The UFC is at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota for UFC on ESPN 3 on Saturday night.
The main event takes place in the heavyweight division where Francis Ngannou takes on Junior dos Santos. Whomever gets their hand raised here will likely get the winner of the Cormier vs. Miocic title fight which takes place at UFC 241.
After losing back-to-back fights to Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis, Francis Ngannou has won his last two. He beat Curtis Blaydes via TKO in forty-six seconds at UFC Fight Night 141 and then he spoiled the return of Cain Velasquez when he finished him in twenty-six seconds at UFC on ESPN 1.
There were some questions regarding Ngannou’s confidence after he dropped the two decisions, but “The Predator” clearly righted the ship and his sights on getting another shot at the heavyweight championship.
All thirteen of Ngannou’s victories ended in either submission or (T)KO. His three losses all went to the judge’s scorecards. At the age of thirty-two, Ngannou will make the walk for the seventeenth time on Saturday night.
Junior dos Santos enters Saturday’s fight riding a three-fight win streak. The three victories include Blagoy Ivanov, Tai Tuivasa and most recently Derrick Lewis whom he beat via TKO at UFC Fight Night 146.
The former UFC heavyweight champion will make the walk for the twenty-seventh time when he steps into the cage opposite Ngannou on Saturday night. The Brazilian born fighter has sixteen finishes in his twenty-one career wins.
The co-main card takes place in the flyweight division where Joseph Benavidez takes on Jussier Formiga. Joseph Benavidez comes into his fight against Formiga looking for his third straight win. He beat Alex Perez via TKO at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale and then at UFC Fight Night 143 he beat Dustin Ortiz via unanimous decision.
Benavidez also hold a victory over current UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo. He beat the champ, champ via split decision back at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 24 in December of 2016. The Team Alpha Male product boasts sixteen finishes in his twenty-seven career wins. At thirty-four years old, he will make the walk for the thirty-third time on Saturday.
Jussier Formiga enters Saturday’s fight riding a modest four-fight win streak. His most recent victory occurred at UFC Fight Night 148 where he won a unanimous decision over Deiveson Figueiredo.
Prior to that the three other wins were against Sergio Pettis, Ben Nguyen and Yuta Sasaki. This will be the Brazilian’s twenty-ninth professional fight. Of those the American Top Team product had his hand raised twenty-three times; thirteen via decision.
The third fight on the main card features long-time MMA veteran Demain Maia. He’ll take on Rocco Martin in a battle of welterweights.
After losing three fights in a row, Maia finally got back in the win column with a submission victory over Lyman Good at UFC Fight Night 144.
The three fights Maia lost were against the best welterweights in the world including then champion Tyron Woodley, number one contender Colby Covington and current champion Kamaru Usman. Thirteen of the Brazilian’s twenty-six career wins are by way of submission.
At forty-one years old, Maia will make the walk for the thirty-sixth time.
Anthony Rocco Martin has won his last four fights. His most recent victory came at UFC Fight Night 146 where he beat Sergio Moraes via unanimous decision.
At twenty-nine years old this will be Martin’s twenty-first professional fight. He boasts nine wins via submission to go along with one by (T)KO in sixteen career victories.
Also, on the main card Roosevelt Roberts will look to stay undefeated when he steps into the octagon opposite Vinc Pichel, Drew Dober takes on Marco Polo Reyes and in the light heavyweight division undefeated Alonzo Menifield goes up against Paul Craig.
The prelims will air on ESPN beginning at 5:00 PM (CST) with the main card starting at 7:00 PM (CST) also on ESPN.
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 my official bets follow me on Twitter @MichaelGrocke.
Francis Ngannou (13-3) vs. Junior dos Santos (21-5) – Heavyweight 265 lbs.
Current Odds: Ngannou -220; dos Santos +180
Pick: Ngannou by (T)KO.
Both Ngannou and JDS are primarily boxers. JDS has a huge advantage on the ground should he decide to use his only path to victory. However, JDS seems to prefer to fight at boxing range which plays right into Ngannou’s strength. I didn’t make a big deal out of Ngannou’s back-to-back losses the way many others did. Miocic fought to his strength, took Ngannou down and tired him out. In the Lewis fight I think Ngannou was worried about gassing and tried to pace himself. I think he learned a lot in that fight. I like Ngannou by (T)KO, but these are heavyweights, and anything can happen. Also, if by some chance JDS decides to use his BJJ and take Ngannou to the ground it will be a completely different fight and possibly outcome.
Jussier Formiga (23-5) vs. Joseph Benavidez (27-5) – Flyweight 125 lbs.
Current Odds: Benavidez -150; Formiga +120
Pick: Benavidez by decision but with little confidence.
This is a tough fight to predict. The odds on Benavidez have dropped considerably as they should have. The opening odds were way too wide for a fighter Formiga’s caliber. I think Benavidez is the better wrestler, but Formiga’s BJJ is other worldly. Formiga’s path to victory is by getting takedowns, securing top control and working his submissions. Benavidez fights well off his back and has great get-up skills so it will be interesting to see if Formiga can keep Joe down. On the feet, Formiga is much improved, however, he’s not on Benavidez’s level. Joe is more powerful and will out-volume Jussier. Formiga just doesn’t throw many strikes so I won’t be surprised to see Benavidez out-work him on the feet leading to a decision win. This is one I’m going to keep my eye on come fight day.
Demian Maia (26-9) vs. Anthony Rocco Martin (16-4) – Welterweight 170 lbs.
Current Odds: Maia -175; Martin +145
Pick: Maia by decision.
I REALLY want to bet Martin here. He’s much better on the feet than Maia. He’s quicker, more powerful and more active. He must manage distance with leg kicks and not let Maia in too close. He also needs to avoid the clinch and trips. Maia is always willing to eat some shots in order to get his hands on his opponent. All it takes is one takedown for Maia to take the back and end the fight via submission. If the odds get to where I want, there’s a good chance I’ll pull the trigger on Rocco Martin.
Roosevelt Roberts (8-0) vs. Vinc Pichel (11-2) – Lightweight 155 lbs.
Current Odds: Roberts -300; Pichel +240
Pick: Roberts by decision.
Roberts is one of the best prospects on the UFC roster. He’s just better then Pichel everywhere.
Drew Dober (20-9, 1 NC) vs. Marco Polo Reyes (8-5) – Lightweight 155 lbs.
Current Odds: Dober -340; Reyes +265
Pick: Dober by decision.
Neither fighter is afraid to stand and trade. Reyes has the power to sleep Dober. I like Dober’s ground game way better than Reyes who basically has no ground game. So should Dober get hurt standing, I see him resorting to his wrestling and keeping the fight on the ground as much as possible.
Alonzo Menifield (8-0) vs. Paul Craig (11-3) – Light Heavyweight 205 lbs.
Current Odds: Menifield -275; Craig +215
Pick: Menifield by decision.
Menifield does a lot of things well, while Craig is primarily a grappler. Even if Craig does get Menifield down, I don’t see him being able to keep him there. I expect Menifield to keep the fight standing and because of Craig’s poor defensive striking I can see Menifield getting the finish. Menifield just needs to be patient, fight smart and not follow Craig down to the ground.
Journey Newson (7-1) vs. Ricardo Ramos (12-2) – Bantamweight 135 lbs.
Current Odds: Ramos -360; Newson +285
Pick: Ramos by submission.
Eryk Anders (11-4) vs. Vinicius Moreira (9-2) – Light Heavyweight 205 lbs.
Current Odds: Anders -300; Moreira +240
Pick: Anders by (T)KO.
First off, Anders shouldn’t be that big of a favorite over anyone in the division. I think Anders will win the fight, but these are just too wide for my liking. Anders strength is his striking and can knock Moreira out any time. However, Anders can be taken down and that’s where Moreira excels. I expect Moreira to go for the takedown from the get-go and keep trying and trying. It’s the only path of victory he has. That said, Anders is very athletic and powerful so there’s a good chance the fight ends in the first twenty seconds.
Jared Gordon (14-3) vs. Dan Moret (13-5) – Lightweight 155 lbs.
Current Odds: Gordon -325; Moret +250
Pick: Gordon by (T)KO.
Gordon should get the finish considering Moret is chinny and has poor defensive striking.
Dalcha Lungiambula (9-1) vs. DeQuan Townsend (18-7) – Light Heavyweight 205 lbs.
Current Odds: Lungiambula -335; Townsend +260
Pick: Lungiambula by decision.
Emily Whitmire (4-2) vs. Amanda Ribas (6-1) – Strawweight 115 lbs.
Current Odds: Whitmire-185; Ribas +155
Pick: Whitmire by decision.
Not sure what to expect from Ribas, pass.
Maurice Greene (7-2) vs. Junior Albini (14-5) – Heavyweight 265 lbs.
Current Odds: Albini-115; Greene -115
Pick: Albini by decision.
Neither of these fighters are impressive.
Enjoy the fights!