UFC On ESPN 1 takes place on Sunday night in Pheonix, Arizona and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Main Card (ESPN)
Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou
So much of this headliner depends on whether Velasquez is really healthy or not, and it’s hard to say for sure.
What we do know is that the 36-year-old has been out of action for two-and-half-years now due to injuries, and has only fought twice in the past five years, so that’s certainly a major cause for concern.
He’s also going up against a ferocious power puncher in Ngannou, who is naturally physically strong, so he’s going to have to be very careful as he looks to close the distance and get into grappling range.
However, Velasquez is a good striker in his own right and works punches and kicks well. His strongest suit is undoubtedly his wrestling though and with Ngannou not having much of a ground game to speak of, his relentless, dominant grappling would offer him a clear route to victory.
All it takes is one punch from Ngannou here, and it’s also not clear how much Velasquez’s wrestling may be compromised if he still has injury issues or his once-elite cardio has diminished. I still favor him though as he is light years ahead of Ngannou on the mat and is the better all-round better fighter, so I’m picking him to wear him out on the mat and eventually secure a TKO victory.
Cain Velasquez wins by TKO in Rd4.
James Vick vs. Paul Felder
While both talented fighters, Vick and Felder are coming off a loss last time out, so they’ll be eager to get straight back to winning ways.
Both men like to strike and Vick will be looking to make good use of his significant height (5″) and reach (6″) advantage here, which will suit his longe range approach well with kicks and jabs from distance.
That puts the emphasis on Felder to put pressure on him and find a way inside, which isn’t neccessarily his strong suit, though if he can get into the pocket he does work well in the clinch and is an underrated grappler.
That could offer Felder a route to victory, but I do favor Vick to keep him at bay with his rangey striking and earn himself a unanimous decision victory.
James Vick wins by decision.
Cortney Casey vs. Cynthia Calvillo
Calvillo lost some momentum when she picked up her first loss in the UFC at the tail-end of 2017 and subsquently was banned for 9 months after testing positive for marijuana, but she earned another win late last year and still shows a lot of potential.
That being said, while she’s a menace on the mat with very good scrambling and a predatory instinct for submissions, her stand-up is far less potent and is unlikely to trouble the bigger, sturdier Casey too much.
Calvillo will be lighter on her feet, but Casey should land the harder shots if they just stand and trade, but I think Calvillo will be able to take advantage of her opponent’s less than stellar takedown defense to get the fight where she wants it, and that will eventually lead her to a second round submission victory.
Cynthia Calvillo wins by submission in Rd2.
Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie
One of the most exciting prospect to emerge from the Gracie camp in quite some time, Kron Gracie will make his UFC debut on Saturday night after a 4-0 stint fighting mainly for the Rizin promotion in Japan.
As you’d expect from a product of that famous family, Gracie is a terrific and well decorated grappler, but he’s also willing to throw heat in the striking exchanges too. That being said he’s far from the finished article on the feet and the way he transitions from one aspect of MMA to the next isn’t yet as fluid as it could be.
In Caceres he finds himself facing an unpredictable opponent who has a penchant for eye-catching techniques, but can at times lack focus and cohesion in his striking, making him more style than substance as an offensive force.
Caceres is more effective on the mat and can be quite crafty, but he’ll have his hands full trying to make anything happen there against someone of Gracie’s caliber.
This isn’t an easy first fight for Gracie and on the feet Caceres could prove tricky to deal with, but I expect Gracie to find a way to get his fight to the floor and emerge with a submission victory.
Kron Gracie wins by submission in Rd2.
Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena
With 7 wins from his last 8 fights, six being stoppages and four of the last five by KO, Luque should perhaps have been given some higher profile opponents by now, but instead he’s been given another challenging mid-level match-up instead.
Luque’s all action approach on the feet is fun to watch and he’s just as eager to produce a finish if the fight hits the mat too.
Barberena has proven to be a spoiler in the past though as he’s very tough, energetic, can handle himself wherever the fight goes and can grind down opponents.
The longer the fight goes the more it favors Barberena, but I think he’ll find himself outgunned on the feet here and Luque will finish him by TKO by the midway point of the second round.
Vicente Luque wins by TKO in Rd2.
Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury
This looks like being a closely contested featherweight match-up who haven’t quite put together the kind of run recently needed to be make it into the top 15.
They are both capable of it though, with Fili approaching the striking exchanges with plenty of gusto, putting together a continous offensive onslaught, albeit recklessly at times, while Jury will look to work on the counter and keep a tight defense.
Jury is a good grappler, but Fili is no slouch either, though he might well look to keep this one standing and I think he might actually come off second best in that regard as Jury throws less volume, but lands cleanly more often to eek out a decision victory.
Myles Jury wins by decision.
Prelims(ESPN) (predicted winners in bold)
Aljamain Sterling vs. Jimmie Rivera
Benito Lopez vs. Manny Bermudez
Andrea Lee vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
Scott Holtzman vs. Nik Lentz
Renan Barao vs. Luke Sanders
Jessica Penne vs. Jodie Esquibel
Aleksandra Albu vs. Emily Whitmire