Fresh off signing his new four-year contract with the UFC, it was announced on ESPN Friday night that former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez (14-2) would make his return to the Octagon at the organization’s inaugural show on ESPN on February 17 in Phoenix.
Velasquez will look to immediately jump back into the title picture with a bout against No. 4 ranked heavyweight, Francis Ngannou (12-3).
Ngannou burst onto the scene in 2017, with back-to-back wins over Andrei Arlovski (KO) and Alistair Overeem (TKO) before dropping consecutive losses in an embarrassing tilt against then-champion Stipe Miocic and another decision loss to Derrick Lewis. Ngannou bounced back in a big way, earning a first-round TKO victory against Curtis Blaydes in November, setting up a major opportunity to make another statement against Velasquez.
It remains to be seen whether Velasquez, a two-time heavyweight championship with the promotion, can fight off injury setbacks to get back in the Octagon. He hasn’t fought in more than two years, finishing Travis Browne in the first round of UFC 200 in July 2016. He was forced out of a fight against Fabricio Werdum in December 2016 and subsequently had back surgery in 2017.
At the time, ESPN noted Velasquez had “trouble standing upright for more than 10 minutes” due to the pain in his lower body.