Ask Ant: The UFC on ESPN 1 Edition

By Anthony Walker Feb 16, 2019

Tomas asks: Do you believe Cain Velasquez has the style to handle Francis Ngannou in the first round? Stipe fought from the outside during the entire first round and waited for Francis to over extend so he could counter or get a take down. Cain pushes forward non stop, so will that style finally cost him against somebody like Ngannou?

Cain Velasquez certainly has the style to handle Francis Ngannou in the first round. Of course that’s not saying he’s likely to do it. At heavyweight, anybody can get slept in the opening minutes. When you have super athletic men who are twice the size of the average person, there’s a serious amount of force that can be generated with each strike.

Despite not being known as a one-shot knockout artist, Velasquez has nine first round finishes on his record. While I won’t be running to a bookkeeper looking to see what the prop is on a Cain first-round destruction, his style opens up the possibility beyond the aforementioned heavyweight X-factor.

Assuming that the “Cardio Cain” we know and love is who steps in the Octagon on Sunday, a wrestling clinic with vicious ground-and-pound might be in the works. Similar to what Stipe Miocic did, he could definitely outmaneuver Ngannou and put him on his back. Look no further than his first meeting with Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. A quick takedown soon after the opening bell turned into a brief session of positional superiority and strikes from the top. The rematch saw a single punch drop Bigfoot and pick up exactly where the first fight left off. Against Brock Lesnar, the combination of speed and technical proficiency allowed Velasquez to chip away at his opponent until the finish presented itself in the opening frame.

At his best, Velasquez has multiple ways to make it an early night. The big question is whether or not we’re going to see the former champion at his best. A layoff of over two years from an already injury-riddled career and being 36 years old are definitely reasons to lose confidence in his chances. Add that to Ngannou being able to endure a prolonged beating from Miocic and his scary ability to change lives with one punch to that doubt.

To address the second part of your question, Velasquez does push forward almost non-stop but he never does it in a haphazard fashion. Even if he is a step slower I wouldn’t expect to see him change that part of his game, especially if he’s aware of these kinesthetic limitations.

We could seriously go on and on about the different directions this fight could take. I’d highly recommend checking out the preview article written by our own Tom Feely. This matchup is the perfect illustration of the appeal of big men beating one another in a cage. Yes please.

Frank McEdgar asks: It is a possibility that we will have 3 African born UFC champions in 2019 in Adesanya, Usman and Ngannou. How much of an impact do you guys see that having in terms of interest to participate in MMA from that region of the world?

Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman, and Francis Ngannou can do great things for the growth of mixed martial arts in Africa. Considering that Africa is a massive continent, the second biggest next to Asia, and is no stranger to top-level athletes it’s amazing a star in the sport hasn’t already emerged.

We’ve seen endless list of examples in MMA and the general sports world of particular athletes being able to open up markets that have otherwise been dormant. Ronda Rousey’s presence led to an influx of women watching MMA and countless young girls training in martial arts. Being in attendance for the trifecta of Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, and Tyron Woodley in title fights for UFC 214, I saw the largest amount of African-Americans at an event.

Looking outside of our bubble, I never heard a discussion in my neighborhood barbershop about golf until Tiger Woods came around. Similarly, tennis wasn’t anything among my friends and family until Venus and Serena Williams took over the sport.

Representation matters when roping in new fans. Those new fans can lead to future participants. A young fan in Nigeria captivated by Adesanya could wander into a local gym with dreams of being a fighter just like the elementary school aged girls who attended the UFC 184 weigh-ins wearing their newly purchased gis hoping to catch of glimpse of Rousey.

Franquito asks: Hey Ant, I'm feeling lost. When you can't trust the word of a cage fight promoter, what is there to believe in?

I feel your pain Franquito. All is lost in the world. There are simply not enough grains of salt to make the words of fight promoters any more palatable. We’re all damned my friend.
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