Going Deep: Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez

Saturday night in Arizona see’s the long-awaited return of the former heavyweight division kingpin – Cain Velasquez. The welcome home party, Francis Ngannou, is one of the most imposing figures ever seen at heavyweight with the ability to stop anyone among the top fifteen with one shot.

An NCAA Division 1 All-American and consensus heaviest hitter in heavyweight history clash in Phoenix this weekend, but this match has so many more factors and implications.

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There is no doubt Cain is a slick boxer. This was apparent with his stoppage over Minotauro Nogeuira. But, I think we can all agree his wrestling background is obviously his “meat and potatoes”. Absorbing almost two significant strikes a minute is detrimental when facing the Batié native, Ngannou, but the smothering style of wrestling and top pressure exacted by another former world champion in Stipe Miocic should be the obvious blueprint in order to prevent immediate danger against Francis. ‘The Predator’ was almost stuck to the canvas for the majority of his clash with Stipe, unable to create any space for a scramble or a stand-up.

Dropping another loss in an unmemorable meeting with Derrick Lewis after his premier promotion defeat to Miocic, Ngannou was pitted against former foe Curtis Blaydes in Beijing last November with the Juco national champion looking to avenge a doctor stoppage defeat to the rugged Cameroonian. In desperate need of a win, Ngannou remained composed and unleashed a massive overhand right inside the opening minute staggering the Elevation Fight Team product before follow up shots forced Marc Goddard to call a halt to the action.

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Ngannou rebounded with a solid win and subsequently forced the fellow title surging Blaydes to return to the drawing board with his four-fight winning streak snapped.

Earning a shot at Stipe’s crown as a direct result of a terrifying knockout of Alistair Overeem and an earlier bludgeoning of Andrei Arlovski, Ngannou is still unquestionably one of the favourites to eventually pick up the strap with tweaks to his conditioning eyed at Vegas’ state of the art UFC Performance Institute. His ability to leave his opponent staring at the bright lights above the Octagon canvas early on will be a huge facet of this fight.

A fan favourite within the MMA community, the first Latin-American gold holder Cain Velasquez has dropped from the ranks entirely due to nagging back and neck injuries. Last competing at the monumental UFC 200 card against fellow division drop off Travis Browne, ‘Hapa’ was dispatched with certain ease inside the opening round with Cain’s boxing something to note heading into Saturday’s main event.

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With arguably the most impressive résumé in Heavyweight antiquity, Velasquez has beaten the likes of Brock Lesnar to earn his first title, Junior Dos Santos twice during their legendary trilogy, Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva and former PRIDE FC great Minotauro Nogueira during his career prime. Dropping the title to JDS then currently suspended Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player Fabrício Werdum at high altitude in Mexico, ‘Cardio Cain’ seen his often renowned conditioning diminish severely as he shot for a late takedown and fell into a guillotine as ‘Vai Cavalo’ claimed the Heavyweight crown.

Octagon rust is still somewhat of an open debate in the community, with the likes of bantamweight great Dominick Cruz refuting the theory but we’ve no doubt seen the return of one time promotion best’s suffer from jitters with Conor McGregor, in particular, looking flat-footed throughout his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 with coach John Kavanagh attributing the defeat to a lack of previous cage time. The theory suffers when studying Ronda Rousey’s return to action against Amanda Nunes as she was picked apart inside one minute, similarly to Brazil’s Cris Cyborg who also fell to the hands of Nunes despite competing only eight months prior compared to Rousey’s year hiatus.

It remains to be seen which Cain Velasquez makes the walk this weekend if he swarms Francis like he’s swarmed Brock Lesnar and the more technical boxer, Dos Santos, expect Ngannou to be forced into fighting from the back foot with a watchful eye on a shoot from Cain. Based on Velasquez’s tendency to eat some significant shots, I pick Ngannou to find his chin sometime in the opening round, he only needs to find it once.

Official Pick: Francis Ngannou via first-round knockout.

Analysis: James Vick vs. Paul Felder – What Will Go Down?

Two established but contrasting strikers clash at Lightweight this weekend in the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 1 when lengthy boxer James ‘The Texecutioner’ Vick meets the kick-heavy ‘Irish Dragon’ Paul Felder in an exciting meeting at 155lbs.

Both men have seen impressive win streaks snapped in their most recent outings. Vick suffered a tough first-round knockout loss to Justin Gaethje, while part-time colour commentator Felder found himself on the wrong side of the judge’s scorecards in a bloody back and forth against a much improved Mike Perry in July.

One of the tallest of the opposition at 155lbs, Texas native James Vick acquired a considerable following after racking up four straight wins throughout the last calendar year. Finishing Abel Trujillo, Polo Reyes and Joseph Duffy garnered a meeting with often overlooked Brazilian Francisco Trinaldo with the 31-year-old out striking the imposing Trinaldo over three rounds, subsequently earning him a clash with former World Series Of Fighting champion, Justin Gaethje.

Fighting on the back foot, Vick was dropped badly near the fence after a slick counter from ‘The Highlight’ but still lays claim to the #10 spot at Lightweight. Vick style contrasts greatly to Felder’s with a boxing heavy approach on display in the aforementioned bouts, but a front kick to the body had been incorporated to good effect to maintain distance recently.

Receiving a warm welcome as part of a three-team commentary booth alongside Joe Rogan and Jon Anik, Paul Felder is juggling both his current fight career and possible life after he hangs up his gloves to decent effect. A popular choice among Octagon fans for analysis, ‘The Irish Dragon’ has somewhat put his career inside the cage on the back burner competing just once last year in his previously mentioned defeat to Mike Perry.

Scoring three consecutive stoppages before clashing with ‘Platinum’, with strikes overwhelming Charles Oliveira, Stevie Ray and Alessandro Ricci. The certain lack of activity has seen Felder fall from the top fifteen rankings and his late notice Welterweight loss to Mike Perry further scuppered a quick turnaround for Felder who suffered a broken forearm during the three-round match. Well traversed in both Taekwondo and Shotokan Karate, Felder utilizes various kicking techniques throughout his fights giving him somewhat of an edge creative wise against the more mobile Vick.

Both men are wily and incredibly gritty so expect a three round back and forth.

Official pick: Paul Felder via split decision.