The mind was willing, the crowd was willing, but Cain Velasquez’ body gave out on him in the early going of his UFC return against Francis Ngannou.
Velasquez, fighting for the first time inside the Octagon since UFC 200, would last only 26 seconds against Ngannou, having his knee give out following a few strikes from the former title challenger.
“I just can’t believe that happened,” Velasquez said following the fight on Sunday night. “Having a great camp coming in, truly, everything I said, how strongly I felt, that was all true. Coming in I felt great out there, relaxed, and then taking that one step I did with my left foot. I just felt something pop and then when I tried to take another step it just gave out on me. My knee gave out on me, I can’t even believe that happened.
“Going in 100 percent healthy. 100 percent ready and just to have this freak accident, I can’t even believe it. It’s just hard. That’s sports, that’s what we do. That’s what happens sometimes. It’s just really frustrating because the fire in me is strong, stronger than ever. In camp, great camp, great camp. And then this happens.”
Velasquez told reporters that his injury happened to either his meniscus or MCL, feeling his left leg pop when trying to attack Ngannou in the opening moments of their UFC Phoenix main event.
“It was just the knee, he didn’t even, like, touch me, you know?” Velasquez said. “It was just the knee, as soon as I felt the knee just buckle, it was like I couldn’t believe that happened. And then that was it.”
“Going in for his leg, I felt he kind of clubbed me on the back of the head, but that didn’t graze me at all,” Velasquez continued. “None of the punches grazed me at all or did anything to myself where I felt like I was unbalanced or anything. Just getting in on the inside and it was just a freak thing that happened with my knee.”
“It was okay because the ref saw my knee buckle.” Velasquez said. “The ref saw my knee buckle. His job is to make sure we’re 100 percent safe and he did that. Even for me, just to process what happened in that moment, even afterwards — the ref did the right job, he did the correct job tonight.”
“I have a lot of respect for [Ngannou] — I have a lot of respect for a lot of fighters, that’s just how I am — Before the fight, a lot of respect, but I’m there to kill him,” Velasquez continued. “After the fight, a lot of respect, especially for him as a man, as a competitor.
“I beat myself tonight.”
Velasquez left feeling “frustrated” and is unsure of what’s next for him. “We’ll see what happens going forward,” Velasquez said. “Again, knowing what I did these past three years and two months, getting ready for this camp, I felt ready. Extremely ready. I felt calm out there, like the Octagon was the place I needed to be and I felt great. It felt great coming back. It felt great in there with him.
“And then the freak accident with the knee just popping out. It’s just frustrating, but we’ll get it all checked out. The fire in me is strong again still and I guess I’ve got a lot to prove and I’m very capable of doing that.”
Initial Report: MMA Fighting