Mexican-American UFC Champion Inspired By Immigrant Father

By Omar Porcayo

It takes guts to enter the ring and fight an opponent several pounds heavier than you. But it takes even more courage to cross the border in pursuit of a better life for your family.

Cain Velasquez, the current Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight Champion, said he's motivated by the sacrifices of his father, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

After a year out of the ring due to a shoulder injury, Velasquez returns on November 12 to defend his title against Brazilian Junior dos Santos. The match is expected to be the most watched fight in the history of mixed martial arts.

The 29 year-old champion and undefeated fighter spoke with HuffPost Latino after a recent training session:

You are a prominent member of the U.S. Latino community. How do you feel about that?

I am glad to be Latino. My father is from Sinaloa, Mexico, and my mother grew up in Fresno, Calif. I feel proud to be a person of Mexican descent and to carry the Mexican flag every time I fight.

Your father arrived to the United States as an undocumented immigrant, and today his son is a world champion. What is the secret to achieve the "American Dream"?

Just hard work. I saw my father working hard every day and I think of him when I’m training. I learned that with consistent effort, I can achieve my goals.

Did your parents teach you to speak Spanish or instill in you a sense of appreciation for your roots?

Yes, when I was a kid I spoke Spanish at home. Later, I lost my grasp of the language when I entered school, but I’m working towards improving my Spanish now.

I grew up in Arizona, only 30 minutes away from the U.S.-Mexico border. I would spend many weekends in Mexico, to visit my family or just going to eat. That kept me close to my roots.

You have one tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe and another that says "Brown Pride." Why?

The "Brown Pride" tattoo expresses my sense of pride for being Mexican. It is also in honor of my father who came to the United States, and in recognition of the fact that we Mexicans are so hardworking. We take on challenges with a lot of heart.

I did the tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe because my mother would always tell me that the Virgin protects me. In my everyday life and when I fight, she is at my side protecting me.

Speaking of fights, what do you know about your opponent? What is his most dangerous trait?

His boxing. He is a good boxer. He is athletic, strong and has a lot of power in his fists.

Do you expect the fight to go long or end quickly with a knockout?

I expect a long, difficult fight. Whenever I train for a fight, I expect it to be the most difficult. I have to prepare my mind and body for a five round fight.

How do you manage to stay undefeated in an industry as difficult as the UFC?

By preparing well and working hard. But I’m not thinking about the title. I want to be the best in everything, not just mixed martial arts.

How does your wife and family deal with you fighting in such a violent sport?

My family comes to the fights, and my wife is okay with what I do; she knows that I’m training really hard and has a lot of faith in me.

There will probably be a lot of support from fans in California. What do you think?

It gives me so much pride knowing that thousands of Mexican-Americans and Latinos will be behind me. I’m so grateful for their support and want to win the fight in Anaheim for them.

How has your life changed now that you are famous?

Besides receiving more attention from the media and the public, it is all good. My training and my family life are still the same; only the interest of the public has changed.

A version of this report in Spanish originally appeared on AOL Latino.