to focus on and exploit opponent's weaknesses. If Velasquez played baseball, he'd been known as a five-tool player. Does that make him the first of his kind in the UFC? I wouldn't go that far.

Do you think we're all overreacting to Cain's win? I mean Randy, Frank and Shane all stung Brock with shots to the chin. Brock's too big and young for Randy, Frank got stuck up against the cage and Shane punched himself out. I consider Brock fortunate in those instances. Cain did pop right up after the takedown attempts. That was the best part of that fight.
--Kelly, Slippery Rock, Pa.

Velasquez was almost perfect against Lesnar, so there's no overstating what he accomplished on Saturday. However I'd like it if we could all take a collective step back and realize this was one victory. It doesn't guarantee greatness in the years ahead. It doesn't make Velasquez unbeatable. It may mark the start of an era, but it's far too soon to go out and assert something like that. The best part of the fight as far as I'm concerned: Velasquez's poise in the face of fierce pressure.

If the UFC is successful with its marketing of Cain Velasquez, and he brings an influx of Latino fans to the UFC, comparable to what Brock Lesnar brought in terms of wrestling fans, do you think there will be a bit of a backlash among the current crop of MMA fans, many of whom are white?
--Mike, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I can't imagine. If there are people out there hateful enough to think like this, they'll probably tune in just the same hoping to see Velasquez lose.

With all the Lesnar vs. Velasquez discussion, I didn't find much coverage of the Bellator card on Thursday. Eddie Alvarez bombed on Roger Huerta. Ben Askren did what he does. And there were a bunch of great results on the undercard. Rick Hawn's throw into a TKO was unreal. Any thoughts? Will we see Alvarez fight Gilbert Melendez?
--Oscar, Atlantic City, N.J.

It was a solid night of fights, for sure. You're absolutely correct on Hawn's judo throw; just a beautiful exhibition from the 2004 Olympian of what hundreds of hours of repetition in the gym can do for you. Askren's style may not please many, but the guy is a winner. His wrestling is difficult for anyone to handle. If he manages to incorporate some meaningful offense on the ground, good luck.

The real story, as you mentioned, was Eddie Alvarez's stoppage of Roger Huerta. The win, a second-round technical knockout that came when Huerta couldn't answer the call for Round 3, immediately ramped up talk of a fight between the Bellator champion and Strikeforce lightweight titleholder Gilbert Melendez. The matchup was already getting play as the two sides engaged in the media, but in the wake of Alvarez's highest-profile victory in the U.S., Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney took the opportunity to go after Strikeforce boss Scott Coker.

"There's no reason that fight shouldn't happen but for the promoter of Gilbert Melendez doesn't want it to occur," said Rebney, who explained he's fine with it taking place under the Strikeforce banner on Showtime. "We want it to happen. It would be a great event."

Coker agreed with Rebney that a fight between Melendez and Alvarez makes sense. However, he said, "there are probably a good 10-15 business points that haven't been addressed. And it's not just the broadcast partner or location of the fight. When you're talking nitty-gritty business points there's going to be more to discuss than just the venue or TV. But I am glad he did say he would accept it on a Showtime broadcast as well as at HP Pavilion. But to me it's very clear they're trying to make this fight happen through the media. If he wants to have a business conversation he should be a businessman and call me direct and not take it to the public. What does that do? It just gets everybody up in arms with Gilbert's camp. That's what they're trying to do. They're trying to drag it through the media to apply pressure."

Rebney suggested that he has tried to reach Coker by phone and text, and hasn't not received a response.

First, Alvarez and Melendez have other fights to attend to. Coker is working with Dream to put Melendez in against Shinya Aoki on New Year's Eve in Japan. Alvarez is lined up to fight Pat Curran -- who earned a title shot by winning the lightweight tournament during Bellator's third season -- when the challenger's shoulder injury clears up.

Bellator and Strikeforce have negotiated over fighters in the past, most notably for the use of Huerta, a big-money free agent signing from the UFC earlier this year. However those talks fell through, Coker said, when Strikeforce was approached with covering a portion of the signing bonus Huerta received when he signed with Bellator. Alvarez does have a contract to fight in Strikeforce, yet Coker said he respects the fighter's arrangement with Bellator and would negotiate through Rebney when it was appropriate to do so.

"How they do business and how they come up with business points are very important," said Coker, who has proven himself willing to enter into co-promotions. "We're going to look at this as a new start and not look at the Roger Huerta offering as a benchmark. If we can put this fight together I'd be happy because I think my guy would take him."

As for the fighters, both want the bout.

"I'm always impressed with Eddie, but I feel really confident that I'm in the running for the best in the world," Melendez said. "I'm not scared of that guy and I'll fight him."

"Scott Coker don't want it to happen," countered Alvarez. "He's trying to protect his champion. I want to be No. 1 in the world and the only way to do that is to fight people like Gilbert. If we can get our hands on him and the contracts work out then that's what we'll do. The papers have to be signed. Let's make it happen. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

So will we see it?

I hope so. And expect so.

This is a test of the system promoters like Coker and Rebney say they're willing to operate in. While the UFC is closed, the rest of MMA is opening up -- mainly as a survival mechanism to compete for the attention of media and fans. If Melendez and Alvarez continue to win, two of the highest-ranked lightweights in MMA outside the constraints of the UFC need to fight.

 
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