UFC on ESPN 1: Velasquez vs Ngannou
By: Jesse Donathan
Very respected people in the mixed martial arts community consider Cain Velasquez (14-2) to be greatest heavyweight fighter the sport has ever seen. The former Arizona State collegiate wrestler is known for his relentless pace, incredible cardio and stifling pressure inside the cage. A former two-time UFC Heavyweight champion, Velasquez’s career has been marked with injuries which has left fans and pundits alike questioning what could have been rather than what actually was unfortunately. Velasquez last competed in July of 2016, defeating Travis Browne by TKO.
Few fighters will ever know what it means to have a promotion completely behind them, in the not too distant past Francis Ngannou (12-3) was thought to be a world beater who enjoyed the UFC’s complete backing all the way up to meeting Stipe Miocic for the UFC Heavyweight title and getting dominated in convincing fashion. Ngannou possesses incredible power, in a sport marked with athletes Ngannou is the type of mixed martial artist who could clean house in the roughest of neighborhoods. Unfortunately for Ngannou, the same problems he faced against Stipe Miocic are going to be the same problems he will have to face in Cain Velasquez, which is an athletic, wrestling based big man who has the ability to stand with Ngannou or take him down virtually anytime he wants too.
The good new for Ngannou is that Velasquez won’t be afraid of him and will be willing to stand and trade punches with “The Predator.” What this means for Ngannou is opportunities, opportunities to do what Ngannou does best and that is lay people out. The bad news is Velasquez has proven to be athletic enough with a high enough fight IQ to weather the storm and bulldoze his way right through Ngannou. They key’s to victory for Ngannou will be to put his hands on Velasquez, maintain proper striking distance and to avoid the takedown.
Ngannou cannot afford to allow Velasquez to close the distance, failure to stop what is surely the inevitable will mean Ngannou will likely suffer PTSD based flashbacks of how badly Stipe Miocic beat him up. This means Ngannou will need to improve his foot work, ensure he makes Velasquez pay for closing the distance on him and work hard to stuff any takedowns coming his way which will almost assuredly be chained in combinations. Ngannou will absolutely need to rely on an offensive based game plan, developing a momentum stopping jab would go a long way in making opponents think twice about exploiting his lack of grappling acumen and takedown defense.
For Velasquez, he has been here before. The ankle pick or any other number of takedowns will be there for Velasquez essentially anytime he wants them to be. Using his athleticism to close the distance, applying a pace and pressure Ngannou will find difficult to maintain for any meaningful amount of time and bringing the hurt in classic Velasquez fashion are his keys to victory. Ngannou has incredible power, it is not in Cain’s best interest to test the waters but should he find his way through the absolute bombs sure to come his way Velasquez can be expected to ragdoll Ngannou and showcase a violent all-around mixed martial arts game.
The blueprint to defeat Ngannou has already been written, he is going to need to close the holes in his game and develop additional tools such as a jab and solid takedown defense in order to compete in the UFC Heavyweight division. Other fighters in the past such as former UFC fighter Cheick Kongo were able to successfully add a wrestling based offensive attack to their arsenal in addition to being feared strikers so it is entirely possible for Ngannou to continue to evolve as a mixed martial artist. For Velasquez, expectations are high for the former champion. Anything short of getting Ngannou out of there convincingly will be viewed with disappointing eyes. This fight will not be a repeat of Ngannou vs Lewis, which was a real snooze fest. The forecast on Sunday night the 17th on ESPN will be violence.