Velasquez begins climb back up heavyweight heap

In the world of mixed-martial arts, a single punch can change a match, of even the trajectory of a career.

Cain Velasquez learned that first hand in his last fight seven months ago. Velasquez, who trains out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, was knocked out by a vicious right hand from Junior Dos Santos just 1:04 into the fight, costing him his UFC heavyweight championship and an unblemished record.

Instead of using the Fox national television audience the fight provided to launch his career to the next level, Velasquez is forced to go back to the mat just another fighter trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

He’ll begin the climb back up the heavyweight ladder toward another title shot on Saturday at UFC 146 in Las Vegas when he’ll meet Antonio “Big Foot” Silva (16-3) in the co-main event.

“You know, just from losing [the title] against dos Santos, I mean you definitely want to come back stronger and come back and win your next fight,” Velasquez said during a recent teleconference. “You know with this fight camp, I just took my time getting back into the gym.”

The UFC isn’t wasting any time in throwing Velasquez, who was born in Salinas, back into the fray. Against the menacing Silva, who will be making his UFC debut after a stint in Strikeforce, Velasquez will be giving up approximately three inches and 25 pounds to the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder.

And despite Silva coming off a loss against Velasquez’s training partner, Daniel Cormier, he’s well aware of the challengers “Big Foot” presents.

“Big Foot’s just a big guy,” said Velazquez, a former All-American wrestler at Arizona State. “He has a lot of power. He does everything well.”

The Velasquez-Silva bout is part of the UFC’s first-ever all-heavyweight main card, highlighted by a title matchup between the man that toppled Velasquez, dos Santos, and veteran Frank Mir.

dkruse@sfexaminer.com

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