Can Cain Velasquez Save the Heavyweight Division?
The UFC‘s heavyweight division is experiencing a bit of a logjam. It doesn’t help that Daniel Cormier didn’t want to give a much-deserved immediate rematch to former champ Stipe Miocic. Instead, Cormier will be fighting Brock Lesnar in a fight that will be good for business, but one that we already know the outcome. But, Daniel Cormier is (supposed to be) retiring in March. His teammate, and arguably the best heavyweight in the company’s history, Cain Velasquez, is potentially returning in February. The division is lacking in terms of star power and quality fighters, so needless to say, the company will be welcoming Velasquez back with open arms.
By the time Cain Velasquez returns to the octagon, it will have been two and a half years since we have last seen him in the octagon. He last knocked out Travis Browne in the first round of their fight at UFC 200. Since then, Velasquez has been pulled from a fight due to his back, had back surgery, and has been rehabbing ever since. He had been training at AKA and staying in shape, but was never back to fighting shape. It appears that now, finally, his body is ready to go.
Unfortunately, due to these injuries, it’s hard to know what to expect from Velasquez. If we knew he was 100 percent healthy, there would be little doubt that he would take down and smash Francis Ngannou. But, there’s no certainty that Velasquez is 100 percent healthy. And, with Ngannou’s confidence high coming off his first-round knockout of Curtis Blaydes, the fight becomes much more intriguing.
Heavyweight Log Jam
Needless to say, the UFC’s heavyweight division is a mess. Aside from Miocic, there isn’t one glaringly obvious answer as to who should fight for the belt. Maybe Cormier wanting to fight Lesnar is a good thing for the division, as it allows more time for fights to happen to sort the division out.
Blaydes was looking like he would be next in line for a shot at the belt, then he felt Ngannou’s fist. Ngannou just broke a two-fight losing streak, with one of the fights being his horrid performance against Derrick Lewis. Lewis just got a title shot and didn’t put up any kind of a real fight against Cormier. Through three rounds against Lewis, Alexander Volkov was looking like a soon to be title challenger, but we all know what happened late in the third. Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem are coming off of wins and looking to throw their names back in the hat. There’s a pile of potential contenders; the issue is that none of them have separated themselves.
The most optimal scenario for the UFC probably goes something like as follows. Cain Velasquez defeats Ngannou in February. Cormier defeats Lesnar whenever they fight, and (presumably) retires after the fight. Then, there is an obvious fight to make for the vacant strap. Velasquez would take on Miocic in a fight that some would argue could help determine the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. If Ngannou beats Velasquez, then this scenario is down the drain, and all hell officially breaks loose.
Cain Velasquez headlined one pay-per-view that did a million buys, and that’s because he was sharing the octagon with Lesnar. He did 590,000 in his second fight with dos Santos, and only 330,000 in their third. The only other pay-per-view that Velasquez headlined was UFC 160 against Antonio Silva, which did 380,000 buys. The most recent of these cards was over five years ago, so it’s hard to predict what kind of drawing power Velasquez would do today. In an era where pay-per-view buys are down, it can be confidently predicted that Velasquez probably won’t be pulling up towards 600,000. Of course, that also partially depends on the undercard of the event.
Overall, it seems like Cain Velasquez probably won’t “save” the heavyweight division in terms of taking it back to the popularity it once had. There just aren’t enough big name or top caliber fighters. However, Velasquez definitely won’t hurt the division by coming back, either. In a time when the division needs big names and elite talent, Velasquez could help fill the void in both of those areas.