What is the next step for Francis Ngannou, Cain Velasquez and the other fighters of the UFC Phoenix?



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The first main event of the UFC on ESPN was reserved for French-Cameroon heavyweight Francis Ngannou.

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Ngannou eliminated Cain Velasquez, two-time UFC champion, in just 26 seconds on Sunday night in Phoenix. It was the first appearance of Velasquez in 953 days and it would be a heartbreaking return.

What's next for Ngannou, Velasquez and other UFC Fight Night stars? Here ESPN take.

Francis Ngannou, heavyweight

Result: Winner of Cain Velasquez by first-round knockout

Following: Stipe Miocic (for the vacant heavyweight championship)

Let me explain this second part. Daniel Cormier is the current heavyweight champion, right? And nobody seems to know exactly how many fights he left, right? Well, let Cormier have his defense of the imaginary / financial heavyweight title against Brock Lesnar (assuming the UFC could bring back Lesnar) and ask him (politely, but forcefully) to drop the belt of weights heavy.

At this point, Cormier can either retire or go back to 205 pounds for one last race against Jon Jones (he said he was ready to do that). And also at this point, you release the heavyweight belt, which is really what Miocic and Ngannou are looking for. Everyone wins.

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Francis Ngannou clinched a quick combo on Cain Velasquez's head before the former champion's knee buckled at the start of the first run.

Cain Velasquez, heavyweight

Result: Lost against Francis Ngannou via first-round knockout

Following: Alexey Oleynik

Nothing happens until we discover the seriousness of the knee injury that Velasquez apparently suffered on Sunday. For the powers of the MMA: please, do not let it be meaningful. Velasquez deserves to be in good health and the sport deserves to see him in good health. Do not take it from us anymore.

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Provided that Velasquez can return within a reasonable time, Oleynik makes sense for his next opponent. Oleynik is not a layup. It is not a gem. He may be 41 years old, but he is 6-2 since his signing at UFC in 2014, and he is asking the promotion to find a way forward for him.

Oleynik deserves to fight someone like Velasquez. And Velasquez deserves a fight that is not against a type of Francis Ngannou. The UFC sent it to the wolves during its first fight since July 2016. Now, it's good to take a step back. Oleynik is a legitimate enemy, but it is also manageable for someone who is coming out of a long period of inactivity.

Result: Vanquished James Vick via a unanimous decision

Following: Winner of Edson Barboza vs. Justin Gaethje on March 30

Great legend from Felder. It's a disappointment that Felder can not fight on this March 30th card in Philadelphia (his hometown), but his presence with the belief that he will fight with the winner is the next best thing to do. Of course, it depends on his recovery time from the collapsed lung that he suffered during Sunday's fight.

Felder had already beaten Barboza, in 2015, and it was glorious. Barboza won a very tense unanimous decision. I would definitely look for a rematch – not to mention a Felder-Gaethje fight, though Gaethje is victorious on March 30th.

The light weight division is chaotic, as usual, and there are many top names that need to be sorted out. In the meantime, a fight between Felder and the winner of March 30 would continue to help establish a hierarchical order. And it would be a hell of a good time.

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Paul Felder and James Vick are still on strike, but that is Felder who wins the unanimous victory at UFC Fight Night.

Result: Defeated Alex Caceres by first round

Following: Darren Elkins

Flying totally this answer to Dominick Cruz, who mentioned it in my conversation with him during Sunday's ESPN MMA post-fight analysis. It's perfect. Gracie says he's ready for the Top 10, but I'm not sure if the pairing should be so aggressive.

Elkins is a guy who has been in the Top 10, but has collapsed after consecutive defeats to Alexander Volkanovski and Ricardo Lamas. It would be a real test for someone like Gracie – a good mix of experience and defensive combat. To reserve a fight against him would not precipitate too much Gracie, too soon.

Gracie wants to be back as soon as possible and Elkins does not have anything right now. Sign me up.

Result: Defeated Jimmie Rivera via a unanimous decision

Following: Winner of Cody Garbrandt against Pedro Munhoz on March 2

I have much praised "Aljo" these past two years and I will not stop now. It was a relatively dominant performance of Sterling. According to statistics from the UFC, Sterling beat Rivera on a total of 101 to 24. Grappling is the most powerful part of his game, but he did not need a single shot on goal in that win.

Sterling is a problem for the top of this division. I sincerely believe it. I know that he lost Marlon Moraes eliminated three fights three games ago, but that does not mean I'm going to beat him in the face of elite competition. He was caught by a very dangerous attacker. And he seems to have grown up.

The winner of the UFC 235 meeting between Garbrandt and Munhoz will be very well ranked. The champion, TJ Dillashaw, has his hands full of potential struggles against Henry Cejudo and Moraes. Sterling vs. Garbrandt or Munhoz for a title shot is an obvious appeal.

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