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UFC on ESPN preview: How hot is the heavyweight fire?

“You never know how hot is the fire until you put your finger in it.” — Francis Ngannou

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez, is making his return to mixed martial arts (MMA) after two-and-a-half years on the sidelines. In fact, Velasquez has only competed twice since late 2013.

That means we missed five years of his fighting prime and honestly, I’m not sure what to expect moving forward. Even if he wins and looks like the previous version of himself, the one who made a mockery of Junior dos Santos and Travis Browne, just to name a few, how many years do we have left?

Velasquez is 36 and prone to injuries and it’s not like you get hurt less as you get older, so I’m not sure if the emotional investment is worth it, for even his most loyal fans. Like a fighter who consistently misses weight, or fails multiple drug tests, Velasquez is going to need a solid stretch of consecutive appearances to prove otherwise.

“This Cain now in 2019, I feel like I am much-improved. I just know that I have what it takes to beat everybody,” the ex-champ told “I improved from the last time you saw me, so you are going to see a much better Cain Velasquez. I know I can get back to that greatness of being heavyweight champion again. And I will. I’m ready to go out there and get a victory.”

That journey begins in the UFC on ESPN 1 headliner tomorrow night (Sun., Feb. 17, 2019) inside Talking Stick Resort & Casino in Phoenix, Arizona, where Velasquez battles top heavyweight contender, Francis Ngannou. Like his opponent, “The Predator” is also working to negate some of those less-than-flattering headlines over the past few months.

“This is a very important fight, he is my best opponent so far,” Ngannou said in a recent promotional video. “This is going to be a very tough fight, he is a good wrestler. I want to show the world that I can fight a wrestler, I’m more determined than ever. I really believe I have the skills to become a world champion.”

When you combine the heavyweight Top 15, it’s 500 years old with an arithmetic mean of 33.5. That doesn’t include the unranked Velasquez at 36 or the soon-to-be 40 year-old Daniel Cormier, who captured the crown from Stipe Miocic, 36, last July. I find it troubling that only two ranked fighters are under the age of 30 and those are Curtis Blaydes and Tai Tuivasa.

Ngannou (12-3) sits right in the middle at 32 years old.

Velasquez and Cormier, longtime friends and training partners, are never going to fight for the division title. Not that “DC” will be available anytime soon, thanks to proposed title defenses against Brock Lesnar and perhaps even Jon Jones, so regardless of who walks away the winner in Phoenix, they’ll likely need another dance partner to stay active this year.

I hear this guy is (still) looking for a fight. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 1 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, before the ESPN main card start time at 9 p.m. ET.

For much more on UFC on ESPN click here.

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