SN Q&A: Cain Velasquez on exceeding expectations in pro wrestling debut, why he continues UFC career
Cain Velasquez shocked the pro wrestling world in his debut match at Lucha Libre’s AAA “Triplemania” at the beginning of August.
The former UFC heavyweight champion received rave reviews for the way he executed his moves, including a hurricanrana just a few minutes into the match, and for how he handled the high expectations many wrestling pundits set for him.
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Well, Velasquez returns for an encore this Sunday in AAA’s “Invading NY” at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden, where he’ll team with Psycho Clown and Brian Cage to face Texano Jr., Rey Escorpion and Taurus.
Before the 37-year-old steps back into the squared circle, Velasquez speaks with Sporting News about surprsing people in his freshman outing, comparing the first match to winning the UFC heavyweight title from Brock Lesnar and what the future holds for him in wrestling.
(Editor’s note: This interview was edited for clarity and length).
Sporting News: You made your Lucha Libre debut at the beginning of August for AAA’s marquee annual event Triplemania teaming with Cody Rhodes and Psycho Clown against Killer Kross, Texano and Taurus. You performed very well and exceeded all expectations. We haven’t seen an athlete come in from another sport and make the moves you were able to do in a very long time. How exciting was that for you as a lifelong wrestling fan to complete a dream?
Cain Velasquez: Dude, it was so crazy. It was so much fun. I had a blast out there. For me beforehand, I felt a lot of pressure on me to go out and perform. I calmed down a bit and told myself just to go out there and perform. I know what I can do. I knew I was going to kill it. You either are going to look really good or really bad to people and have them say negative things regardless of how the show went.
I wasn’t sure how everyone was going to react. To myself, I knew what I could do. I knew the show was going to be great. I got surprised big time. I was just in shock of the people’s reaction to what I did on that match. For me, I had so much fun out there. I didn’t expect to have that much fun. I’m a lifelong wrestling fan. I got hooked and just fell in love with the sport. I definitely plan on doing more.
SN: What were your expectations then heading into the match?
CV: I thought I could obviously go out there because I’m an athlete. I wasn’t sure, though, how good I could do because I have heard other people that have done wrestling in the past that have crossed over from another sport and some do well and some people will say it’s a lot harder than what it is. I knew that could possibly be a good talking point for people that I couldn’t go out there and perform.
But for me, I was going to go out there and do what I do. If people liked it, cool, but if they don’t like it then they don’t like it. I have no control. I can just do my thing. And people loved it, so it was really positive. To me, it was shocking because I felt everyone was really surprised at what I did. For me, the reaction of the people was shocking.
SN: What was a bigger moment for you: Going through that match and accomplishing a dream and doing something people didn’t think you could do or when you beat Brock Lesnar to win the UFC heavyweight title?
CV: (Chuckles) I’d say they’re almost the same plane. It was almost the same scenario. Going into that match with Brock was like, ‘Ok, I can go in there and do this.’ I was 100 percent sure I could win. I knew I could beat him everywhere. I just had to go out there and do it. There was always the possibility of something happening and not winning. But I felt like I was really prepared for that fight.
I knew Brock’s game everywhere. I knew what he was good at. I knew where he wasn’t so comfortable at. I just had to go out there, perform and win. It was a shock like, ‘Oh wow,’ when I won the title because all of the hard work I put into that fight paid off. It was very similar to the Triplemania match. The only difference was how much fun I had out there doing it; where the fight with Brock was more work and was a little different mentality to what I had into the wrestling match.
SN: You look at when Ronda Rousey made her debut last year at WrestleMania, and you look at your debut, it’s so amazing that MMA fighters can make the transition easier than other athletes from other sports. You and Ronda had fantastic matches in your debuts and pulled the matches off seamlessly. What is it about people who have competed in MMA that allows you to make an easier transition to pro wrestling?
CV: I would say in MMA there is wrestling, jiu-jitsu, we can throw strikes, and it’s a combat sport. But the most important thing is you have to learn how to work with people when you are out there doing a match. You need to be right on the edge of where it looks real. You’re doing real slams, you’re doing real hits in terms of kicking and punching, and you’re working with your opponent to make this match look amazing.
Because when it doesn’t look right, it looks like s—. And you can’t do that. You’re going to be made fun of. You have to go out there and perform well. I believe that with MMA and how we train in all the different aspects of the sport, we can use it in pro wrestling and it translates very well. I believe that not everyone has that same feel and can do it well.
SN: The last time we talked was right before the Francis Ngannou fight. I could feel it in your tone of voice of how excited you were to get back into the cage after the layoff. You came up short that evening. How is the knee feeling, and when can the fans expect your return to the octagon?
CV: The knee is feeling better. I’m always rehabbing it. I don’t know when I’ll return. When the knee feels it’s ready to go, we’ll talk to the UFC and pick a date. As of right now, we are focusing on the two shows I have with AAA and after that, I’m looking to do some more pro wrestling matches. It’s something I want to do.
I do plan on fighting again. I’m not sure when, but I will fight again.
SN: You are having this much fun wrestling, why continue fighting and focus on pro wrestling?
CV: I still love fighting. I’m still practicing and going to the gym at AKA (American Kickboxing Academy). It’s more so me just loving MMA and my love for the sport. I don’t feel that I’m done yet.
SN: I was told you were at the recent New Japan Pro Wrestling show in San Francisco to have discussions with the company about wrestling there in the future. Is New Japan, AEW or WWE places you’d like to compete at or do you want to stay with AAA?
CV: New Japan is an organization that I’d love to wrestle for. But I don’t believe that I want to stick with one organization. I want to be wrestling for different organizations. For me, this sport is so new, and I want to learn as much as I can and wrestle as much as I can.
New Japan would be an awesome company to wrestle for. I went over and saw their show (Super J Cup) here in San Francisco. Their athletes and the way they wrestle is top-notch. I was impressed with that. I was impressed with the whole show in general. I’m just ready to learn more and do the best I can.
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