Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returned to the hurt business last night (Sun., Feb. 17, 2019) as UFC on ESPN 1 kicked off the promotion’s partnership with ESPN, live from inside Talking Stick Resort & Casino on Phoenix, Arizona. In the main event of the evening, Francis Ngannou stopped Cain Velasquez in just 26 seconds, ruining the former Heavyweight champion’s long-awaited comeback in the blink of an eye (see it again here). In the co-main event, Paul Felder and James Vick went at it for 15 minutes in a back-and-forth affair that saw “The Irish Dragon” edge out “The Texecutioner.”
Biggest Winner: Francis Ngannou
All of the focus leading up to the first event on big ESPN was Velasquez’s much-anticipated return to action after more than 2.5 years away from the fight game. It didn’t seem to bother “The Predator” all that much, though, as he was calm, cool and collected all the way up to the opening bell. As expected, Velasquez came out of the gates aggressive, looking for an opening, hoping to see the opportunity to get a takedown — something he knew going in was going to be difficult to accomplish.
Once he went for it, though, Ngannou let his fists fly, ultimately clipping the former champion with a sneaky right uppercut that dropped Velasquez. And let’s get it straight, though it was obvious Velasquez’s knee did buckle, it was the strike that first sent him crashing to the canvas. That is now two straight quick knockout wins for “The Predator,” who is out for blood after suffering back-to-back defeats in 2018. Indeed, Ngannou is back and the win should shoot him up closer to a shot at the title ... even ahead of Stipe Miocic.
Runner Up: Vicente Luque
Luque and Bryan Barberena put on a show for fight fans in an early “Fight of the Year” contender, going at if for 15 minutes in what was an all-out stand up affair for the ages. Both men took shots and delivered them, as well, proving that their chins are hard to crack. Luque -- who was dropped by “Bam Bam” during the bout — threw everything at Barberena, perhaps even losing faith that his foe simply couldn’t be finished. But, he stuck to his guns and kept coming forward until he ultimately clipped Barberena with two perfect knees to the face with the clock winding down in the fight to score a late technical knockout win. That is now four straight wins for Luque, who is eyeing a Top 10 fight in his next outing. And he definitely deserves it. The Brazilian bomber -- who is set to get married in the coming weeks — also goes home with fatter pockets thanks to his performance.
Biggest Loser: Renan Barao
Yes, Velasquez’s 26-second knockout defeat was bad (which we will dissect in another column), but Barao had a night — and week — he’d love to forget. After coming in heavy for his Bantamweight showdown against Luke Sanders — which cost him 20-percent of his check — the former 135-pound champion went in and got knocked out by Sanders in the second round.
The defeat is a mind-boggling fourth straight for the Brazilian bomber, who at one time was considered a top pound-for-pound candidate. Barao has now dropped eight of his last nine outings going back to 2014, a far cry from a man who once rode a 32-fight win streak. At only 32 years of age, I still can’t help but to wonder what in the world happened to this once dominant champion? Furthermore, will he be a UFC fighter for much longer?
For complete UFC Phoenix results and coverage click here.