Mention UFC heavyweight star’s Cain Velasquez on any online forum and, within minutes, the inevitable subject rears its head: his "brown pride" tattoo. The 30-year old Velasquez is the son of Mexican immigrants and even fluent in Spanish, with multiple appearances on Spanish-language television. Proud of, and honoring, his heritage, Cain often enters the Octagon with a Mexican flag draped around his shoulders … and boasts his large tattoo across his chest.
This does not sit well with some. Google “Cain Velasquez tattoo” and dozens of attacks and allegations emerge on the screen, labeling it “racist” and questioning whether a fighter would be allowed to have a “White Pride” tattoo.
“People who have a problem with Cain’s ‘brown pride’ tattoo are morons”
- Dana White, UFC President
In a 2010 interview, Cain addressed the controversy, noting the tattoo simply honors his heritage and his parents’ sacrifices:
"I got this tattoo for two reasons. One, for everything my parents did to come over to this country, all the hardships they had crossing the border. 'Brown pride' when we were growing up meant ‘Mexican pride.' That’s how we would say it. It’s something to say if we’re proud about where we came from. What my Dad did, my Mom did to get over to this country to me means a lot. I’m proud of where I came from. I’m proud of what Mexican people stand for.
"We’re known as hard working people. We’re known as fighters. We’re known to have a lot of heart. We’re known to never give up in the gym and have a lot of cardio. To always work hard. The work ethic that my Dad, all the Mexican people bring out in the fields and stuff, we bring to the gym and whatever else we do. Another reason why I got is because when I was growing up I didn’t have anybody to look up to.
"There’s nobody that was my size that was Mexican that looked like me that I could see in the media. I pretty much didn’t have those dreams of 'Hey, I can do that stuff. I can be in the media, I can play professional sports.' I didn’t have that. I didn’t have nobody to look up to so now that I’m in that position, I put 'Brown Pride' on my chest to let people know 'Hey, I’m Mexican. I’m proud to be Mexican. I’m doing good things.' For those people that just don’t know the story behind it, that’s all I can say. The only thing I can do is clear it up by doing interviews like this."
Yet over two years later, the controversy continues to follow Cain.
The former UFC heavyweight champion (with a professional record of 10 wins – nine of those by knockout, and only one loss) will face Brazilian heavyweight Junior dos Santos, the current title-holder (to whom Cain lost the belt last November) in a heavily-anticipated rematch this Saturday, December 29th on pay-per-view live from Las Vegas.
At the December 27th press conference, the issue of Cain’s heritage was once again raised. Veteran MMA reporter Karyn Bryant asked: “Every time I do an interview with you, the comments sections go crazy. There turns out to be… a race discussion on any video with you and some people have a problem with the ‘brown pride’ tattoo and I’m just curious… are there times when you just want people to say ‘What about Cain the fighter’ not ‘Cain the Mexican fighter’?”
Velasquez could have thrown his heritage under the bus … but chose not to and matter-of-factly responded: “My fighting speaks for itself…. That [the tattoo question] is just like any other question, answering it 100 times. It’s fine.”
But the kicker was when UFC President Dana White interjected in defense of Cain’s infamous ink: “People who have a problem with the ‘brown pride’ tattoo are morons. Come on! It says ‘brown pride.’ Big deal! The guy’s proud to be Mexican. I lived in Boston: every Italian was running around with something Italian on their body, every guy who was Irish had some Irish tattoo on him, and the list goes on and on. It’s ridiculous..”
Well said, Dana. Well said.
Tune in to the 20:04 mark for the exchange. Also, at the 11:43 mark, Cain discusses his experience as a first-generation American and how much he appreciates the support of the Latino fan base.
A. J. Delgado is a graduate of Harvard Law School who writes about conservative politics and pop culture. You may find her on Twitter at @missADelgado