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Midnight Mania! Will UFC Phoenix reveal our next heavyweight champion?

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UFC Fight Night Blaydes v Ngannou 2 Photo by Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images

Welcome to Midnight Mania!

This weekend will (allegedly) see a clash between the long-departed Cain Velasquez, and one-time superstar in waiting Francis Ngannou. Velasquez was considered a lock for greatest heavyweight of all time before injuries derailed his career. He lost to Fabricio Werdum at altitude in Mexico City, a performance that was akin to watching Bane dismantle Batman in the third Christopher Nolan movie. “You merely adopted exhaustion. I was born into it!” Werdum took the best shots Cain had to offer, and then tapped him when an exhausted Cain shot in, desperate to get top position. Ngannou’s first-ever loss had a similar feeling, as Stipe Miocic took his first-round aggression, then ground him down for four rounds as the hulking giant struggled to stand and breathe, much less fight back.

Since then, Velasquez beat the tar out of Travis Browne at UFC 200, and hasn’t fought since, while Ngannou lost a gunshy snoozefest to Derrick Lewis, then blasted Curtis Blaydes in a matter of seconds.

The thing is, Cain’s teammate Daniel Cormier, the current heavyweight champion, is retiring soon. He has between one and three fights left in him. Who will replace Cormier once he is gone? Aside from Stipe Miocic, the best candidates are probably the two men clashing this weekend, and their respective performances will tell us a lot about their future in this division.

Cain has the potential to assert himself the once-and-future king. Ngannou was Stipe Miocic’s toughest test; if Cain can pass the same test, we will have a gauge to measure him by. Have the years of injury and age finally caught up to him? Is he the same force that once smashed Brock Lesnar and dominated the division? It is impossible to know until we see him in the cage.

On the other hand, Cain is the perfect test for whether Ngannou learned his lessons from the Stipe loss. Although the fight showed us a lot of technical flaws, conceivably he could have won that bout had he not gone buckwild in the first round and used up his gas tank. Unfortunately, the Curtis Blaydes win told us nothing except that he realized he needed to get past the fear of engaging we saw in the forgettable Lewis performance. Unless he repeats the feat and flatlines Cain instantly, this fight will give us those answers, good or bad. If they are good, Ngannou is likely the division’s future. If they are bad, he could still become champion someday, but his window of opportunity could be pushed much further back.

The future of a division is riding on Sunday’s main event. Who emerges victorious will do so over themselves, as much as their opponent.


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