LOS ANGELES — Cain Velasquez is planning on stepping out of the Octagon and into the pro-wrestling ring for the foreseeable future.
Velasquez, the former two-time UFC heavyweight champion, is in advanced talks to sign with WWE, he told ESPN. He made a surprise appearance Friday on WWE SmackDown’s FOX premiere at Staples Center, confronting Brock Lesnar in the closing moments of the show. Velasquez said he is not officially retired from the UFC, but pro wrestling is likely to be his focus right now.
Velasquez said no deal has officially been signed, and he has also been in discussions with other wrestling promotions, including upstart All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
WWE could look to set up a blockbuster match between Velasquez and Brock Lesnar, also a former UFC heavyweight champion. Velasquez knocked out Lesnar to win the UFC belt in 2010. Coincidentally, Velasquez headlined the UFC’s first-ever show on Fox in 2011 and Friday he was a major part of WWE’s FOX premiere, walking to the ring with Rey Mysterio and hitting Lesnar with a double-leg takedown.
Velasquez, 37, debuted in pro wrestling in August with Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA. Velasquez, a Mexican American, is a celebrity in Mexico due to his UFC success and how he has marketed himself in that region. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound California native impressed at AAA’s Triplemania show in front of 18,000 at Mexico City Arena, pulling off athletic moves that were unexpected for a man his size.
Last month, Velasquez had a second match for AAA at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre and his ability once again turned heads. The MMA star has only been training full time in pro wrestling since June, at Pro Wrestling Revolution in San Jose, California. Velasquez has been doing it all with multiple torn ligaments in his left knee, an injury he sustained in a knockout loss to Francis Ngannou at UFC Phoenix in February.
Velasquez (14-3) is one of the most accomplished fighters in UFC history. He won the UFC heavyweight belt in 2010, and then again in 2012. Velasquez owns victories over the likes of Junior Dos Santos (twice), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Lesnar. Injuries to his knees, back and shoulders marred his run atop the division. Velasquez has fought just three times since 2013. He dropped the heavyweight title to Fabricio Werdum in 2015 and rebounded to beat Travis Browne at UFC 200 in 2016.
In 2018, Velasquez trained at WWE’s Performance Center to see if he could physically work a match in the ring. He drew rave reviews from coaches there, but things didn’t work out at that time with WWE as far as a contract, and he ended up signing a short-term deal with AAA.
After his two appearances for AAA in August and September, Velasquez saw the interest in him heat up. WWE came back to the table.
“We’ve talked a little bit back and forth and nothing happened,” Velasquez said. “They wanted to see my development. I think they’re pleased with what I’m doing now.”
Velasquez’s interest in pro wrestling comes at a particularly busy moment in pro wrestling history. The emergence of AEW, owned by the Khan family, which also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC, is the first major effort to enter a space dominated by WWE for 20 years. Additionally, WWE signed TV contracts to bring SmackDown to FOX and extend Monday Night Raw on the USA Network valued at over $1 billion.
“This is definitely my focus,” Velasquez said of pro wrestling. “My family is into it, they love it. They’re super excited. I haven’t seen them excited over something like this in a while. It’s cool.”