UFC on ESPN: Ngannou vs. Velasquez Pick

MMA Fight: UFC on ESPN: Ngannou vs. Velasquez
Key Matches: Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou
When: Sunday, February 17, 2019
Time: 10PM EST
Where: Taking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
TV: ESPN

by Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Cain Velasquez, (-250), 14-2 (12 KOs) vs. Francis Ngannou, (+190), 12-3 (8 KOs, 4 Submissions)

In the UFC on ESPN main event from Phoenix, former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez takes on heavy-hitting Francis Ngannou in a big-time matchup of big men. For Velasquez, this marks the return after a 2.5-year layoff. He now looks to kick off another run to the title, but will be facing a dangerous man in Ngannou, who is four years Velasquez’ junior at 32. Who will come out ahead in Velasquez vs Ngannou?

Their recent histories are vastly different, as Ngannou has risen to contender status while Velasquez has been out of the game. A ferocious slugger, Ngannou was fancied as a future champion at one time, before recently falling on some hard times. A November KO of Curtis Blaydes, however, reminded some of what got them excited about “The Predator” in the first place. But after losing to Stipe Miocic in a title shot and a snoozefest to Derrick Lewis after that, the Blaydes KO hasn’t completely restored the luster he once had. While Velasquez has been out of the game a while, a win over him would be a cure-all of sorts for all Ngannou’s recent woes.

You can argue over different aspects of a fighter’s legacy, but for what it’s worth, Velasquez is the most-formidable physical force I’ve ever seen from a mixed martial arts heavyweight fighter. And the result of this fight is in many ways tied to the simple question of where on the fulcrum are these fighters’ paths intersecting? If Velasquez is in anything resembling prime form, this has the potential to get ugly for Ngannou.

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This is not meant to be dismissive of Ngannou in any way. If you were inclined to bet an underdog, you want him to have that kind of fight-ending power that Ngannou wields. No analysis can be made with that much confidence when betting against a fighter who can and has turned top fighters’ lights out with strikes. And the fact that his two losses saw Ngannou going the distance also lends a certain air of quality to his prospects of becoming something really big someday. He’s not that bad at defending the takedown. And in terms of being a current relevant factor in MMA, he’s got it all over Cain.

That is the only cause for pause when predicting this fight. Cain looked lethal last time he fought—over 2.5 years ago in a nice win over Travis Browne. And that followed a layoff of over a year, which followed another 20-month layoff. He has fought a total of two times since 2013 and at some point; it all combines to make a fighter a shadow of what he once was. Injuries have played a huge role in this equation. With his pedal-to-the-metal style in the octagon and in training, his body just couldn’t hold up to the menace that Velasquez was able to generate in his takeover of the UFC heavyweight division.

The case for Ngannou, however, starts unraveling upon the realization that the majority of his winning case is tied up in the projection that Cain will be diminished. They are hoping that certain conditions are in place to make a Ngannou win more plausible, including Cain’s ring-rust, inactivity, tentativeness, injuries, or just the notion that he’s overripe and the sport has passed him by. They are hoping that Velasquez has broken down and his time away from the sport has made him unprepared to cope with the mayhem Ngannou can generate. This just has to be the train-of-thought because I doubt even the staunchest Ngannou optimists fancy this fight from a stylistic standpoint against anything close to a vintage Velasquez.

Ngannou might be able to stuff some takedowns against the extreme wrestling skill of Cain. But even if he does, Velasquez could still do damage. The former champ can take him against the cage and pound away. When (not if) he gets Ngannou down, however, he will drill away with some of the best G&P the sport has ever seen. Making matters worse is how that package of skills is bolstered by the best gas tank ever seen in this weight class. And even if that has been diminished by age, it would have to drop pretty far to make him less-reliable than Ngannou in that area. Again, you have a fighter in Ngannou who is banking on his foe’s inadequacies, with the main issue being that he’s fighting a heavyweight who had more assets than any other heavyweight. In other words, even if he lost his edge a little and is more-vulnerable, it doesn’t in any way mean he still won’t beat the flawed Ngannou.

It might be premature for some to have shoveled dirt on Ngannou after he fell so short in his title-push of a year ago. It might be hard to remember now, but he was actually favored to win the title—that’s how highly-regarded he was after his cartoonish knockout of Alistair Overeem and some other violent wins. His rematch KO over Blaydes confirmed his lethality as a striker and as a danger to any heavyweight on the planet. But his work over the past year-plus also suggests a mixed bag—a fighter who is temperamental, can be psyched-out a bit, and is unprepared to expertly-cope with elements of MMA outside of striking.

I understand very well the sentiment behind a Ngannou pick. The guy can create impact unlike any heavyweight and on the right day is a nightmare for anyone. I just think the real nightmare here is the style-matchup for the Cameroonian slugger. I see the ground-game, strength, well-roundedness, stamina, and fighting spirit of Velasquez being too much for Ngannou. And I think -250 isn’t a terrible quote for Velasquez, despite the layoff and outstanding questions. I’ll take Velasquez in this one.

Loot’s Pick to Win the Match: I’m betting on Cain Velasquez to win at -250 betting odds. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Ngannou vs. Velasquez fight by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you’ll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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