Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event of UFC on ESPN 1 as a heavyweight clash headlines the event as former champion Cain Velasquez returns to take on dangerous striker Francis Ngannou.
Francis Ngannou (Record: 12-3, +137 Underdog, Power Ranking: A-)
After dropping two straight fights, Francis Ngannou appeared to regain his mojo as he knocked out top ten heavyweight Curtis Blaydes in just 45 seconds in November 2018. The feared heavyweight is a signature win away from challenging for the title once again.
The Cameroon born heavyweight began training in boxing in his native Cameroon before moving to France at the age of 22. He was homeless for a period of time living in the streets of Paris as he picked up odd jobs before he joined up at MMA Factory and developed into a fighter. He started fighting professionally in 2013 and never turned back. The 6’5” heavyweight has one of the longest reaches in MMA at 83” inches. His output is low for a heavyweight at 1.97 significant strikes per minute. He has heavy power in his hands (8 career knockouts), but he’s not a fighter who looks to brawl. He is patient timing his opportunities. When he senses a finish, he’ll go for it. From an athletic standpoint, he’s about as good as there is in the UFC. He’s muscular, extremely strong, and agile. He’s a fighter that can-do things that other fighters cannot do inside the Octagon In that regard, it’s fair to compare him to Yoel Romero in that both fighters are known for quick, athletic movements and relentless when they sense a finish. Defensively, his takedown defense is decent, but it’s not elite so he can be taken down to the mat by wrestling focused fighters once he tires in a bout. On the feet, his chin has rarely been tested. His striking defense is stout absorbing just 1.94 significant strikes per minute with 48% striking defense. During his two-fight losing streak there were questions about his mindset and if he had the mentality required to beat the top heavyweights. He answered some of those questions against Blaydes, but he’ll need raise his level even further to beat Cain Velasquez.
Cain Velasquez (Record: 14-2, -167 Favorite, Power Ranking: A-)
Perhaps the best heavyweight in the history of the UFC, Cain Velasquez returns to the Octagon for the first time since July 2016. Inactivity and injuries have been a major issue for Velasquez as he has fought only twice in the last five years.
At his peak, Cain Velasquez was the undisputed heavyweight champion and considered the best heavyweight fighter of all time. The wrestling centric fighter had tremendous endurance for a heavyweight and was able to hold a level of pace in fights that went unmatched. Historically, Velasquez has landed 6.38 significant strikes per minute while only absorbing just 2.29. That difference of 4.09 ranks as the largest differential of any male fighter in the history in the UFC. That just proves how dominant the former champion has been. Once he took over fights, there was little opportunity for his opponents to come back. Velasquez was known for smothering opponents whether in the clinch or on the mat. Where the issues have risen, are in his ability to stay healthy. Velasquez has gone through a series of surgeries and its difficult to gauge just where he is or if even is close to the same fighter he was. In his 2015 bout with Fabricio Werdum, he was sluggish and ran into a submission attempt which cost him his title. His chin has been tested before and he can be hurt on the feet. So there are ways to hurt the former champion, but if his cardio is up to pace and he’s physically there, he will be very difficult for any fighter to beat.
In a much-anticipated bout, the division’s all-time best fighter, Cain Velasquez, takes on the division’s most hyped fighter, Francis Ngannou, in a huge heavyweight clash on the first ever televised main event on ESPN. This is a dangerous bout for both fighters. Velasquez hasn’t fought in over two and half years and returns to face the division’s biggest puncher and most brutal stand up threat. On the flip side, Ngannou was exposed by Stipe Miocic and had no answers for the takedown attempts as he was taken down at will after round one. Round one will tell us everything we need to know about this fight. If Ngannou is to win, he’ll need to do so early in this fight. Early on, Ngannou will have the energy to fend off takedowns and the explosion necessary to land big punches to threaten Velasquez. Once Velasquez gets Ngannou to the ground, he’ll be able to tire out the Cameroonian and negate his punching prowess. The problem for Velasquez is that the injuries have taken a toll and one has to really question his mobility at this point. That will prove a major problem against Ngannou who has the speed and agility to land. The last thing one wants to provide Ngannou is a standing target. Given the scenario, Ngannou by knockout is the play to make on this fight at +160. Ngannou is more than capable of winning this bout and his only method to do so is by knockout. Given the layoff and significant series of injuries to Velasquez, the former heavyweight champion is vulnerable and primed for a major defeat.