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Cain Velasquez calls recent layoff a ‘luxury,’ looks to show improvements against Ngannou at UFC on ESPN 1

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UFC 200: Tate v Nunes Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will make his long-awaited return to the Octagon this February when he takes on knockout artist Francis Ngannou at UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Velasquez, 36, hasn’t competed since defeating Travis Browne via TKO at UFC 200 well over two years ago. His journey has been one filled with unpredictable injuries and unexpected layoffs, but it all afforded Velasquez the ability to properly heal and spend valuable time with his growing family.

Not all fighters can step away for that long and take care of the things they need to, so Velasquez is chalking it up as a “luxury.”

“I’ve had some injuries throughout my career. I got that all squared away and all healed up, and I extended my family, as well,” Velasquez said in a recent interview with MMAjunkie. “We have a 1-year-old boy. I wanted to be there for the whole pregnancy, for the whole first year. It was kind of hard when we had our daughter. … There was a lot of stuff that I missed that I didn’t like missing. So with the time off, I just got to be with my family.

“There isn’t a lot of people who can take time off for two years, but I had that luxury, and I wanted to be there for my family, which to me was most important. I’m glad I did it. I love just having the time to be there for them.”

Seemingly healthy, Velasquez will try to regain his stranglehold on the UFC’s heavyweight division after losing his title to Fabricio Werdum via submission back at UFC 188 in Mexico City. But considering Velasquez has fought just twice since a title defense over Junior dos Santos back in 2013 he’s going to have to show new levels to his game in order to dominate like he did in the past.

“We’re always trying to evolve,” explained Velasquez. “This sport is still so new. We’re trying out different things and trying to get new tools every time – things that fans and also fighters haven’t seen before from me, so I’m always working on that. I’m always working to improve.”

Luckily for Velasquez, his return to the Octagon will come against a heavyweight only known for his striking. Even though Ngannou has the knockout power to spoil Cain’s comeback, it’s likely that Velasquez is able to take “Predator” down and beat him up with ground-and-pound.

“The game is to improve,” Velasquez reiterated. “I’m always looking to improve. I’ve been in the game for a while, but there’s always room for improvement. You’re just never satisfied – well, at least I’m not.

“I have the fight against Ngannou, I’ve got to go out there, and he presents a lot of dangers, so there’s a lot of things I have to be really tight on my game when I go out there and fight. I’m ready for that.”

If Velasquez is able to get past Ngannou this February things could get very interesting between he and teammate Daniel Cormier, who currently holds the UFC heavyweight title.

For complete UFC on ESPN 1 fight card new click here.