UFC on ESPN Ngannou vs Velasquez

Posted by Derrick Harper on February 15, 2019 in

The time has come for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s debut on ESPN, well, sort of. A few sets of prelims have already aired on the network, but this serves as the first ESPN main card, and as with Fox before it, the UFC has elected to go with Cain Velasquez as a headliner to get the ball rolling.

Even if Velasquez looks good and despite the fact that he has a bunch of fresh matchups ahead of him, it is unclear if the UFC is going to put him in the title hunt, simply because he cannot be trusted to stay healthy. At any rate, it all becomes moot if he fails to get a win, and Ngannou represents a fascinating challenge.

Let’s check the latest odds for this event.

UFC on ESPN Ngannou vs Velasquez

Ngannou Has A lot Left

Thankfully, it looks like the UFC has not ruined Ngannou yet, despite its best efforts in 2018. Ngannou captured everyone’s attention with his rise up the ranks. For one thing, he cuts an impressive figure; had he been born in New Jersey rather than Cameroon, he likely would have found a career in football or some other high-level sport.

Ngannou appeared to be an MMA natural. Yes, a lot of his fights were quick, brutal knockouts, but in moments, Ngannou managed to show a rapidly improving grappling game and an understanding of how to set up his lethal fists. That actually made Ngannou a slight betting favorite heading into his title challenge against Stipe Miocic, but instead, Miocic exposed all the flaws in Ngannou’s game, staying out of trouble, pressing his wrestling and eventually wearing out Ngannou on his way to some brutal later rounds.

Ngannou kept fighting through exhaustion and never broke, so it looked like a case of his being too raw rather than too mentally weak, but his subsequent loss to Derrick Lewis raised a whole new set of issues. Concerned with gassing, Ngannou did not do much of anything, losing a 15-minute staring contest that made people worry that he had been broken for good.

However, Ngannou was back to his old self in November, knocking out Curtis Blaydes in short order, which put those concerns to rest for the time being. Velasquez does not figure to be an easy out, but now there is at least hope that Ngannou can keep developing as the UFC keeps tossing him into the shark tank.

Prediction

It is a pretty simple fight to break down. The two likeliest scenarios are Ngannou scoring a quick knockout or Velasquez, much like Miocic, avoiding trouble early and pressing his wrestling for a one-sided decision. Of course, a lot of that depends on how Velasquez looks, which is a big unknown due to his long layoff and the fact that he is now 36. Frankly, even if Velasquez is in peak health, his legendary cardio should not be a given.

It has now been more than five years since Velasquez has been in the championship rounds, so even if this goes a while, it is possible Ngannou could still be the more dangerous of two completely exhausted men. It can be tricky to project a dropoff before there is any evidence of it inside the cage, but with Velasquez’s injuries and time off, it feels comfortable here. Ngannou should be able to hit Velasquez before he can get his wrestling going. Ngannou via first-round knockout is the pick.