Cambrian Resident

Spotlight on `family man' after shooting

MMA icon held in attack on accused child molester

- By Jakob Rodgers and Robert Salonga Staff writers

Even in retirement, Cain Velasquez's mixed martial arts training entourage never left his side.

Over and over, the former Ultimate Fighting Championsh­ip star walked into the cavernous training halls of American Kickboxing Academy in South San Jose with his children in tow — even guiding them into the ring to play.

“They were part of the team,” said Favian Gutierrez, 37, a fellow fighter at the gym. “He's been a family man.”

But last week, another image emerged — this time, of Velasquez standing shackled in a Santa Clara County courtroom, accused of trying to shoot a man charged with molesting Velasquez's underage relative. The allegation­s cast renewed national attention on a fighter who notoriousl­y shunned UFC's bright spotlight. And it laid bare support for a brand of vigilantis­m that fans and fellow fighters lauded on social media — even as prosecutor­s decried Velasquez's alleged crime as reckless, and law experts described the arguments supporting him as legally shaky.

“We haven't really seen evidence to suggest this is a selfdefens­e case,” said Dean Johnson, a legal analyst, criminal-defense attorney and former prosecutor. “You can't use force because somebody might harm you in the future. It has to be so imminent it's a necessity.”

Still, Johnson added, “This is a very early stage of the case … and the circumstan­ces are quite unusual.”

Some of Velasquez's supporters say the alleged incident appears out of character for him. And for many of Velasquez's friends and fellow fighters, the initial shock of Velasquez's arrest faded as details emerged of a potential motive.

Several described him as a man whose intensity as an MMA fighter was matched only by his devotion to family.

“If someone did that to my family, in an act of rage, I probably would have done the same thing,” Gutierrez said. “If the system fails you, and they let someone out like that, it's not fair.”

Throughout the week, the MMA world's biggest stars rushed to Velasquez's defense, often ending their tweets with the slogan “#FreeCain.”

“You are the man Cain,” said Khabib Nurmagomed­ov, considered among the best MMA fighters of all time, in an Instagram post March 2 that garnered nearly a halfmillio­n likes. “We love you and we always stay with you.”

Locally, Zach Parish, 37, a former South Bay MMA fighter who previously trained with Velasquez, bemoaned a larger tragedy.

“He's a good father, very attentive, caring, nurturing,” Parish said. “He's just all around very calm — one

of the calmest people I know.

“For something like this to happen, it's heartbreak­ing,” he said. “In every aspect — to have something like that happen to his (relative), and to have this happen next, it's horrible.”

Prosecutor­s allege Velasquez tried to shoot Harry Goularte, 43, who had been charged a few days earlier with molesting Velasquez's underage relative at a San Martin home day care. Goularte had been released pending trial.

Over the span of 11 miles on Feb. 28, Velasquez followed Goularte's mother and stepfather from their San Martin house to Morgan Hill, where they planned to pick up Harry Goularte and obtain a court-ordered electronic monitoring device, according to charging documents.

From there, Velasquez chased the family — ramming his pickup into theirs and opening fire with a .40-caliber pistol into their truck, charging documents say.

The encounter left Goularte's stepfather with gunshot wounds to his arm and torso, authoritie­s said. Later that day, officers took

Velasquez into custody and booked him into the Santa Clara County jail, where he remains held without bail.

In the ring, Velasquez was hailed by UFC's chief as “the Terminator” for his relentless stamina and ruthless physicalit­y.

Joe Rogan, the podcaster and MMA enthusiast, has repeatedly praised Velasquez as perhaps the greatest heavyweigh­t UFC fighter of all time, often due to his conditioni­ng and extreme physical fitness.

“What Cain would do to people is he'd overwhelm you in a way that looked like you were drowning,” Rogan said on a 2019 podcast.

Velasquez has attributed that furious work ethic to his father — a migrant worker from Mexico who crossed the Sonoran desert to Arizona and picked lettuce to support the family. While his father continued picking crops, Velasquez worked his way to become a two-time state high school wrestling champion — eventually moving on to Arizona State University, where he earned All-American honors. He later graduated with a bachelor's degree in interdisci­plinary studies.

He returned to the Bay

Area, and with the words “Brown Pride” tattooed across his chest, became UFC's first Mexican-American heavyweigh­t champion. He amassed a 14-3 record, racking up title belts in 2010 and 2012.

Along the way, he helped elevate the American Kickboxing Academy into an internatio­nally respected hub for champion MMA fighters.

“The Mexican community, the fighting community, the Bay Area loved Cain,” said Cung Le, a fellow UFC fighter who was among the Bay Area's early MMA stars.

Though he was 6-foot-1 and nearly 250 pounds, Velasquez had a soft-spoken nature and showed little interest in a celebrity lifestyle. Often, he preferred quiet nights at home to the trash-talking, clubbing and partying that's become synonymous with other UFC stars.

“He only goes out to do promotiona­l stuff,” Le said. “Other than that he just hangs out with his family. He's a very devoted father and a husband.”

Both fans and critics seized on Velasquez's “family man” persona in the wake of his arrest last week on attempted murder charges. Some lamented on social media the toll that Velasquez's family may endure, should he be convicted and serve time.

The MMA icon could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Countless MMA fans on social media painted a picture of a man taking action in service to his family.

Robert Weisberg, law professor and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said Velasquez's hiring of celebrity attorney Mark Geragos suggests he may try to leverage public opinion and argue that the shooting was not malicious but “the righteous act of a distressed” relative in seeking a dismissal of the case.

“The heat of passion mitigation idea, a judge would have to let that go to the jury,” Weisberg said. “It wouldn't be whether a reasonable person would kill; it's rather, would a reasonable person be strongly tempted to kill, and that has some logic here.”

Johnson said there's a fair chance that the defense will contrast Velasquez's low-key nature with Goularte's alleged crimes.

“You do everything you can to show he is normally a nonviolent person and wouldn't initiate something like this,” he said. “And you do everything you possibly can to stress the fact that the alleged victim is accused of a crime against a child. Juries are human, too, and they're going to evaluate that credibilit­y and Velasquez's actions.”

Still, any outright dismissal, at least by the district attorney's office, is almost certainly out of the question, with prosecutor­s mindful that could be interprete­d as an endorsemen­t of vigilantis­m. The idea that Velasquez was failed by the courts when Goularte was released — another strong sentiment that has risen out of the public response to the charges — has been opposed by prosecutor­s who contend that Goularte was being held accountabl­e through his criminal charge.

Weisberg also strongly rejected the idea of a self-defense or similar argument.

“It would be a phenomenal stretch,” Weisberg said. “It would have to be shown that Velasquez reasonably believed that if he didn't intervene when he did, and the way he did, right then and there, the kid would be harmed. That's just not plausible.”

 ?? ARIC CRABB — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Cain Velasquez, right, is shown during Velasquez's first court appearance on an attempted murder charge at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice on March 2in San Jose. Velasquez allegedly shot at a car carrying a man charged with molesting his minor relative.
ARIC CRABB — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Cain Velasquez, right, is shown during Velasquez's first court appearance on an attempted murder charge at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice on March 2in San Jose. Velasquez allegedly shot at a car carrying a man charged with molesting his minor relative.
 ?? SAN JOSE POLICE ?? Cain Velasquez, a former mixed-martial arts star athlete based out of San Jose, was arrested Feb. 28.
SAN JOSE POLICE Cain Velasquez, a former mixed-martial arts star athlete based out of San Jose, was arrested Feb. 28.

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