01 Jan Missed Fists Theater: Before WWE, before UFC, Cain Velasquez, Ronda Rousey, and Brock Lesnar wrecked shop
Welcome to the latest edition of Missed Fists where we shine a light on fights from across the globe that may have been overlooked in these hectic times where it seems like there’s an MMA show every other day.
Earlier this week, reports came out that Cain Velasquez’s brief run with the WWE has come to an end. While Velasquez could still have a fruitful career in pro wrestling—a return to the WWE in the future isn’t out of the question and he already has a working relationship with Mexico’s wildly popular AAA promotion—it’s also possible that this is the last we’ve seen of the 37-year-old Velasquez performing on a major stage.
This edition of Missed Fists Theater is dedicated to the earliest days of the two-time UFC heavyweight champion’s MMA career and while we’re at it, let’s take a look at the pre-everything days of WWE stars Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar.
AL: Okay, I know what you’re all thinking: Why Last Resort as this week’s MFT musical soundtrack?
Other than the fact that it’s the second baddest song of all-time behind only Face the Pain (obviously), this Papa Roach classic also served as the walkout music for Velasquez’s first pro fight. That’s right, your boy was down with Nu metal!
JM: I’m excited about our Velasquez dive because he feels like the forgotten phenom of MMA. There aren’t many guys who enter MMA and are immediately tabbed as someone to watch, but Cain definitely was one. Bob Cook told anyone who would listen that this guy was a future champion and it’s easy to see why: Cain is a natural. There are few fighters who came into the game with more potential than Cain and the fact that he somehow never really realized it is a huge what-if in MMA history.
AL: One other thing to note here is that Velasquez’s debut took place at a Strikeforce event in Fresno, Calif. (headlined by Tank Abbott and Paul Buentello!) on Oct. 7, 2006, so technically you can add him to the list of UFC champions who began their career with that promotion.
Strikeforce Never Die.
Poor Jesse Fujarczyk. His pre-fight video package revolves around him sounding like a good guy who just wanted to try MMA as a hobby. Little did he know that his fifth and last fight would be against a human hurricane. As an odd pro wrestling aside, Fujarczyk’s other pro loss came against WWE Tough Enough Season 4 winner Daniel Puder.
Anyway, Cain just rushes the dude, rips him off the cage, and immediately puts him on his ass.
JM: That’s all we could ever expect here. Cain was ready-made for the UFC from day one. Such is the majesty of the elite wrestlers and the heavyweight division.
AL: Velasquez, a two-time NCAA All-American out of Arizona state, looked like an overwhelming force in his first fight, but his next opponent actually presented a challenge.
At a Bodog Fight show in St. Petersburg, Russia, Jeremiah Constant actually looked alright scrambling with Velasquez… for about two minutes before he gassed out and “Cardio Cain” took over.
JM: That’s being generous. Constant—a solid collegiate wrestler himself with more MMA experience than Cain—presented a good test for the nascent Velasquez, but he never really looked close to winning; he just made Cain work a little.
What’s interesting to me is that only two fights in, you can see some hallmarks of Velasquez’s game: preferring turtle position to back mount, control and ground-and-pound versus submissions. Like many great fighters, Cain knew who he wanted to be early on, the rest was just refinement.
AL: That was it for his pre-UFC career. Two first-round finishes and soon Dana White came calling. The rest is history as Velasquez would go on to have a spectacular career that was hindered by a non-stop run of injuries.
JM: Injuries and some ill-timed losses: full credit to Junior dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum. But if you had told me in 2012 that Cain Velasquez would end up being a good but not great heavyweight, I’d have thought you were insane. This guy was supposed to be the GOAT.
I still think peak Cain is probably the best fighter I’ve ever seen (not P4P, but taking into account size), yet there’s a real argument he’s among the biggest disappointments in MMA history, which is astonishing considering he was a two-time heavyweight champion!
AL: I’d take him in his prime over any heavyweight.
AL: Originally, the plan here was to only pick one or two fights for each of these UFC/WWE folks, but since the total time of Rousey’s pre-Strikeforce career is about five minutes in total, it can’t hurt to take a glance at all the foes she vanquished on her way to superstardom.
Just look at her first three amateur bouts:
Hayden Munoz, CFL Ground Zero, Oxnard, Calif., Aug. 6, 2010
Autumn Richardson, Tuff-N-Uff, Nov. 12, 2010
Taylor Stratford, Tuff-N-Uff, Jan. 7, 2011
Sense a theme?
JM: Rousey f*cking hates arms. She hates ‘em.
AL: The last name on that list, Taylor Stratford (now Guardado) has her own incredible story as she was a major prospect during her amateur career. Seriously, check the record, she beat Raquel Pennington, Ashlee Evans-Smith, and Amanda Bell before putting off going pro to focus on raising a family. She didn’t make her pro debut until earlier this year (!) when she participated in the Invicta FC Phoenix Series 3 one-night tournament.
MMA is wild, man.
JM: That’s legitimately awesome and goes to show what a force of nature early Rousey was. She catches a lot of heat for being a terrible loser but it’s entirely possible she was the best female fighter in the world upon making her debut. There was such a vast chasm between her and her contemporaries.
AL: I always thought of her as essentially being the modern equivalent of Royce Gracie during the first few UFCs relative to her competition.
When Rousey went pro on March 7, 2011, her first fight was against Ediane Gomes, 6-1 at the time. Gomes retired with an 11-4 record and had a more than respectable career, but she was no match for Rousey.
Bully mode instantly activated by Rousey.
JM: Is that King of the Cage or was that UFC 200?
Basically the first time anyone saw Rousey fight it was abundantly clear she was better than whoever else you thought was the best.
AL: Charmaine Tweet, Rousey’s second opponent, also went on to some notoriety, twice challenging for an Invicta FC featherweight title. She even managed to briefly survive being on the ground with Rousey.
But then Rousey hit the dreaded WMMA head-and-arm throw and ended the fight at the 49-second mark.
JM: Man, I miss Rousey. Love her or hate her, I think it’s undeniable she was the most exciting woman to ever step in the cage and may well be the most exciting fighter ever not named Justin Gaethje. She’s just all aggression and action. It’s like she can’t even conceive of the idea of stepping backwards and half of her attacks are wildly dangerous throws that give opponents scramble opportunities.
I also think it’s kind of hilarious that there is no discernible difference in her striking in this bout than from any other bout she ever has. The lady never learned how to box.
AL: Regardless, two pro fights was all one needed to see to know Rousey was destined for greatness. She made her Strikeforce debut two months later.
AL: Let’s just take a moment here to appreciate these sweet entrances.
Watch these fighters and their entourages march down the steps at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and try to convince me that the UFC is somehow the pinnacle of the sport when it comes to production and presentation. You can’t.
JM: I don’t think anyone with a functioning brain stem thinks the UFC has the best production. They’re probably not even in the top-5 in that regard. Sadly, Dana White’s personal aesthetic reigns over UFC production, hence the excess of Red Hot Chili Peppers (which, as a white guy who grew up in the 90’s, I’m obviously also a fan of).
AL: You won’t catch me disparaging the Chili Willies.
June will mark the 13th anniversary of Lesnar’s MMA debut, which took place at a Dynamite!! USA show, cross-promoted by K-1 Hero’s and EliteXC. You know we’ve gone deep, deep down the MMA well now.
On the call are Mauro Ranallo, Jay Glazer, and Bill Goldberg. Not coincidentally, Goldberg was the last person Lesnar shared the ring with in his first run with the WWE.
JM: It’s honestly the perfect team to call Brock’s debut. They hit all the key aspects of Brock’s debut, though I don’t think they stress enough just how unique of an athlete Lesnar was. Legitimately, the fact that Lesnar essentially made a practice squad for the NFL despite having not played football since high school is one of the most insane athletic achievements I’ve ever heard of.
S*it, Lesnar is so impressive he could probably step off the couch and onto Fight Island and beat a number of top-10 UFC heavyweights.
AL: They also found the perfect opponent for Lesnar in Min Soo Kim, an Olympic silver medalist in judo. This lamb was led to the Lesnar with a 2-5 record and losses to the likes of Bob Sapp, Semmy Schilt, Don Frye, and Mighty Mo on his resume. He may have been a replacement for Hong Man Choi (medical reasons forced Choi out of what would have been an all-time freak show fight), but Kim was made for this moment.
JM: Yes, MSK was a great starter opponent for Lesnar but the reality is it wouldn’t have mattered whoever they put in there with him. Remember what I said earlier about being an elite wrestler and athlete at heavyweight? Brock was that and would’ve beaten A LOT of good heavyweights that night, as we’d soon find out.
AL: Indeed, but first, he had to get past Kim and… well, he did so easily. Lesnar immediately took Kim down and Glazer, doing his best to get some commentary in before the inevitable end, throws out something about how this is where Kim wants the fight to be.
JM: I’m pretty sure there isn’t a location on Earth Kim wanted that fight to be in.
Look, one of the sneaky truths of MMA is that for as much as we want to tout skill, technique, and strategy as the end-all-be-all, there’s a reason that for most of human history, hand-to-hand combat has largely been ruled by big f*cking dudes. Being huge is one of the most effective forms of martial arts in the history of the world, and Brock Lesnar may have been the best at it.
AL: Kim wisely taps out to strikes here before Lesnar can get going. It’s for the best. Kim went on to fight just two more times after this (including a win over Minowaman), while Lesnar would immediately jump to the UFC and eventually become one of the biggest draws in MMA history.
JM: You’re burying the lede there. Three fights after this, Lesnar was the UFC heavyweight champion — and one of those fights was a loss!
Did he deserve the title shot? Of course not. Did he beat up a 45-year-old man to take the title? Yes, he sure did. But that’s still an otherworldly achievement even if Lesnar was probably never the actual best heavyweight on the planet.
He did all this while making more money than anyone else ever had in the sport up until then. Brock Lesnar is one of the five greatest prizefighters of all time and is still out there cashing checks. There’s a half-decent chance the big homie just decides, “Screw it, I’ll come fight on Fight Island and leverage Dana to get more money from the WWE.” What a legend.
AL: In a charming moment, Lesnar’s post-fight interview is partially drowned out by loud pyrotechnics, which got me thinking about how fleeting success in the fight game is. Velasquez, Rousey and Lesnar all left an indelible mark on the MMA scene, though depending on who you ask, the amount of reverence they’re viewed with differs greatly.
“It’s fireworks.” It certainly was, Brock. It certainly was.
If you know of a recent fight or event that you think may have been overlooked, or a promotion that could use some attention, please let us know on Twitter – @JedKMeshew and @AlexanderKLee – using the hashtag #MissedFists.