Dominant UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was supposed to headline this Saturday’s (November 15, 2014) UFC 180 pay-per-view (PPV) against No. 1 contender Fabricio Werdum in the first-ever UFC event in his family’s home country of Mexico, but a torn meniscus and sprained MCL suffered in training put an end to those promising plans.

Velasquez’ knee surgery was the latest devastating injury to a UFC champion in a year that has been absolutely full of them. But while injuries are just an inherent (albeit unfortunate) part of the fight game, they’re also an all-too-common occurrence for Velasquez.

It’s a trend that is quickly sapping his potential to become the greatest heavyweight champion MMA has ever seen.

Velasquez’s bouts with injuries dates back to the fight where he first obtained the UFC heavyweight championship with a devastating finish of former champion Brock Lesnar. Despite the lopsided victory, Velasquez suffered a torn rotator cuff that kept him out of action until he defended the belt against Junior dos Santos at UFC on FOX 1 more than a year later.

Velasquez was noticeably not himself in the fight, suffering the only loss of his career with a shocking 64-second knockout. It was later revealed that he had torn his rotator cuff again one week before the fight and was also dealing with a serious knee injury.

Velasquez was lucky to be healthy enough to rebound against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva on the main card of UFC 146 in May 2012, winning by TKO to secure another shot at dos Santos in the main event of UFC 155 that December. He regained the belt with a dominant decision win over “Cigano,” and defended his title by defeating Silva with yet another first round stoppage at UFC 160 in May 2013.

The win put him in line for his defining trilogy bout with dos Santos at UFC 166 in October of last year, and Velasquez proved he was far and away the baddest man on the planet with a bloody fifth round stoppage of the former champ. But again, Velasquez was dealt another shoulder injury that required surgery, leaving him on the shelf for another lost year.

That was just fine for a while, as it gave Velasquez time to heal up and face Werdum in a card built for him in Mexico. The injury bug bit once again, and Velasquez is now on the shelf tentatively until March 2015. At this point, it would probably be a surprise to see him make that date without issue.

The champ vowed to never fight at less than one hundred percent after his loss to dos Santos, and on paper, it’s a great gameplan. However, he’s known as one of the hardest trainers in MMA, pushing his body to the point where it could definitely be considered overtraining.

It’s completely plausible that Velasquez simply can’t reach full health due to the grinding camps he puts his body through. Yes, they enable him to maintain an all-out pace that gives his opponents fits in the cage, but they don’t come without a grave price.

That price is the fact that Velasquez has only had five fights since he won the belt in 2010.

All five of those fights were also against either dos Santos or Silva, making for a very bland UFC heavyweight landscape for the past three to four years. It’s also come at a time where the UFC can ill afford to have champions continue dropping out of high-level title fights like flies.

Velasquez is definitely one of the UFC’s biggest stars, but at some point, he’s going to have to defend his title if he wants to realize that massive potential. Even though no heavyweight has been able to threaten Velasquez outside of his somewhat fluky loss to dos Santos.

He doesn’t want to put himself at unnecessary risk and lose again. That’s understandable, yet it’s still sapping his potential in a big way, and it doesn’t seem to be something that’s going to go away. In fact, it seems like an issue that’s worsening with time.

Velasquez will have been out of action for around 15 months if he does indeed come back next March, and that’s putting him in dangerous territory. Rather than have the heavyweight division be held hostage similar to lightweight, where Anthony Pettis will finally defend his belt at UFC 181 on December 6 after a 15-month hiatus of his own, the promotion decided to immediately create an interim title that will be up for grabs in the main event UFC 180.

Whether it’s Werdum or Hunt, Velasquez will face an elite heavyweight in his next bout. More importantly, it’ll be a new opponent, as Velasquez has kept the division died up facing two opponents the past three years.

Luckily for him, heavyweight isn’t exactly a division full of top-level contenders clamoring for a shot at his belt. Stipe Miocic could be one if he somehow gets past dos Santos at UFC on FOX 13, but a healthy Velasquez would be a substantial favorite over the No. 5-ranked Cleveland native.

Velasquez has simply ruled over the division with an iron fist after making his way to the octagon after only three professional MMA bouts. He has eight T/KO finishes in his UFC career, and Velasquez can destroy the strongest heavyweights with a blinding flurry of power and speed rarely, if ever, seen for a man of his size.

Sadly, Velasquez has been proven to be his own worst enemy with repeated surgeries, procedures that doubly impacted his otherwise skyrocketing career by keeping him out of action and damaging his body beyond his 31 years.

That doesn’t mean he’s lost his edge or that he’ll lose his belt upon his return, however; Velasquez has only shown one brief moment of weakness when dos Santos caught with a shot behind the ear three years ago. Otherwise, he’s been the definition of a wrecking machine.

That’s why it’s such a shame to not be able to see him more often than we have. Velasquez may already rate as the greatest heavyweight in history. If he wasn’t forced to take more than two of his prime years off due to injury, I think we’d already know the answer to that.

Will Velasquez return to reign with authority, or will his never-quit style of training ultimately be his undoing?

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