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Cain scouts the competition in Vancouver

Cain Velasquez will be keeping a close eye on the competition this weekend. Ed Mulholland/ESPN.com

Call it a fact-finding mission for Cain Velasquez.

The UFC heavyweight champion touched down in Vancouver yesterday and come Saturday night he’ll be cageside at Rogers Arena to watch Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos slug it out at UFC 131, scouting for any possible clues about how the winner might approach an ensuing title fight when Velasquez returns from a shoulder injury.

“I’m going to be doing my homework,” Velasquez told ESPN.com on Friday. “[I’ll] see what game plans the guys come out with and how they fight. I’ll be taking everything in.”

The matchup has been the subject of much speculation since Carwin moved in to replace an ailing Brock Lesnar last month, with fans and analysts alike conflicted about who will emerge as the next No. 1 contender. For his part, Velasquez gives a slight edge to the 26-year-old Brazilian, though he’s hedging his bets a little bit for obvious reasons.

“I’m kind of leaning toward dos Santos just because he’s a better boxer than Carwin,” he said. “I think he’s more technical, a lot faster and his movement’s a lot better. But with Carwin, he hits so hard that if he connects with a clean punch I can see him winning the fight that way.”

Velasquez said he was not surprised by Carwin’s claims earlier this week that he’ll eschew his championship-level amateur wrestling skills in favor of slugging it out with dos Santos. On the other hand, the champ said he thinks the most effective strategy for the Colorado native would be to try to use his size and strength to smother dos Santos, control the range and use his clinch game.

“If he does go out there and try to [get a takedown], that wouldn’t surprise me either,” Velasquez said. “That would be his best bet, just to try to keep that close distance on [dos Santos] because [Carwin] generates so much power from a close distance, just like we saw with him and Frank Mir [at UFC 111].”

No matter who is victorious this weekend, Velasquez said it likely won’t change his own game plan in a potential title match. He gave the impression he sees more similarities than differences in Carwin and dos Santos and would likely approach a bout with either in comparable fashion.

“Those two guys are good stand-up guys. They mainly throw a lot of punches, rarely any kicks,” Velasquez said. “They both have a lot of power, so I think the game plan would be kind of the same for both.”

Exactly when that eventual championship match goes down is still anyone’s best guess. Out since last winter with a torn rotator cuff, it was first thought that Velasquez could make his return at UFC 136 in early October, but more recent estimations say it’ll be more like November. Velasquez confirmed he’s making strides, but still not back to hard training. He hesitated to put an exact date on his comeback.

“The doctor doesn’t want me to punch yet with this right arm or go a hundred percent in training, but I’m able to do a lot of stuff,” he said. “He just kind of wants me to strengthen it and as soon as it gets back to where it was, then we’ll go full … It all depends on how I feel and what the doctor says, when he clears me to start fighting again. October, November -- both of those would be great.”