Cain Velasquez Eying Title Contention After Defeating Francis Ngannou

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Not all that long ago, Cain Velasquez was discussed as the frontrunner for the greatest heavyweight of all-time in MMA.

But after only one fight since July 2016 and three fights since October 2013, Velasquez has become heavyweight’s forgotten man in a certain sense. In the fast-paced world of MMA, getting your name and face out in public is obviously key to maintaining a fanbase and scope of attention. Velasquez, unfortunately, has seen much of his prime sapped by injuries.

He’s finally set to return against former title contender Francis Ngannou in the headliner of February’s UFC on ESPN 1 from Phoenix, Arizona. After roughly two-and-a-half years away from fighting, many wondered if Velasquez would ever be able to return to the Octagon. It wasn’t just injuries that stalled his current return, however.

The former champion revealed on this week’s episode of “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show” that while he did have some to heal from, he also wanted to be there for the birth of his son:

“It took me close to six months to get over injuries and get everything nice and tight and get healthy. And then, in the process, we ended up extending our family. I really wanted to be there for my wife’s pregnancy and also the whole first year of my child’s life. Being able to do that was amazing.”

Love Of The Game

Now that he was able to be around for his son’s first year, Velasquez said he’s back to doing what he loves – training hard. If he is unable to work out with his famed American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) team, he said it becomes difficult:

“I love this too much,” he said. “I love to train, I love to work out. If I don’t get to do it, that’s hard for me.”

So he’s back, and he’ll meet a new sort of challenge in knockout artist Ngannou. “The Predator” was hyped up as the future of the heavyweight division during a meteoric rise to title contention in 2016-2017. A one-sided loss to former champion Stipe Miocic last year put a stop to that. Then, a shockingly boring loss to Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 made the entire MMA world wonder if he was all hype.

Ngannou got back on track by knocking out Curtis Blaydes at November’s UFC Beijing. But the signs remain that Velasquez is a terrible match-up for him. Velasquez claimed to know Ngannou’s style of fighting and how dangerous he is:

“I know his style of fighting,” Velasquez said. “I know how dangerous he is.”

Still The Same?

The legendary heavyweight’s wrestling and cardio are clear areas where Velasquez outshines Ngannou. While it’s fair to wonder if Velasquez has declined in any of those areas due to his long layoff, he insisted he can still put out the ridiculous pace that defined his early-career run to the title:

“The time off, I was in the gym working on stuff I hadn’t had a chance to work on — things to improve and new tools,” Velasquez said. “As far as going in and being the same with the cardio, I feel the same. I feel I can put out the same work ethic in every practice, that same pace.”

If he’s able to implement that peerless pace, Ngannou could be in for a world of hurt in Phoenix. Of course, Velasquez will have to be cautious of “The Predator’s” unparalleled knockout power. But if he’s able to defeat Ngannou, he believes he’ll be right back in title contention:

“We’ll see how the fight goes; I never make predictions,” he said. “I want to go out there and show people that I’ve improved. With that, I believe [I’ll be in] title contention right away.”

Indeed he may be. When he gets there, however, it could get a little bit messy. Velasquez’s good friend and longtime AKA teammate Daniel Cormier is the current UFC heavyweight champion. They’ve long insisted they would never fight one another. “DC” has teased retirement after fighting Brock Lesnar, but his fighting future is still very much uncertain.

First things first for Velasquez – he has to return successfully and defeat Ngannou. Yet in a heavyweight landscape lacking many true title contenders, he could absolutely be back in contention early this year.