Before he became a UFC heavyweight world champion, Cain Velasquez was mastering his craft in NCAA wrestling matches at Arizona State University, where he twice rose to the stature of a college All-American.
This past weekend, the Gilroy resident, married father of two and youth soccer coach was honored by his alma mater with an induction into the Pac-12 University’s Hall of Fame.
“I was surprised and honored when they gave me a call to ask if I would attend the ceremony,” said Velasquez, who moved to Gilroy in 2010 after living in Morgan Hill for a couple of years prior to that. He has a 9-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son. “I told them of course I would be at the ceremony.”
With his oldest child Coral by his side on the field for a halftime induction ceremony inside Sun Devil Stadium, Velasquez was given the university’s highest honor for his career accolades. It was just a part of the weeklong celebration of the 2018 ASU Hall of Fame class.
“I met a lot of friends who are still my friends now from Arizona State. They are lifelong friends,” said the Sun Devil alumnus.
Born in Salinas and raised in Yuma, Ariz., by migrant farmworkers, the 36-year-old Velasquez rose to worldwide fame by conquering the UFC’s heavyweight division twice with victories over some of the sport’s most elite combatants, including Junior dos Santos, Brock Lesnar and Antonio Silva.
“I had to work my way up “ the ranks, said Velasquez of his rise to two-time UFC champion.
Coming from a hard-working family, Velasquez—who trains out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose—sometimes gave up more than 20 pounds to his opponents, relying on his quickness to lead him to victory. He has a 14-2 record in professional mixed martial arts with 12 knockouts. Velasquez said he is still active in the sport although he hasn’t fought in a while.
“Once I was a junior (at ASU), I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The sport was really taking off and I knew that I wanted to go to the UFC,” said Velasquez, who in the meantime was tearing up the college wrestling mats.
At Arizona State, Velasquez was named an NCAA Division I All-American in 2005 and 2006, winning Pac-10 championships in both of those years and selected as Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year in 2005. He also won a gold medal in the Junior World Championships.
It was at ASU where he “learned how to compete against guys much bigger than me” since the higher weight class had a broad range of wrestlers. He was coached by Tommy Ortiz, a past All-American collegiate wrestler in his day.
“I had to be quicker than them,” said Velasquez, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu-trained fighter who is well regarded for his conditioning. “That translated from college wrestling to mixed martial arts. I’m always moving, never standing still. Another key is relaxation. That is something that works across the board in sports.”
That goes for youth soccer, too, when Velasquez coaches his daughter as an assistant on a Gilroy Recreational League team called the Wicked Witches.
“I like coaching soccer. It’s just being competitive. I just try to help as much as I can with the team and my daughter,” said Velasquez, who was planning to take Coral to a Sun Devil women’s soccer game while he’s in Tempe for the induction festivities. “We are a soccer family.”
This article was first published by our sister publication, the Gilroy Dispatch.