UFC on ESPN 1 - Breakdown & Predictions
When is UFC on ESPN 1? Monday 18th February, 2019 – 00:00 (UK)
Where is UFC on ESPN 1? Talking Stick Resort, Phoenix, Arizona
What channel is UFC on ESPN 1? BT Sport 2
Where can I stream UFC on ESPN 1? BT Sport subscribers can stream the fight online via the BT website
Francis Ngannou vs Cain Velasquez
The first UFC on ESPN card takes place in Phoenix, Arizona – a historic event for the UFC and ESPN but also for Cain Velasquez who makes his return to the octagon after more than 2.5 years out. The former heavyweight champion’s career has been decimated by injuries which have not just robbed him but robbed the fans from seeing what could have been the greatest heavyweight off all time.
He is back looking to make up for lost time but on his return he has been handed Francis Ngannou which could turn out to be a great match-up or a terrible one for Velasquez. Ngannou’s power is terrifying and until he met Stipe Miocic, he was disposing fellow heavyweights at will. Miocic dismantled Ngannou by exposing his grappling weakness so Velasquez, who is one of the best grapplers in all of MMA, will be licking his lips despite the knockout threat.
This will be a fascinating contest between the most feared striker and most feared grappler in the division and considering Ngannou looked back to his best with a TKO over Curtis Blaydes in his last fight and Velasquez hasn’t performed for so long, the outcome will be incredibly tough to call.
The game plan is clear for both of these monsters and that is for Velasquez to avoid the hands of Ngannou and for Ngannou to avoid the takedowns of Velasquez. You have to back Velasquez to get Ngannou to the ground and that was before seeing Miocic out-grapple him and if he does, expect nothing other than a brutal beating on the floor.
Velasquez edges the striking stats but that is because the majority of his strikes are landed while pinning his opponents to the ground. Ngannou on the other hand relies on single strikes on the feet and this is his only route for victory. He needs to land early as one-punch knockout power is never more necessary against someone like Velasquez as he will drain every ounce of energy and belief with dominant wrestling and relentless ground-and-pound.
If Velasquez avoids the hands of Ngannou for the first round or two, the ref will be called upon to put an end to the punishment.
Winner: Velasquez via KO/TKO
James Vick vs Paul Felder
The loss of UFC 233 is 234’s gain as James Vick vs Paul Felder is one of a few fights that have been rescheduled for the first UFC on ESPN event.
Vick was humbled in his last fight against Justin Gaethje. While sitting proudly on a record of 13-1 he delivered a lot of trash talk before the fight to be put out cold in the first round so he is desperate to get back to winning ways but has a beast to get through first.
Felder has been on the wrong end of some unfortunate scheduling in his last couple fights but instead of moaning he took the opportunity to move up to welterweight in his last fight and take on Mike Perry on short notice. He narrowly lost a decision but he fought most the fight with a badly broken arm and was unfortunate to walk away with another loss on the record.
Both fighters will come out aggressive and won’t give an inch. This fight is likely to be a violent stand-up battle interrupted by skilled grappling.
Vick has the height and reach advantage but Felder has the power advantage so movement will be key for Vick to win the exchanges. These exchanges are likely to lead to clinches and takedown attempts where Vick will also be confident of wrapping up a submission.
However, if you underestimate Felder for a second you will be in trouble. His striking is top of the game and he has the technique to make up for the reach discrepancy. His power also makes him incredibly dangerous in the grappling exchanges with vicious elbows that can end a fight or set up a submission of his own.
Winner: Felder via KO/TKO
Cortney Casey vs Cynthia Calvillo
Cortney Casey and Cynthia Calvillo is another fight that has been moved from UFC 233 to UFC on ESPN 1 and they cannot wait for their opportunity to perform on the ESPN broadcast.
Casey is coming off three split decisions where she lost out to Felice Herrig and Michelle Waterson but is coming off a well-earned win over Angela Hill.
Although Calvillo is ranked lower, she only has one loss on her record and that was a decision to Carla Esparza but she bounced back with a typical performance against Poliana Botelho. She was too strong and dominated the fight with her grappling putting the Brazilian out of her misery with a rear-naked choke.
Casey is a natural athlete and very well-rounded but she may need a knockout to earn the win. Calvillo is a better wrestler and will negate the reach advantage by taking the fight to the floor where she has dominated every opponent apart from Esparza.
If Casey can keep moving, pepper Calvillo on the feet and avoid the takedown she has a chance but Calvillo’s wrestling is too good. Casey’s Jiu-Jitsu may prevent a submission but not a sixth decision loss of her career.
Winner: Calvillo via Decision
Alex Caceres vs Kron Gracie
Kron Gracie makes his UFC debut and although he hasn’t had an MMA fight in over two years, he arrives with a lot of hype. As a member of the Gracie family, it is no surprise he is an incredibly accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and he has generated the hype by successfully transferring these skills over to MMA, winning all four of his fights via submission.
Welcoming him back to MMA and the UFC is Alex Caceres. He is a very talented fighter but has struggled in the top flight with a UFC record of 9-9 (1). However, he is coming off a narrow decision win over Martin Bravo and is hoping to gain some momentum
It seems the UFC want to build Gracie as this is a very kind match-up for him. Caceres is a well-known name and exciting fighter but he has a weakness in his grappling, highlighted by six submission losses.
Great news for a decorated Gracie who only needs to get the fight to the floor once so if Careres’ takedown defence is not immaculate, he will be in trouble. ‘Bruce Leroy’ is a different class on the feet but with a takedown defence of only 59.6%, he may be receiving a lesson from Gracie.
Winner: Gracie via Submission
Vicente Luque vs Bryan Barberena
Two knockout artists head to Arizona to put on a show for the first UFC on ESPN event. Vicente Luque and Bryan Barberena have a combined 17 knockouts out of their 32 wins and both men are confident of adding to their tally.
Luque’s only loss in his last eight fights was to the currently ranked #9 welterweight Leon Edwards. He lost a decision but apart from that he has looked exceptional, finishing his last seven wins (four knockouts and three submissions) including big names such as Belal Muhammad, Niko Price and Chad Laprise.
The dad bod of Barberena is deceptive as he is very explosive and powerful. He is also a natural finisher but has had winning streaks interrupted by decision losses to Laprise, Colby Covington and Leon Edwards. He is coming off a brutal knockout over Jake Ellenberger and although the veteran’s chin had already gone before the fight, Barberena’s power has to be respected.
Both men are going to look for the finish with the preferred option being a knockout. They obviously have the power so their defence will be crucial. The edge has to go to Luque however as he has proven wins over top competition and has better rounded skills to mix it up if Barberena starts to land.
Barberena is always capable of a finish but Luque has more in his locker and will likely to continue his rise up the welterweight ranks.
Winner: Luque via KO/TKO
Andre Fili vs Myles Jury
Andre Fili and Myles Jury kick off the main card for UFC on ESPN 1 with both featherweights looking to bounce back from a loss.
Fili is another talented fighter who has struggled to string a set of wins together in the UFC. He was 13-1 after his UFC debut but the price you pay for fighting under the leading promotion is that you are competing with the best fighters in the world. He won two fights in a row for the first time in the UFC but lost a close decision in his last fight against Michael Johnson.
Jury has also felt the wrath of the top flight after arriving in the UFC unbeaten and winning his first six fights to rise to an impressive 15-0, but this inevitably led him to killers such as Donald Cerrone, Charles Oliveira and Chad Mendes.
Both fighters have all the skills but due to the pressure of needing a win, they may be cagey and hesitant to throw their usual expressive strikes. They fight best best when they are constantly moving and offloading combinations and they need to remember the form that got them to the UFC.
The stats suggest they are evenly-matched but the difference is likely to come down to Jury’s exceptional striking defence. If he can neutralise the stand-up threat of Fili and stifle his rhythm, he can offload his own powerful strikes and mix in takedowns to take the fight away from Fili. Jury is also fighting in his home town and will have the fan support to help him earn the win.