It’s a second opportunity for Cain Velasquez -- a do-over, so to speak. For the second time as a pro, Velasquez seeks the first successful defense of his UFC heavyweight title.
Velasquez lost the title to Junior dos Santos in November 2011, but reclaimed it from him 13 months later at UFC 155.
He puts his belt up for grabs Saturday night at UFC 160 in Las Vegas against Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva. This will be their second meeting in a one-year span, but Velasquez’s first title defense since recapturing it.
The first meeting, at UFC 146 in May 2012, was a one-sided affair; Velasquez pummeled Silva en route to a first-round TKO. The fight was so lopsided that it would be unreasonable to fault Velasquez if he were to take a peek over Silva’s shoulder toward a potential rubber match with dos Santos.
But Velasquez would never consider such prefight behavior. The mention of dos Santos these days often brings a sigh, a shake of the head and slight roll of the eyes from Velasquez -- evidence that he is irritated by such a suggestion.
Velasquez didn’t reach the mountaintop of his profession by taking anything or anyone for granted. He is a professional fighter in every sense, and Silva is someone Velasquez isn’t about to take lightly.
“I have all my energy -- my focus is on ‘Bigfoot,’” Velasquez told ESPN.com. “It’s all about him; I’m going to fight him. It’s the type of thing: Whatever happens after that happens after that.
“I don’t like to look forward, to look past somebody and think, ‘Well, I’ll win this fight and this fight is going to happen.’ I can’t do that. I just think about the task at hand, and that’s ‘Bigfoot.’”
You can almost hear the snickers when Velasquez utters these words. Anyone who witnessed the first encounter will find it difficult to imagine Silva offering anything different Saturday night.
Silva is a large, plodding, hard-hitting puncher. He is not going to outmaneuver the opposition, especially something as comfortable on his feet as Velasquez. But Silva has been in the cage with Velasquez and believes if he can get his hands on the champion first, the outcome might be quite different. If nothing else, Silva is confident.
“I like when people underestimate me,” Silva said recently during a media call to promote the bout. "It’s nice because I get to go out there and [prove] them wrong.
“There are no superheroes in this sport; nobody is invincible. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work the past nine weeks. I’ve been preparing myself, and I’m very confident I’m going to have my arm raised on May 25.”
Silva is correct: Too often he has been underestimated. And those who did so paid a hefty price. Just ask former top UFC heavyweight contender and ex-Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, whose overconfidence against Silva resulted in a third-round knockout Feb. 2 at UFC 156.
But Silva faces a major obstacle Saturday night: Velasquez does not underestimate him -- never has; never will. What happened last year is out of sight and out of mind.
Velasquez already has felt Silva’s power. And though Velasquez had no trouble dismantling Silva during their initial encounter, he left the cage with a greater sense of respect for him. Silva won’t have the luxury of being underestimated Saturday night.
“In the first fight, I didn’t overlook him, and I’m not going to overlook him now,” Velasquez said. “He’s very dangerous. I’m not following in the footsteps of others who’ve made that mistake. I’m taking this fight very seriously.
“The last few guys have overlooked him and let him play around on the feet. One thing you can’t do is stay in front of him. You have to be quicker than him the whole time.”
Silva isn’t receiving special treatment; Velasquez approaches every opponent in this manner. He has to. Despite the high-level skill Velasquez has demonstrated inside the cage, he is far from a finished product.
There are aspects of his game, including wrestling, that he believes need additional fine-tuning. If he is to successfully defend his title Saturday night, the holes that crop up in his game from time to time must be plugged immediately.
“There is always room for improvement,” Velasquez said. “And I’m always working to improve. I’m not all the way there yet.
“I know how level the playing field is with everybody in this division, with the small gloves. One little mistake can cost you. When you go out there you want to be sharp, you want everything to go right for you.
“I want to keep [the title]. I have to go out there and perform to keep it. This is the most important thing to me right now, to stay here as champion.”
Velasquez’s refusal to take anything or any opponent, especially Silva, for granted is the reason he will successfully defend his heavyweight title for the first time at UFC 160.