What Velasquez vs. Ngannou could mean for the heavyweight division

It was not so long ago when there were complaints thrown around about the lack of talent in the UFC’s heavyweight division. It was just the same fighters going back and forth with no new contenders coming through. Those times now seem like an eternity ago as the top of the heavyweight division has arguably never been this stacked, and Sunday’s blockbuster showdown between the returning Cain Velasquez and Francis Ngannou will only add to the question of what’s next for the heavyweight division?

It is hard to imagine that a win in this bout for either of the fighters doesn’t warrant a shot at the title, but there are a few obstacles in the way of both challengers before they could possibly get into the Octagon with the reigning champion, Daniel Cormier.

For the returning Cain Velasquez (14-2), who is without question one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, it may not even be DC that he steps in there with if he wins on Sunday. The current pound for pound number one in Cormier has previously underlined on many occasions that he will not defend his belt against his friend and fellow American Kickboxing Academy member that is Velasquez.

That raises a lot of question marks as to what’s going to happen next in regards to the heavyweight title as Cormier has recently postponed his retirement, which he had planned for his 40th birthday in March, until at least the summer due to injury. This means that he will very likely defend the heavyweight gold at least one more time, and he also recently expressed his interest in a trilogy fight against Jon Jones before he calls it a day. So it appears as we might yet be seeing a lot more Daniel Cormier in 2019 than we initially expected.

Tracking back to Sunday, it seems unlikely that the 36-year-old Velasquez, who is coming back after a two year lay off, does not get a title shot if he gets a win over Ngannou on Sunday. Nobody really knows what to expect of Velasquez after such a long period on the sidelines, but if he puts away Ngannou in impressive fashion, you can bet that he will be eager to reclaim his title and add to his legacy.

Velasquez cleaned out the division before his injury problems began back in 2013. During his reign, he managed to tame the monster in the shape of Brock Lesnar, via a first-round TKO. The same Lesnar who is currently so highly coveted by Cormier as the biggest money fight available in the division.

So, with Velasquez returning and DC not quite yet ready to retire, not willing to fight Velasquez and actively looking to fight Brock Lesnar, there is now the small matter of what happens if Francis Ngannou (12-3) comes away with a big victory on Sunday.

The decorated wrestler that is Cain Velasquez is as much of a stylistic mismatch as Ngannou could ever ask to face inside the Octagon, and therefore, a lot of questions in regards to the Cameroonians development since his loss to Stipe Miocic will be answered come Sunday night.
After back to back losses to the aforementioned Miocic and Derrick Lewis, Ngannou evidently went back to the drawing board, there were still some things he needed to work on before he was ready for another shot at the gold. On Sunday, a quick knockout of Velasquez will not tell us much as we have seen Ngannou do it before, but if he can avoid being taken down and out grappled like he failed to do against Miocic, then it is going to be hard not to consider him as the next man in line.

Now with all this being said, we can’t really talk about Sunday’s fight like it’s a definite number one contender eliminator as Stipe Miocic, who has not fought since losing his title to Daniel Cormier, is waiting in the wings and literally begging for a rematch and a chance to right his wrongs against the current champ.

And in a way, it is hard to argue that Miocic doesn’t deserve a rematch as he is the man who has the most consecutive title defences in heavyweight division history (3). On the other hand, though, he did get KO’d by Cormier in the very first round when they met and it would be understandable if DC felt like he has nothing else to prove against the former champ.

Whatever the outcome may be on Sunday, it feels as if there will be two clear cut contenders that Dana White will have to choose from for the next shot at the heavyweight throne. The winner of Velasquez vs. Ngannou and Stipe Miocic.

However, with DC eyeing the bright lights of a fight night against Brock Lesnar and a possible trilogy against Jon Jones, chances are that the fan favourite interim belt gets thrown into the equation pretty soon.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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