Michael Rome over at Bloody Elbow does a great job explaining why the UFC should wait before rushing Velasquez into a title fight:
It’s worth stepping back and recognizing that most UFC fans barely know who he is. This past weekend was the first time he got any sort of star reaction from a crowd. His name is on its way to becoming part of the regular vocabulary of the casual UFC fan; in a year, with 2 or 3 more victories, he will be a big star poised for his first title defense in a very marketable main event. If they give him a title shot in April, it will help draw in Mexico, but on PPV it will be worth about as much as any random heavyweight going for the title.
Cain Velasquez is young. He’s not like Shane Carwin, who’s already up there in age. His eventual fight with Brock Lesnar for the title, assuming Lesnar holds onto it for a while, could be a huge event. If they don’t blow it too early. Giving Cain his shot now would be like giving Lyoto his shot 4 months after beating Sokoudjou. Would he have been ready? Sure. Was it the right time? No.
I think it’s fair to say that Rome does a solid job with his analysis, but reasonable minds can differ.
The assertion that most UFC fans barely know who he is is just plain wrong. Velasquez scored TKO victories in two appearances in featured fights on Spike TV broadcasts. After that, the Mexican-American graduated to pay-per-view where he put on two dominating performances in a row against top competition. If that wasn’t enough, I can tell you from my own personal experience that all of my close friends — only one of whom I would say is a “hardcore” fan — know who Velasquez is. I’ve seen random people wearing Velasquez’s “Dethrone” t-shirt. The point is, while he might not be anywhere near the level of Brock Lesnar or Chuck Liddell in terms of popularity or notoriety, the fanbase is well aware of who he is — and not just the hardcores.
Rome also argues that fighters like Cro Cop, Mir, and Dos Santos are better options at this point. The problem with that is that Velasquez could actually lose. The UFC is obviously grooming him as a legitimate title challenger, and if he gets de-railed before he gets his shot, it will become much, much harder to market him as a serious threat down the road. A victory over any of the aforementioned names would obviously elevate Velasquez’s credibility even further, but the risk is not worth the reward. The kid is already undefeated, with stoppages in 6 of 7 fights and victories over two (arguably) top 10 opponents.
An undefeated, tough-as-nails Velasquez going up against a dominant champion serious name value — Brock Lesnar — sells itself. Similarly, putting him in a title fight against an undefeated champion who has finished every opponent — Shane Carwin — sells itself too.
The time is now for Velasquez. The UFC could very well wind up putting him in a title eliminator with Nogueira or Dos Santos in his next bout, but the only reason for that will be scheduling purposes due to Lesnar’s injury. The reason for putting him in another fight before a title shot should not and will not be because he needs more exposure.
Velasquez is absolutely ready from a marketing perspective. And we all know he’s ready from an athletic perspective.