What Cain Velasquez brings to WWE
This month marks nine years since Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar for the UFC Heavyweight championship via TKO in the first round. Since the bout where referee rescued Brock from further damage and declared Velasquez the winner, each athlete took different paths, but ironically found the same destination.
For Lesnar, the devastating defeat was more or less the beginning of the end of his stint in MMA, as a combination of diverticulitis and an aversion to punches to the face led to the conclusion of his UFC career with a record of 5-3-1 in the sport. Still, Brock was a very wise businessman and often used the potential of an MMA return as a bargaining chip to get a better WWE deal. As I’ve discussed before, the Brock experiment has yielded mixed results and arguably diminishing returns. The repetitive move set and routine set up for angles were stale.
The concept of Brock as a continuously dominant champion the past few years with limited appearances became an excuse for the lack of intriguing booking otherwise. The most important aspect of this scenario is, did the investment into Brock’s hefty contract pay off? More specifically, how many other performers were made bigger stars after they worked with him? Remember when Lesnar mailed in a match at Wrestlemania 32? How about when Brock’s mega push was supposed to pay off and finally get Roman Reigns over as the top star? Does Seth Rollins draw more money since he beat Lesnar twice this year?
The title switch during the Fox debut was more to pay lip service to the network to create some buzz at the start of the $1 billion TV contract. As mentioned previously, the modern era has a lack of legitimate money-drawing stars on the current roster, and Kofi Kingston’s title run is essentially a prime example as to why the ratings boost from nostalgia acts aren’t retained the following weeks with the current product.
Kofi’s moment at Wrestlemania 35 was a very memorable moment that he earned with over a decade under contract. After that win, he was paired against Dolph Ziggler, an entertaining athlete, but used as a glorified enhancement talent in between sporadic pushes so that didn’t do much to elevate his status as WWE champion. His run also played second fiddle to Brock’s MITB win and cash-in. Plus, a few average matches against Orton leaves Kofi’s title reign basically just that tremendous moment at WM. The point being, in the six months that he was champion, Kingston wasn’t spotlighted as the featured star at any particular point during that run. I’ve seen some on social media claim that the flash victory, similar to fast KOs in MMA, paints the defeat as a fluke. I completely disagree for two main reasons. First, one of the advantages that sports entertainment has over MMA is that pro wrestling can make sure the fans get a show instead of a lackluster fight if a contest is one-sided.
Second, if the fluke victory was designed to make sure Kofi wasn’t squashed then there would be a set up for a rematch, but it’s doubtful that happens and it does, would there be any chance management would book Kofi to beat Lesnar? The most simplistic explanation is usually the right answer, and the harsh reality is that WWE brass probably doesn’t have more main event plans for Kingston any time soon. This is emphasized when you consider that the story from the Fox debut is Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar, not a Kofi rematch.
Speaking of Cain Velasquez, prior to and after his dominate win over Brock, he looked to be on the path to become the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. A smaller, but still powerful heavyweight, Cain’s amateur wrestling background gave him technique and speed that he blended with boxing skills to have a well-rounded style that had no major flaws. But, in the nine years since he claimed the UFC belt, injuries completely derailed his momentum throughout his career in the cage. Shoulder, Knee, and back injuries put him on the sidelines for extended periods of time and saw bouts delayed or cancelled. After two and a half years outside of the octagon, Cain returned to the UFC this past February for a contest against Francis Ngannou on ESPN. Velasquez was clipped with a punch that led to a stoppage in just 26 seconds of the first round. The defeated prompted questions about his future in MMA. Still, Cain is a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion with a 14-3 record.
A well-known wrestling fan, Cain made headlines last year when he trained at the WWE Performance Center, fueling speculation that he could make the transition to the squared circle. Eventually, Velasquez did make the jump to the ring when he debuted for AAA at their Triplemania event in August and then followed that up with another match last month. Despite it being his start in sports entertainment, Velasquez did well and garnered rave reviews for his performance in Mexico. The Rey Mysterio attack on Raw was very well done and proves Lesnar could put it into a second gear if he wants to really deliver an impactful segment. That set up very well for the Velasquez debut on Smackdown, as it’s the popular Mexican heavyweight that’s a true fan of lucha libre showing to save the Mexican legend.
The contract situation of all this get a little murky. Cain was signed to at least a three-match deal for AAA, but the group cancelled its scheduled Los Angeles card where Velasquez was supposed to wrestle a match. Perhaps the cancelled event voids the deal? As of this writing, the former champion is still under contract to the UFC, but he withdrew from the USADA testing pool last week so it’s very possible that he will retire from MMA. Even if Cain still has a deal with UFC, it wouldn’t prevent him from inking a WWE contract. If Velasquez retires from MMA, he could sign for other projects, but would simply still be under UFC contract if he decides to return to the sport. The WWE side of negotiations get more complex, as depending on their plans for him, Cain might be signed for a Goldberg deal or something more full-time for the company.
Similar to Ronda Rousey, Cain’s notoriety from the octagon makes him a commodity, but if he signs for any major length of time, his inexperience might be considered to avoided exposing any weaknesses. Considering his accomplishments and history with Lesnar, Velasquez can’t logically start his career squashing Jinder Mahal every week on Smackdown. If this is a brief deal then a few well-planned matches are all that are needed, but if WWE is going to put him over Lesnar at any point, you can bet they wouldn’t want him to be able to take that momentum elsewhere. At 37, Cain probably isn’t the next top Hispanic star that Rey Mysterio passes the torch to, but his addition to the company gives them a very valuable boost as the organization starts their major TV contracts.
How much Velasquez can do in the ring and how he develops as a potentially full-time wrestler could answer many of the possible questions about this scenario. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer speculated that the Lesnar vs. Velasquez match could take place later this month in Saudi Arabia because of the amount of money the Saudi government would be willing to pay for the bout, but let’s hope that’s not booked, simply because most of the viewing audience wouldn’t watch it with the random afternoon time slot. If that is the scheduled match then Brock/Cain is basically a one-off match because the momentum of the “rematch” wouldn’t be utilized for the majority of WWE’s audience. Despite the financial aspect of the Saudi shows, Wrestlemania is still the biggest show of the year and could have a bigger impact on the rest product than a random Saudi show.
Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar should happen at Wrestlemania, but it remains to be seen how management could stretch the feud six months, especially without a match before that. I have to be honest, I was very surprised that Velasquez showed up on Smackdown because I thought he would work regularly for AAA for a while before he made any type of move in sports entertainment. At a time when the show needs it, the former UFC champion brings a lot of star power to the table and gives viewers a reason to watch on Fox. Hopefully, this won’t become a Hogan/Warrior situation where Velasquez was brought to WWE so that Lesnar could “get his win back” so to speak. Unless this angle will be designed to launch Cain as a full-time wrestler, I’m not sure where it goes from here.
Lesnar has worked with and defeated almost everyone that would be considered a credible opponent on the WWE roster, and new stars haven’t been made during that process so what other opponents are there for him? The initial Velasquez vs. Lesnar match will be major money and publicity for WWE, but unless Cain goes over, management will be back to this situation where Brock doesn’t have fresh opponents. If a series of makes with Lesnar solidifies Velasquez in sports entertainment then it creates an entirely new scenario for the product That said, this adds a fresh dynamic to WWE and more importantly, its something new for Lesnar since his run has been stale the past few years.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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