Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou Targeted for UFC on ESPN 1

Cain Velasquez UFC 200
Cain Velasquez Credit: Dave Mandel/

Keep your fingers crossed — Cain Velasquez may be coming back, taking on Francis Ngannou at UFC on ESPN 1 in February.

The UFC is hoping to put on a big show when it makes its debut on ESPN proper next year. While the promotion’s first outing on ESPN+ will feature a flyweight title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo, UFC on ESPN 1 is expected to feature the return of Cain Velasquez, against Francis Ngannou.

ESPN’s own Ariel Helwani was first to report the news. Rumblings of Cain’s return had been ongoing for weeks, but the EPSN date actually makes perfect sense. After all, it was Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos that launched the UFC on FOX era.

Velasquez lost his heavyweight title that night back in 2011. He’d win it back in a rematch the following year, and defeat Dos Santos again in 2013 before losing the title to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 in 2015. However, the story of Cain Velasquez has continually been interrupted by injury. Now 36-years old, the AKA fighter has been unable to make it to the octagon with any sort of consistency. Knee and shoulder injuries, among others, have piled up, and Velasquez has not fought since UFC 200 in 2016.

That appears ready to change. And at a key time for the heavyweight division. Good friend, training partner, and current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier intends to retire in the coming year. The two will not fight each other, but if Cormier makes his exit, Velasquez could immediately be a threat for the belt. If he can stay healthy.

Waiting to welcome him back will be Francis Ngannou. Although he came up short in his title bid against Stipe Miocic, then disappointed fans with a bizarrely dull performance against Derrick Lewis at UFC 226, the fearsome striker got back in the win column in a big way against Curtis Blaydes at UFC Beijing last month. That night, he picked up his second career finish of Blaydes.

UFC on ESPN 1 takes place February 17 at the Talking Stick Resort & Casino in Phoenix, Arizona.