Press conferences with heavyweights are usually like this. Anxious to get to the moment of truth, the banter gives way to cliches: “We’ll see who falls first.” “We’ll stand and bang till there’s only one standing.” “The one who hits the target the hardest will win…”
But the showdown between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior Cigano, as clever readers know, involves a lot more than throwing bombs, even if they and up dictating the pace. Boxing for boxing, Junior Cigano is better, the one who “hits the hardest.” But the champion has his own set of weapons, like his speed and wrestling, to take the Brazilian down and keep him there.
In December 2010, your GRACIE magazine put Saturday’s matchup under the microscope – further proof how GRACIE readers are ahead of the game. If you’re a collector, grab the issue off the shelf and give it a full read. GRACIEMAG.com the website will take the opportunity to remind you of the fight predictions and post some of the better snippets from the article.
“How do you stop ‘El Paredón’ Velasquez?”
After nine-straight MMA wins, eight of them by knockout, Cain Velasquez reached the pinnacle of the sport, becoming undisputed UFC heavyweight champion. Along the way he toppled established athletes like Rodrigo Minotauro and solved some truly daunting dilemmas, as he did with the stunning win over the bigger Brock Lesnar that conquered him the belt.
At twenty-eight years of age, Velasquez’s mission is to stay on top, putting an end to the round-robin of champions in the heavyweight division. Lesnar, Frank Mir, and Minotauro, for instance, were unable to hold on to the title for long. It’s hard work, but of the recent champions, none has garnered such praise. Cain seems to be a unanimous favorite. “He’s complete,” they say. His results and performances confirm it: six wins while still in the first round, like the one over Lesnar.
With enviable physical conditioning, first-rate wrestling, brutal boxing and, perhaps most significant of all, his coolheadedness, some might feel there’s no answer to this labyrinth. Even more so when we recall how Cain is well versed in Jiu-Jitsu, too. This American-born son of Mexican immigrants has been training with Dave Camarillo for four years and won the 2007 No- Gi World Championship as a blue belt. With no apparent holes in his game, beating him is a tricky puzzle indeed.
What would be the right strategy specifically for Junior Cigano to take out a force like Cain Velasquez? Can he hold out for five rounds with the UFC champ, a monster whose coaches guarantee he is one of the best conditioned fighters in the organization’s ranks? Well, Cain has only ever gone a whole three rounds once How would he do in a 25-minute fight? And what do you do to get a guy like that down to use your Jiu-Jitsu on him? The experts interviewed for this article do their best to answer these questions. (Watch the following video game simulation of Cain vs. Cigano.)
RODRIGO COMPRIDO (two-time absolute world champion and coach to Brock Lesnar, Cain’s last opponent)
I truly believe Jiu-Jitsu is the most complete martial artin existence and that a good black belt with the right strategy can beat anyone out there. Cain does indeed have good base and a very offensive, non-stop style of punching. Nevertheless, from what I saw of him in his prior fights, he opens up when he
attacks, which makes it possible to replace guard. We should also note how fighters who punch a lot extend their arm, and a good Jiu-Jitsu player can take advantage of that. Another possibility is going for his back immediately following a sweep, because the champion will probably turn to all fours to avoid being on bottom. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I see these openings in his game.
I feel pulling guard could be a good option. I know most folks will say it’s ugly or that it doesn’t work in MMA, but the reality is that if Minotauro had pulled guard, there’d have been a different outcome to the fight. A good Jiu-Jitsu fighter should never be afraid of pulling guard. There’s Demian Maia as an example for anyone who cares to see. Like I said, putting a wrestler of Velasquez’s level with his back to the ground is really hard to do, but each fighter has his own characteristics. If he’s good at armbars, perhaps it would be good to try for the finish that way. But if he has a good sweep, why wouldn’t he try that? I, in particular, learned a lot from his fight against Lesnar, and I’m going to be sure that next time I’m in the corner opposite him my fighter’s arm will be the one raised.
FABRICIO WERDUM (two-time Jiu-Jitsu World and ADCC champion)
The right tactic for facing Velasquez is doing what we call here at our team the “progressive guard.” Or in other words, attacking from the bottom with triangles, kimura locks, omoplatas, armbars, and at the same time, knowing how to defend against strikes. After all, he has really powerful ground and pound. Aside from that, there are several ways to get him to the ground and, believe it or not, I don’t feel trying to take him down is a crazy idea. Nobody has tried it and it’s something he won’t expect. A well-placed move may catch him by surprise. Jiu-Jitsu produces a series of possibilities and is always an
efficient weapon. In a fight, opportunities arise all the time and there’s a Jiu-Jitsu technique for every situation. All you need to know how to do is apply it.
RENZO GRACIE (UFC and Pride FC STAR, coach to GSP and Ricardo Cachorrão)
The truth is that Cain is good at Jiu-Jitsu too. When Lesnar took him down, he was perfectly comfortable. I feel that to beat Velasquez the opponent has to be good at all the essentials. Cain can take the fight where he wants it, like he did against Brock and Ben Rothwell. He did to Rothwell what no one had ever done before. The Jiu-Jitsu fighter who faces him will have to strengthen his standup to be able to use his ground game. Who knows? There’s always a chance in Jiu-Jitsu, something always comes up. But you have to be ready and in great shape, especially against Cain.
Getting him to the ground is a problem. Pulling guard in MMA is no easy task because the guy gets up and out of it. From the bottom the fighter has to play open guard to defend the strikes and, when the strikes come in, escape. Everything was easy when opponents didn’t know anything. These days, though, you have to know how to box, kick, and do takedowns.
I don’t know how great an idea it would be to go all out and try and finish it quickly. There are a lot of factors in a fight. In the case of Werdum against Fedor, for instance, you have to take into account how Fabrício is a big guy with great Jiu-Jitsu. Fedor accepted going to the ground because he thought Werdum was dazed from strikes. Everyone thought the fight was over. But there aren’t many heavyweights with that kind of ability. Gabriel Gonzaga’s Jiu-Jitsu is out of this world as well, but he couldn’t get his game to click on a number of occasions. Look, I believe Cain is going to be the champion for a long time. At heavyweight, I don’t see many with his kind of pace.
MURILO BUSTAMANTE (Former UFC middleweight champion)
You have to know the right way to block, getting the takedown. If you do that with the right timing, anyone will go down; that’s been proven. The guy could be a wrestling champion, time it right and he’ll go down. Another way is to shoot for his legs and, when Cain sprawls, take the chance to pull guard.
Ideally you would put Velasquez with his back to the ground either by takedown or sweep. But if you’re the one who ends up on the bottom, the important thing is to move a lot to not give him room to punch. You can’t let someone who hits hard punch. You need to go for omoplatas, armbars, sweeps… You can’t stop, and you have to have a really good defensive guard with good blocking to avoid the ground and pound. You can even close guard, but only to quickly attack. If you wait around things will get ugly. To sink a triangle, for example, you have to have long legs because Cain has broad shoulders. Now an armbar would be effective against him.
DEMIAN MAIA (UFC fighter, ADCC 2007 champion)
I’d work a lot on the guard and ways to stay safe on the bottom to defend the strikes and launch attacks. As he’s good at takedowns, being prepared in that department is key, which isn’t a problem – he’s got really dangerous ground and pound, but he throws his weight forward. That opens up possibilities. If you end up on the bottom, I feel the thing that would work best is to go for the submission or sweep from half-guard.
Velasquez can be taken down, namely by judo throws we call sacrifices, when you pull guard going for the throw. Wrestlers are used to throwing their weight forward, and that makes these types of throws easier to perform. When I took down Chael Sonnen, another wrestling specialist, that’s how I did it. But I also fooled him. I pulled guard at the start of the fight. After that he didn’t expect me to try and take him down, and I made a meal of it.