Fighter salutes Mexican roots


Cain Velasquez keeps his immense pride in his Mexican heritage close to his heart.

In fact, he wears it across his chest.

Velasquez, who will fight Ben Rothwell in the co-main event at UFC 104 on Saturday night in Los Angeles, has "Brown Pride" tattooed prominently on the front of his body.

"I did it (as a tribute to) my dad and all he did to get over here. He gave me something to look up to when I was little," Velasquez said. "I'm proud of my roots and where I come from. We're hard workers. I love that. I love everything about my culture."

Velasquez said his father crossed the border illegally and was deported several times before finally settling in Salinas, Calif., and starting a family.

The Velasquezes moved to Arizona when Cain was 2 years old. He eventually took up wrestling there. Velasquez had incredible success as an amateur and was a two-time All-American at Arizona State.

Those accomplishments led him to mixed martial arts after college, and Velasquez is 6-0, including four victories in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

He is quickly rising in the UFC's heavyweight ranks and also serves an important role as the organization's unofficial ambassador to the Latino market that UFC brass covets.

UFC 100 in July was the organization's first event televised in Mexico, and organization president Dana White said ratings were very good. He also said the numbers for subsequent events have increased.

But Velasquez might hold the key to making further inroads with Latino audiences.

While the 27-year-old heavyweight is marketable, White said, there is only one way to ensure that he spearheads the UFC's drive for popularity in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

"The one key thing about Cain Velasquez in that (Mexican) market is they've never had a heavyweight champion in anything. So if this guy can win the heavyweight championship, it would be big," White said. "But we don't make those decisions. It's up to him Saturday night. He'd have to beat Rothwell this weekend. Then he's got maybe another fight, or he'll fight for the title.

"He's got to keep winning. But I don't make those decisions. If it should work out that Cain Velasquez keeps winning and wins the title, yeah, I guarantee it would be huge for us in the Hispanic market."

Velasquez insists he doesn't feel the pressure of trying to perform for an entire segment of the fan base.

"I know what my job is. I know what I have to do, and I know how to do it. I know I have to train hard," he said. "But it's great that I can be that type of person that people can look up to."

Velasquez said he embraces being a role model, partly because there were few Latinos in entertainment when he was growing up.

"It's important to me because when I was growing up I didn't have anyone that looked like me in the media or on TV," he said. "I didn't have the feeling that I could (make it) because I didn't see those people that looked like me."

Having Velasquez fight in Los Angeles appears to be a good marketing move by the UFC given the city's large Hispanic population.

He said he has enjoyed the attention.

"I had a great welcoming at the last press conference that we had in L.A., and so far (this week) the fans have been great," Velasquez said. "So I think it's an honor to be here and have so many fans behind me."

White insists it's purely happenstance.

"I'd love to tell you that I'm a genius and I planned that whole thing out for him to fight in L.A. with the big Hispanic market. But it just fell on me that he was going to fight on this card," he said.

Velasquez's connection to the Hispanic community is no coincidence, however.

It's written all over his chest.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5507.

 

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