The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its main card debut on ESPN on Sunday night. The main event takes place in the heavyweight division where Cain Velasquez makes his return after two and a half years to take on powerhouse Francis Ngannou. Ironically, it was Velasquez in the main event when the UFC made its FOX debut.
The last time we saw Velasquez in the octagon was in July 2016 at UFC 200 where he stopped Travis Browne in the first round. Velasquez is 1-1 in his previous two fights dating back to June 2015. The loss was to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 via submission. Velasquez came into that fight with a very peculiar strategy and suffered a loss because of it. In his fourteen career wins, twelve are via (T)KO with two by decision. He was stopped in both of his career losses.
Francis Ngannou looked unstoppable by winning his first six UFC fights in a row. All six ended inside the distance and only two made it past the first round. He then suffered back-to-back losses. First to then heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 and then to Derrick Lewis at UFC 226. Both losses were via unanimous decision. Ngannou returned to form at UFC Fight Night 141 where he took out Curtis Blaydes in the first round. All twelve of the thirty-two-year-old’s career wins ended inside the distance. All three losses went to the judge’s scorecards.
One has to wonder what Velasquez will look like in the cage opposite Ngannou. If this was prime Cain, he steamrolls through Ngannou. It’s the layoff that makes this fight so intriguing for me. At thirty-six years of age and with all the injuries can the former champion return to form and take out a very dangerous puncher in Francis Ngannou? I think he can and my money says he will.
The co-main is a very intriguing match-up between lightweights Paul Felder and James Vick. Paul Felder was riding a modest three-fight win streak until he moved up to welterweight and lost a split decision to Mike Perry at UFC 226. Felder has eleven wins via stoppage to go along with four by decision. Felder is back to 155 and will be looking to get a statement win over Vick on Sunday night.
James Vick was also in the midst of a winning streak until suffering a loss at his most recent fight. Vick was looking to make it five wins in a row when he stepped into the cage opposite Justin Gaethje at UFC Fight Night 135. Gaethje made quick work of Vick by knocking the thirty-one-year-old Texan out in the first round. Vick has finished eight of his opponents along with five wins via decision. This is a big fight for Vick, a loss will drop him out of the top ten.
The six-fight main card also includes Cortney Casey taking on Cynthia Calvillo, Alex Caceres vs. the debuting Kron Gracie, Vicente Luque goes up against Bryan Barberena and Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury.
Note: The predictions in this column do not necessarily mean that I will be betting them. I have changed my mind in the past and gone the other way after conducting more research. For all of my official bets follow me on Twitter @MichaelGrocke.
Francis Ngannou (12-3) vs. Cain Velasquez (14-2) – Heavyweight 265 lbs.
Current Odds: Velasquez -175; Ngannou +155
Pick: Velasquez by (T)KO
James Vick (13-2) vs. Paul Felder (15-4) – Lightweight 155 lbs.
Current Odds: Vick -110; Felder +100
Pick: Vick by Decision, with absolutely zero confidence.
Cortney Casey (8-6) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (7-1) – Strawweight 115 lbs.
Current Odds: Calvillo -330; Casey +300
Pick: Calvillo by Decision, however I think there’s value in backing Casey at +300 or better.
Alex Caceres (14-11) vs. Kron Gracie (4-0) – Featherweight 145 lbs.
Current Odds: Gracie -265; Caceres +245
Pick: Gracie by Submission
Vicente Luque (14-6-1) vs. Bryan Barberena (14-5) – Welterweight 170 lbs.
Current Odds: Luque -430; Barberena +380
Pick: Luque by Decision. Although, Barberena has played spoiler before and holds plenty of value at that price.
Andre Fili (18-6) vs. Myles Jury (17-3) – Featherweight 145 lbs.
Current Odds: Jury -135; Fili +115
Pick: Fili by Decision, but this fight is a toss-up for me.
Jimmie Rivera (22-2) vs. Aljamain Sterling (16-3) – Bantamweight 135 lbs.
Current Odds: Rivera -135; Sterling +115
Pick: Rivera by Decision. This is another toss up for me. I’m picking Rivera here, but Sterling is a live dog.
Benito Lopez (9-0) vs. Manny Bermudez (13-0) – Bantamweight 135 lbs.
Current Odds: Bermudez -185; Lopez +165
Pick: Bermudez by Submission
Ashlee Evans-Smith (6-3) vs. Andrea Lee (9-2) – Flyweight 125 lbs.
Current Odds: Lee -170; Smith +150
Pick: Lee by Decision
Scott Holtzman (12-2) vs. Nik Lentz (29-9-2) – Lightweight 155 lbs.
Current Odds: Holtzman -180; Lentz +160
Pick: Holtzman by Decision
Jessica Penne (12-5) vs. Jodie Esquibel (6-4) – Strawweight 115 lbs.
Current Odds: Penne -130; Esquibel +110
Pick: Penne by Decision
Renan Barao (34-7) vs. Luke Sanders (12-3) – Bantamweight 135 lbs.
Current Odds: Sanders -155; Barao +135
Pick: Barao by Decision
Alexandra Albu (3-0) vs. Emily Whitmire (3-2) – Strawweight 115 lbs.
Current Odds: Albu -115; Whitmire +105
Pick Albu by Decision
Enjoy the fights!