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Due the extensive injuries Cain Velasquez has incurred over the years, questions abound as to whether the heavyweight can climb the UFC’s heavyweight division once again. But, according to the former champ’s head coach, Velasquez is poised to do just that.

As any longtime observer or big MMA fan knows, Velasquez has long been tied to ‘what could have been’ discussions, on account of all the time he’s been sidelined with injuries. When Velasquez was rising the UFC’s heavyweight ranks and en route to winning the title, he dropped jaws throughout the game with his seemingly endless cardio, relentless pressure and comprehensive offense.

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But, due to the fact Velasquez has fought just twice since 2013, there’s been plenty of debate regarding what he could have accomplished during those years, and further, what type of fighter we will see when he returns. Well, recently his head coach, Javier Mendez spoke with MMA Fighting, and he had this to say about the man who is set to fight Francis Ngannou, February 17th.

“He’s gotten smarter in training,” Mendez says. “He knows when to back off now. His time off has actually helped him, his body heal, and he’s quick like always. He hits a little harder and he’s motivated more than ever. He’s watched everybody else come onboard, and realistically I think he’s come back to regain what he always knew was his. And once DC’s done, which will be hopefully this year, then Cain will take over. That’s what I’m looking at.”

“…But the bad thing for him is that he’s facing Cain Velasquez,” Mendez said about Ngannou, after acknowledging how dangerous the contender is. “That’s the bad news for him. He’s facing the most complete, best conditioned — to me, the greatest ever. And he’ll prove it this time around.”

Now, sure, these comments are coming from Velasquez’s longtime coach, so some folks might argue there’s some bias at play here, and their probably, understandably is. But, no one has really ever doubted the skills of Velasquez: it’s been his health that’s held him back.

So, if a healthy, fully prepared and focused Velasquez is indeed heading back to the Octagon, there’s still time for the former champ to really entrench a legacy as one of the all-time greats. As we’ve seen with the likes of many legendary heavyweights, including his buddy Daniel Cormier, at 36, Velasquez could still have multiple years of fighting ahead of him. Provided…he can stay healthy.

Velasquez – Ngannou will headline the UFC’s February 17th card in Phoenix, Arizona.