Tonight it’s, if I may take it back to ‘92 for a second, Time 4 Sum Aksion.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is hoping to see previous versions of two very dangerous heavyweights, when power-punching ex-title contender, Francis Ngannou, takes on former 265-pound champion, Cain Velasquez.
You know, the Velasquez who beat Travis Browne into obscurity and the Ngannou who treated Alistair Overeem like Mary, Queen of Scots.
They’ll settle their differences in the UFC on ESPN 1 mixed martial arts (MMA) main event, taking place later tonight (Sun., Feb. 17, 2019) from inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, hometown of Velasquez.
In the UFC on ESPN 1 co-main event, lightweight “Irish Dragon,” Paul Felder, looks to rebound from his recent loss to Mike Perry by turning away 155-pound “Texecutioner,” James Vick, who is also trying to slug his way back into the win column.
Before we take a closer look at those two contests, check out what Patrick Stumberg had to say about the UFC on ESPN 1 “Prelims” cards by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for all of tonight’s action can be located here.
Let’s get to work.
265 lbs.: Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez
Francis “The Predator” Ngannou
Record: 12-3 | Age: 32 | Betting line: +165
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 0 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 83” | Leg reach: 44”
Stance: Orthodox | Striking accuracy: 129 of 353 (37%)
Ranks: Brazilian jiu-jitsu white belt | Takedown attempts: 0 of 0 (0%)
Record: 14-2 | Age: 36 | Betting line: -175
Wins: 12 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 77” | Leg reach: 41”
Stance: Orthodox | Striking accuracy: 718 of 1246 (58%)
Ranks: Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt | Takedown attempts: 34 of 80 (43%)
It’s tempting to talk about what the future holds for Cain Velasquez, now 36, as well as what his injury-riddled past represents. But I think for the purposes of picking this fight, we have to stick with the here and now and build a credible case for his demise. Honestly, it’s been a daunting task, as the former UFC heavyweight champion has show few vulnerabilities inside the cage. Right now, the only real question mark has been the time off, something that came back to haunt him in his loss to Fabricio Werdum. Let’s not discount the fact that Velasquez was competing at high altitude and more importantly, Werdum is the best heavyweight jiu-jitsu fighter in the game.
The same layoff that can cause ring rust and conditioning issues is the same layoff that can heal injuries and rebuild motivation. Velasquez is the same monster he’s always been and there is no reason to expect otherwise. Am I really going to write him off because of some sparring footage from last week? He’s not Chuck Liddell, in age or highway miles, and that’s going to become evident in tonight’s ESPN main event.
Similarly, fans were quick to toe-tag Francis Ngannou after he got schooled by Stipe Miocic, when in reality, “The Predator” was exposed for what he really was: a devastating puncher with god-given athleticism who simply didn’t understand how to transition once Plan A went up in smoke. Every fighter would love to win by knockout ... what fighters do when they can’t, often dictates how far they’ll go in this rough-and-tumble sport. Ngannou followed up his loss to Miocic by staring at Derrick Lewis for three rounds, then declared that he’s “back” after dropping Curtis Blaydes. What worries me about his “Razor” ravaging is that he wasn’t tested in any way and simply won the fight like he always has, by throwing faster and harder than his opponent.
It would have been great to know where his cardio was at, now two fights removed from the Miocic drubbing. It would have also been helpful to see him defend some of the takedowns that Blaydes used to cream guys like Alistair Overeem. So, here we are again wondering what Ngannou has learned from his losses, if anything, and if those lessons can be implemented in future performances. Simply put, I have my doubts. I don't have doubts about Velasquez because he's a proven commodity, albeit a delicate one. I would not expect him to land the takedown right away — he couldn’t against Bigfoot Silva and we all saw how that ended — but his dogged persistence will prove the difference maker. Simply put, this bout can be whittled down to two things: Velasquez will put a 25-minute beating on Ngannou, or “The Predator” will land the knockout blow. Is Ngannou more likely to leave one of those long, Cameroonian legs available for the single? Or will Cain get sloppy in the phone booth? Based on what I’ve seen to date, this one is pretty cut and dry.
Prediction: Velasquez def. Ngannou by decision
155 lbs.: Paul Felder vs. James Vick
Paul “Irish Dragon” Felder
Record: 15-4 | Age: 33 | Betting line: +105
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 70” | Leg reach: 40”
Stance: Orthodox | Striking accuracy: 444 of 1017 (44%)
Ranks: Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt | Takedown attempts: 3 of 9 (33%)
James “Texecutioner” Vick
Record: 13-2 | Age: 31 | Betting line: -115
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 76” | Leg reach: 43”
Stance: Orthodox | Striking accuracy: 395 of 1023 (39%)
Ranks: Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt | Takedown attempts: 2 of 6 (33%)
From a matchmaking perspective, this is a pretty sensational fight. Paul Felder has won three of his last four, all by knockout, and gave fans 15 minutes of fun thanks to a welterweight layover against Mike Perry. Similarly, James Vick has finished three of his last four wins in increasingly violent fashion and boasts a submission game — with some long-ass limbs — that would ordinarily have me worried. But Felder proved against the likes of Charles Oliveira and Steven Ray that white flags do not come so easily, particularly when getting smashed in the face.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Felder because his offense can be erratic at times and I think his best work comes when his opponent forces his hand. If “The Irish Dragon” plans to win a kickboxing match from range, he’s going to get lit up like a blunt at a Diaz party. Losses to Beneil Dariush and Justin Gaethje exposed the biggest weakness in Vick’s defense, but to be fair, most fighters have trouble handling an opponent who rushes forward with zero fucks. That’s not really Felder’s style, as the part-time commentator will instead look to unload in the clinch.
The only thing we can predict with any certainty when it comes to this fight is that it’s going to be fun, as both Felder and Vick are action fighters. As you can see from the above stats, neither combatant is keen on takedowns, though it would not surprise me to see “The Texecutioner” head south for the winter if Felder starts busting him up. Outside of that, expect a 15-minute war that likely swings in favor of Vick, simply because he’ll be the busier, more aggressive fighter.
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 1 fight card TONIGHT (click here), starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, before the ESPN main card start time at 9 p.m. ET.
To see the complete UFC on ESPN 1 fight card click here.