Francis Ngannou spoils Cain Velasquez's return to the Octagon with 26-second knockout

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Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
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Francis Ngannou and Cain Velasquez exchange punches during UFC Fight Night at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Feb. 17, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Getty Images)
Francis Ngannou and Cain Velasquez exchange punches during UFC Fight Night at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Feb. 17, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Getty Images)

PHOENIX — After two years, seven months and eight days out of competition, Cain Velasquez returned to the Octagon to a rousing ovation Sunday at the Talking Stick Resort Arena, but this is a new era in the sport he once ruled, and he discovered that the hard way.

The former UFC heavyweight champion got a hero’s welcome from the crowd when he entered the cage for the first time since July 9, 2016, following a back injury that threatened to end his career, but it was a short-lived return and the old bugaboo got him again.

Francis Ngannou caught him with a powerful right hand inside as Velasquez attempted to take him down. Velasquez’s knee gave out and he went down and Ngannou landed two massive shots that forced referee Jason Herzog to stop it just 26 seconds into the bout.

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It wasn’t the type of ending anyone wanted. If Ngannou, whose career was spiraling downward quickly after back-to-back losses to start last year, were to win, it would have been best if he landed one of his clean, signature power shots.

But the best outcome would have been for Velasquez to put on yet another clinic, as he’d done so many times in his storied career. With his close friend and training partner Daniel Cormier holding the title, he wasn’t going to fight for the belt soon in any event.

But with a healthy and motivated Velasquez, it would have given the UFC remarkable depth in the fight game’s glamour division with Cormier, Velasquez and ex-champion Stipe Miocic.

As happened so often in the past, Velasquez’s body betrayed him. He hadn’t fought since demolishing Travis Browne at UFC 200 in Las Vegas in 2016 in the last fight of the Fertitta ownership of the promotion.

He had two back surgeries after that and admitted there were times he thought his career may be over.

But he was upbeat and optimistic during fight week that he’d be able to get back to the fighter he once had been. And he said in the cage that he’d be back once his knee healed.

For Ngannou, it’s his second win in a row, but it won’t have the impact he might want because of Velasquez’s injury. Still, winning back-to-back fights by knockout in less than a minute each never hurt a fighter.

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