Two-time former UFC heavyweight champion of the world Cain Velasquez may very well be the greatest heavyweight to have ever competed inside the octagon.
Since he captured the UFC heavyweight title with a four-minute demolition of Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 in October 2010, Velasquez has fought just seven more times as a succession of injury layoffs have beset his MMA career.
But now Velasquez is back for his first fight since UFC 200 in July 2016. He’s fit, he’s raring to go and he has his sights set on the top of the UFC heavyweight division once again.
Most experts believe Velasquez is still one of the best heavyweights on the planet, but the UFC heavyweight landscape has changed markedly since he was last in action.
And on Sunday night in Phoenix, Arizona, Velasquez returns to action against Cameroonian knockout artist Francis Ngannou, whose punch power and highlight reel is enough to give any heavyweight sleepless nights.
HE’S NOT GUNNING FOR THE GOLD JUST YET
Velasquez may be back in action, but that doesn’t mean he’s making a bee-line for the belt straight away. Instead, he’s going to rack up the wins until his close friend and American Kickboxing Academy training partner Daniel Cormier hangs up his gloves.
The pair have always been adamant that they would never fight each other, and Cormier opted to ply his trade as a light-heavyweight, with Velasquez ruling the world at heavyweight.
But while Velasquez was out injured, Cormier took the decision to move back up to heavyweight and captured the world title last year with a first-round KO of record-breaking champ Stipe Miocic.
Now Velasquez is back in the fold, he says he’ll continue to compete, but his mutual agreement that he and Cormier won’t fight still stands.
Once ‘D.C.’ retires, however, expect him to go straight for the gold once again.
HE FANCIES A PIECE OF JON JONES, TOO
Velasquez isn’t coming back for a couple of easy paydays and then retirement. He’s back to beat the best in the world.
That could potentially include a fight with UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, who has teased a move up to heavyweight later in his career. And if Velasquez eventually reclaims the heavyweight mantle after Cormier retires, it’s not inconceivable we could see Velasquez vs Jones for the UFC heavyweight title in late 2019 or early 2020.
Cain’s certainly up for the matchup.
“Definitely,” he told TMZ in one of their famous kerbside interviews.
“That’s why I’m in this sport, to fight the best guys, to be the best out there. To me, it’s just go out there, perform and win and just take on the best guys.
And the softly spoken former heavyweight king said he’s confident he would beat Jones if the pair ever met inside the octagon.
“I think I could. I think I’m good enough. Jon Jones, he’s an amazing athlete. I’ve watched him in all of his fights, I know what he’s capable of.
“Every guy poses a great challenge, I think he does as well. I think I could beat him, yeah.”
“FORD ESCORTS SUCK!”
Velasquez’s opponent this weekend, Cameroonian KO artist Francis Ngannou, has terrifying punch power. His KO of Alistair Overeem knocked back the Dutchman’s head like a Pez dispenser in one of the most stunning one-punch KOs ever seen inside the octagon.
And, after Ngannou’s crushing punch power was scientifically measured at the UFC Performance Institute, UFC president Dana White tried to put “The Predator’s” punch power into real-world terms.
“Francis Ngannou has the world record for the most powerful punch,” he explained.
“His punch is the equivalent to 96 horse power which is equal to getting hit by a Ford Escort going as fast as it can, and it’s more powerful than a 12lb sledgehammer swung from overhead.”
That assessment didn’t impress Velasquez, however.
”Ford Escorts suck!” he said.
“They’re weak. Weak-ass Ford Escort? Is that the best [Dana White] could come up with? He said ‘Ford Escort, that’s it. That’s the one.’”
Remember when Dana White compared Francis Ngannou's punching power to being hit by a Ford Escort? @cainmma wasn't impressed…
"Ford Escorts suck. They're weak." pic.twitter.com/i2h1HKumn8
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) February 12, 2019
The obvious follow-up question saw Velasquez asked to equate his own punch power to a popular automobile.
”I dunno, it’d be better than that!” he shrugged.
“Anything would be better than that. They don’t even make Ford Escorts any more, do they? It should offend Francis, not me.”
IT’S CARDIO VERSUS POWER
Despite the tortured car analogies, Ngannou certainly poses a serious threat with his punch power. But the Cameroonian star was cruelly exposed for his lack of wrestling defence in his failed world title challenge against then-champ Stipe Miocic.
Velasquez is an even better wrestler than Miocic, and is sure to push the pace on Ngannou even harder than Miocic did, and the two-time world champion will have no qualms about getting in “The Predator’s” face and landing big punches from close range.
Now Velasquez has to face a new and improved Ngannou, who has world title ambitions of his own. It’s just about as dangerous a matchup as you could pick for a fighter coming back from a three-year hiatus, but that’s the challenge ahead for Velasquez this weekend.
We’ve seen Velasquez clipped and stunned before – he lost his world title to Junior dos Santos in a flash KO in the very first UFC on FOX event back in 2013. But it’s only happened once, and Velasquez’s cardio and incredible pace for a heavyweight should give him a key advantage over Ngannou on Sunday night.
Can he jump straight back into the mix against the scariest knockout artist in the UFC and win? Don’t bet against it.