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UFC on ESPN 1 card: Cain Velasquez vs Francis Ngannou full fight preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight powerhouses Cain Velasquez and Francis Ngannou will clash TONIGHT (Feb. 17, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 1 from inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Not for the first time in his career, Velasquez will be making a return to the Octagon after a considerable period of time sidelined by injuries. The former champion is not one for tune-up fights either, as he’ll be immediately jumping in to face the No. 3-ranked contender and get back into title contention. On the other hand, Ngannou is searching for his second title shot despite still being young in the fight game. The most physically imposing man in the sport is still developing his skill set, but there is little doubt that “The Predator” has remarkable potential and nearly unique knockout power.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Cain Velasquez

Record: 14-2
Key Wins: Junior dos Santos (UFC 155, UFC 166) Brock Lesnar (UFC 121), Antonio Silva (UFC 160, UFC 144), Travis Browne (UFC 200)
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (UFC 188), Junior dos Santos (UFC on FOX 1)
Keys to Victory: “Cardio Cain” is one of the more deserved and accurate monikers in the sport. During his peak, Velasquez fought at an absurd pace unmatched by any Heavyweight, surging forward with an endless barrage of punches and takedowns.

That may not be the best path against Ngannou and his well-timed counter uppercuts though. Instead, Velasquez may want to copy Stipe Miocic’s success against the Cameroonian athlete. In that victory, Miocic hung back and allowed Ngannou to come to him, resulting in a more obvious line of attack and openings to wrestle.

That’s not to say Velasquez has to abandon his famously high level of activity. Once able to get a grip on Ngannou, Velasquez can go to work. Jam the bigger man into the fence, dirty box, level change, land knees — Velasquez can still throw a ridiculous amount of strikes and look to exhaust Ngannou.

He just has to get to a position he can do so safely first.

Francis Ngannou

Record: 12-3
Key Wins: Curtis Blaydes (UFC Fight Night 141, UFC Fight Night 86), Alistair Overeem (UFC 218), Andrei Arlovski (UFC on FOX 23), Luis Henrique (UFC on FOX 17)
Key Losses: Stipe Miocic (UFC 220), Derrick Lewis (UFC 226)
Keys to Victory: Ngannou has a talent for combat. He is not the most refined athlete in any area, but Ngannou nevertheless has remarkably dangerous weapons on his feet, strong defensive wrestling and scrambling, and even tricky submissions.

Anyone who has ever seen Cain Velasquez fight knows what his strategy will be: wrestle Ngannou until he’s exhausted then beat him to a pulp. Ngannou should be well aware too, and assuming he strategizes better than he did opposite Miocic, he should be well prepared to counter those attempts.

The absolute most important goal for Ngannou should be to keep his back off the fence. In fact, it would be better if he were the one stalking Velasquez around the ring and forcing bad shots. Note that I said stalking, not abandoning his patience and chasing like his failed title bid.

Ngannou also has a terrifying long uppercut. In the first fight with Curtis Blaydes — a strong wrestler himself — Ngannou shot a long uppercut from distance to ward away the takedown. That’s usually not a great strategy, but Ngannou’s arms are long enough that he can effectively land powerful uppercuts at range without overexposing himself. It would be wise for Ngannou to make use of that weapon again here.

Bottom Line: It’s potentially a title eliminator.

If Velasquez returns from a massive layoff and wins big over the division’s hottest contender, the former champion deserves another shot at the belt — assuming he can fight again in 2019. Plus, with his best pal Daniel Cormier as champion, the two will surely be able to come to an agreement that sees Cormier retire and Velasquez fight for the vacant belt in the near future.

If Cormier wants to hang onto the belt for a little while longer, Velasquez could always face Miocic instead to really solidify his position.

Ngannou fought poorly in his first attempt at the crown, surely a sign of inexperience. Even with that loss, Ngannou’s age and athletic gifts mean he’s going to be a contender for a very long time. While a Miocic rematch would be a hard sell this soon after the loss, Ngannou has never faced off with Cormier. Should he defeat Velasquez, that storyline writes itself, and it would be a very interesting match up of “Experience vs. Talent.”

At UFC on ESPN 1, Cain Velasquez and Francis Ngannou will battle in the main event. Which man will take a step closer to the title?

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