UFC Fight Night: Ngannou vs. Velasquez Preview
A preview of Sunday’s UFC Fight Night card, set to take place in Phoenix.
Updated: Feb. 15, 2019 • 2:21 PM ET
Francis Ngannou is seeking another shot at the heavyweight title.
A heavy-hitting main event will headline UFC Fight Night this Sunday in Phoenix, as power-punching heavyweight contender and No. 3 ranked Francis Ngannou will face former champion Cain Velasquez. The co-main event will be a lightweight fight between No. 10 James Vick and Paul Felder.
Entering his title fight against Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 last January, Ngannou was considered the most dangerous man in the heavyweight division. The Cameroonian even entered the fight as the favorite over the champion. But while the first round produced heavy back-and-forth action, Miocic completely neutralized Ngannou’s punching power by exposing the holes in his grappling en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Ngannou followed the loss to Miocic with a lackluster performance against Derek Lewis, where he even admitted to being tentative to engage due to the fear of being taken down. He rebounded well with a brutal first-round TKO of Curtis Blaydes in November, setting himself up for the fight with Velasquez, who is widely considered as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
Despite the setbacks, Ngannou’s knockout of Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 en route to his title shot against Miocic is unforgettable. It’s also a reminder that if he connects, he can take out anyone — even Velasquez.
Ngannou began his UFC career in 2015 and reeled off six straight wins, all by finish, before the loss to Miocic; and he has won seven of his nine total fights in the UFC. Velasquez would represent the biggest win of Ngannou’s career, but the former won’t pose an unfamiliar challenge for him. Velasquez is known for getting people to the ground and doing damage via ground-and-pound, a very familiar experience for Ngannou from his fight with Miocic. Has Ngannou fixed the holes in his game, or will Velasquez produce another signature performance?
Velasquez hasn’t fought since UFC 200 in 2016 and has only fought twice since 2013. Injuries have been the former two-time heavyweight champion’s worst nightmare; but when healthy, he has been one of the best fighters in history.
Before losing the title to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 in 2015, Velasquez won four straight with two wins over Junior Dos Santos and Antonio Silva. He was twice scheduled to meet Werdum in a rematch for the title with both fighters pulling out of the first fight due to injuries and Velasquez pulling out of the second scheduled fight.
The 36-year-old Velasquez is unlikely to fight Werdum again any time soon, but a win over Ngannou could gain him the title shot that he and many fans have anticipated since UFC 200. He flirted with the idea of retirement until the UFC offered him his latest contract.
“It all had to make sense as well for me to come back,” Velasquez said at a media lunch on Tuesday. “Again, it takes a lot out of me from a training aspect. But I love it.
“I love what I do, I love to go out there and train. I love to train with high intensity. I’m so competitive. I’m so competitive, just my daily life, that’s just how I am. Even when I go in to train, I try to back off a little bit. But it’s just the competitiveness in me. To go out there and to win, even in small things. It’s good and bad, but again when everything goes right then you get the best Cain out there.”
Whether Velasquez gets a future title shot could depend on how long his teammate and current champion Daniel Cormier has the belt, as it is highly unlikely that they would ever fight each other. If Velasquez wins on Sunday, it could set him up for a bout with someone else in the top 5, possibly Miocic.
First, Velasquez must avoid Ngannou’s punching power, which UFC President Dana White said was the equivalent of getting hit by a Ford Escort. Velasquez doesn’t seem to be buying what White is selling.
”Ford Escorts suck,” Velasquez said. “They’re weak. Weak ass Ford Escort. That’s the best thing he [White] could come up with? He said ‘Ford Escort, that’s it. That’s the one.’”
Sunday’s co-main event will be a lightweight fight between No. 10 James Vick and Paul Felder.
The 31-year-old Vick (13-2 overall, 9-2 in UFC) is trying to rebound from a first-round knockout loss to Justin Gaethje in August, prior to which he was on a four-fight winning streak. The only other loss in Vick’s career also came by devastating knockout to Beneil Dariush in 2016.
Felder (15-4 overall, 7-4 in UFC) is coming off a split-decision loss at welterweight to Mike Perry at UFC 226 in July, prior to which he was on a three-fight winning streak. A win over a top 10 fighter in Vick could be just what the 33-year-old needs to put himself back in the lightweight rankings.
The rest of the main card
Women's strawweight bout - No. 11 Cortney Casey vs. No. 12 Cynthia Calvillo
Featherweight bout - Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie
Welterweight bout - Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena
Featherweight bout - Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury
Bantamweight bout - No. 5 Jimmie Rivera vs. No. 7 Aljamain Sterling
Bantamweight bout - Benito Lopez vs. Manny Bermudez
Women's flyweight bout - No. 11 Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. No. 13 Andrea Lee
Lightweight bout - Scott Holtzman vs. Nik Lentz
ESPN+ Early Prelims
Women's strawweight bout - Jessica Penne vs. Jodie Esquibel
Bantamweight bout - Renan Barão vs. Luke Sanders
Women's strawweight bout - Alexandra Albu vs. Emily Whitmire
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