So, the dust has settled. Francis Ngannou has redeemed himself with two first-round TKO performances in a row, over Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez.
As things stand, the Cameroonian powerhouse looks set to enter contention for a shot at the UFC title currently held by Daniel Cormier, who knocked out Stipe Miocic to join the exclusive “champ champ” club.
Prior to his loss against Cormier, Miocic subjected the UFC’s heavyweight hype job to a humiliating defeat in his first ever title shot under the promotion. Ngannou would look even worse in his next fight, losing by unanimous decision to Derek Lewis in one of the absolute worst fights to ever feature in the world’s premier MMA promotion.
When he knocked out Blaydes, it seemed he was on the right path back to where he should be. Following his stoppage win over former heavyweight champion Velasquez, he showed the world that he was far from a hype job to begin with. For Velasquez, the loss was devastating.
In his first appearance inside the Octagon since stopping Travis Browne in the first round of their UFC 200 bout in July 2016, Velasquez was hit by a deft shot which caused him to fall awkwardly and damage his knee.
Ask Velasquez and he will tell you it wasn’t the punch but the fall that led to his loss. Either way, he left the Octagon with nothing – well, a $450,000 check – but no win. Poor Cain…
How the Fight Played Out
There was a huge buzz surrounding the Ngannou vs Velasquez bout.
Two big, bad heavyweights going head to head in a bid to climb up the ladder is one thing. Cain Velasquez making his first appearance in the best part of three years against the most powerful puncher in UFC history is another. For the fans, this one was a potential fight of the year candidate.
Velasquez put ink to paper on a four-fight deal ahead of the bout, signaling his intention to work towards an attempt to recapture his old UFC heavyweight title. In his way stood Ngannou, who was tipped for heavyweight domination before being exposed for being a little one dimensional by Stipe Miocic.
The former sand miner turned UFC superstar lost his shine following that bout and seemed to suffer from a major loss in confidence against Lewis. However, coming off that win over Blaydes meant that there was wind in the sails once more.
Although we never really got to see much of either man, Ngannou ultimately came out on top in a bout that was a little anticlimactic, considering it lasted around the same time it takes to call a telemarketer a douche and hangup.
While not many would have predicted the fight to be over in just 26 seconds, that’s how it went.
What Actually Happened?
Not a great deal, to be fair. Oh, you mean did Velasquez’s knee give out or did Ngannou actually knock him out? Well, according to the UFC’s official decision, the fight was awarded to Ngannou as a TKO at 26 seconds. Despite Velasquez claiming that it was a ‘freak accident,’ the decision stands.
“I just can’t believe that happened,” Velasquez said following the bout. “Having a great camp coming in, truly, everything I said, how strongly I felt, that was all true. Coming in I felt great out there, relaxed, and then taking that one step I did with my left foot. I just felt something pop and then when I tried to take another step it just gave out on me. My knee gave out on me, I can’t even believe that happened.
“Going in 100 percent healthy. 100 percent ready and just to have this freak accident, I can’t even believe it. It’s just hard. That’s sports, that’s what we do. That’s what happens sometimes. It’s just really frustrating because the fire in me is strong, stronger than ever. In camp, great camp, great camp. And then this happens.”
Watching the fight, my first reaction was that Velasquez slipped and landed awkwardly. However, after watching the incident a few times, it did become clear that Ngannou made contact.
That said, it could have been a combination of both. However, the younger man certainly landed that shot, there’s no argument against that.
Velasquez, as he did on February 17, must pick himself up and start looking towards the future. Ngannou will certainly be rubbing his hands together with glee at what is next in store for him, that’s for sure.
What’s Next for Francis Ngannou?
Well, he is certainly one of the two obvious candidates for a title shot with Stipe Miocic.
With incumbent UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier set to hang his gloves up this year, the current top two contenders should be pitted together once more to establish the new king of the division.
The funny thing about this matchup is that their first encounter was pretty lopsided in favor of Stipe.
Of course, there is every chance that this fight could go the exact same way and the UFC top brass know this. If that is the case, you would have to think that Ngannou would find it very difficult to land another shot at the strap for a while.
Would the UFC be happy to take that risk on Ngannou, knowing that a loss against Stipe is the end of the African’s claim to the title for a while?
Probably. If Ngannou can beat Stipe, he will become the second African born UFC champion following Kamaru Usman’s domination of Tyron Woodley earlier this year.
With the promotion pushing hard to crack Africa, this would be nothing short of a gigantic boost in their efforts to make the UFC a huge success on the continent.
What if the Stipe Fight Doesn’t Happen?
Let’s say Cormier agrees to fight Ngannou instead of Stipe. After all, the former UFC light heavyweight champion and current king of the heavyweight domain knocked Miocic out in style. He has also frequently reminded the part-time fireman that he must ‘earn’ a rematch, rather than simply demand one.
While Miocic would lose his mind, stranger things have happened in the UFC. In fact, it wouldn’t be difficult for Cormier to move past the number 1 ranked Miocic down to the number 2 ranked Ngannou. It’s not as though he is looking all the way down to 6th, 7th, or even 10th place for an opponent.
Of course, if there is one fight that the UFC will want Cormier to engage in, it has to be a trilogy bout with Jon Jones.
If “Bones” moves up to heavyweight and beats Cormier, Ngannou could find himself inside the cage with the man who has never lost a fight in his career. What a matchup that would be.
Other than Stipe or Cormier, it is difficult to find a solid matchup for Ngannou. Well, that is if you discount Junior Dos Santos who is on a three-fight winning streak right now…
What’s Next for Cain Velasquez?
Let’s hope it is not retirement. If Velasquez can recover from the loss to Ngannou and has no long term injury problems – which seems to be the case – then he will shake it off and move on to another opponent.
While he has his work cut out in securing a title shot in the three fights remaining on his new deal, a few solid performances that culminate in wins would undoubtedly see him back in the mix.
Currently sitting at 8th in the official UFC rankings, Velasquez has numerous opportunities in terms of would be opponents. Alistair Overeem, Alexander Volkov, Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes, and even a nostalgia-inducing rematch with Junior Dos Santos all sound like good options.
Velasquez beat Dos Santos twice over the course of 10 months in 2012/13 and the latter would surely welcome a chance to avenge both of those losses. However, Dos Santos is currently ranked 3rd in the division and will be aiming for a shot at the title.
Beating a fighter 5 places below him is probably not the best way to work his way into title contention, so this might be a fight that occurs if Velasquez can work his way up the rankings and into closer proximity to the Brazilian.
Who Would be the Best Opponent for Velasquez?
It is hard to say. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see anything from the two-time heavyweight champion in his bout against Ngannou, so can’t really tell if he still has what it takes to make waves in the division.
There are numerous candidates in the division that would not hesitate to sign on the dotted line if the 36-year-old’s name was brought up as a potential opponent, that’s for sure. Cain Velasquez is still a very big name in the UFC and it carries a lot of merit.
Fighters in the division will certainly feel as though they can target him now he is seemingly older and susceptible to injury. Making a name by beating a name is how lower ranked fighters work their way up the ladder.
That said, the UFC is not going to simply hand a lower ranked fighter a shot at one of the greatest heavyweights in the history of MMA.
More than anything, Cain will be looking up that same ladder that those looking towards him will be. The right scenario for Velasquez at this point will more than likely be a shot against anyone from 7th to 3rd in the rankings.
Will Velasquez and Ngannou Meet Again?
You would have to think that this scenario is unlikely, although far from impossible, Francis Ngannou will more than likely fight for the UFC heavyweight title in his next couple of fights.
Should Daniel Cormier hand him the next pop at his title, he could even find himself with a faster route to the championship than taking on Miocic in the event of Cormier vacating it and retiring.
There is no doubt that Ngannou has proven himself to be an elite heavyweight, at least for the time being.
With Velasquez languishing down in 8th place in the rankings, he has a lot of work to do before both men’s names can be put together.
Cain Velasquez needs to string together a few wins over the likes of Junior Dos Santos, Curtis Blaydes, Alistar Overeem, and Derrick Lewis before he can be considered as a potential candidate for a shot at the heavyweight champ.
Not to say that Ngannou will go all the way. As we saw against Miocic, he has holes in his game. That night, he was picked apart and completely bemused by the former champion’s movement, angles, and MMA fundamentals.
A rematch would surely see the betting odds favor Miocic, so, Ngannou’s second coming may not be as boisterous and elemental as it was the first time around.
Would Fans Want to See Ngannou vs. Velasquez II?
Well, UFC fans, what do you say? Would you want to see this fight again? Having spoken to a number of friends and MMA enthusiasts, the majority of people don’t really see much in a rematch between both men.
Given that their first fight ended as such a letdown, a repeat performance would be a huge blow to the heavyweight division and pretty much embarrassing to the UFC as a whole.
Let’s see how things go in the future. Who knows what direction the crazy world of the Ultimate Fighting Championship will go.
It is not beyond all reason to think that Ngannou vs. Velasquez II could come up again at some point in the future. Right now, both men will be focusing on working their way towards a shot at the heavyweight title.