It’s been 953 days since Cain Velasquez last stepped inside the octagon. That’s over two and half years. The once regarded greatest Heavyweight of all-time has unfortunately been injury plagued in his career. He’s literally only fought three times in 1,946 days or over five years. It’s a shame given his talent and what could of been. However, Velasquez is set to return and he’s not taking it easy, as he challenges one-punch knockout artist Francis Ngannou.

The former title challenger Ngannou had a rough start to 2018, losing to Stipe Miocic in a title fight that saw him gas out and get battered for four rounds. Then, in one of the worst Heavyweight fights, Ngannou laid an absolute goose egg against Derrick Lewis. He was hesitant to engage and clearly looked mentally not prepared to take a punch. It had looked like one of the most devastating knockout artist the UFC has ever seen, simply lost his touch.

However, at the end of 2018 Ngannou fought the surging Curtis Blaydes in a rematch. It was a career defining fight, in which the old Ngannou returning, as he finished Blaydes in the very first round. Back in the title picture, he’s now tasked with fighting one of the greatest Heavyweights of all-time and a stylistically terrible matchup for him. Given Velasquez’s lay-off and Ngannou’s one punch knockout power, the unknown will only be known once the two are locked into the octagon.

So with that, let’s just get to the Predictions!

UFC on ESPN 1 Main Card (ESPN):

265 lbs.: Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez – This should be fun and I can almost guarantee it won’t go the distance. Both men are bonafide finishers. The returning Velasquez is more of a wear you down with pressure, pace, wrestling and then finish you with an accumulation of strikes Meanwhile, Ngannou is a one punch knockout artist with a limited gas tank. In what should be a fast and furious first round, it’s Velasquez who will survive the early onslaught. He’s too smart and calculated to even play around with Ngannou on the feet early.

I expect Velasquez to engage on the feet some, push Ngannou to the cage and then take him down. The later this fight goes, the easier it gets for Velasquez. In the third or fourth round, Velasquez will TKO an exhausted and battered Ngannou.

155 lbs.: Paul Felder vs. James Vick – This is going be a really fun fight. Both men are strikers. Vick is the more technical in-and-out striker, while Felder likes to get within phone booth range and fire off strikes. Vick is tall and lengthy, and will utilize his jab while backpedaling out of danger. Felder will try and get a hold of Vick in the clinch, where he can beat up the body and perhaps land some elbows.

Ughh, as for a prediction, I’ve got Felder. He’s shown to be more durable and absorb strikes, while Vick has been flatlined twice in a little more than the two years. In my opinion, I believe Felder will drop Vick at some point and finish him via vicious elbows.

115 lbs.: Cynthia Calvillo vs. Cortney Casey – Calvillo shouldn’t have issues in controlling the fight wherever it goes. She’s got a huge grappling advantage and I expect to use it. On the mat, Calvillo is a submission fiend. I expect her to eventually lock in something and win this by submission.

145 lbs.: Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie – Caceres is so inconsistent it’s difficult to pick his fights. He’s got obvious talent, but he often underperform’s and fights with some really poor fight IQ. Gracie is going to easily take him down and submit him. Lock it in…

170 lbs.: Bryan Barberena vs. Vicente Luque – Barberena is as tough as they come and has made a living out of outlasting foes with his pace and cardio. The problem here is Luque hasn’t shown to have problems with pace and cardio. Luque is an excellent welterweight who has solid grappling and legit knockout power. This fight should be tough in regards to Barberena’s durability, but Luque will eventually crack it and win via TKO.

145 lbs.: Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury – This is a tough fight to call and should be relatively close. Fili is the more aggressive and an overall wild fighter, while Jury is more patient and lives to counter punch foes. Fili has some wrestling chops, but elects to keep the fight on the feet. Jury mixes in striking and takedowns well. In what should be a close fight, I have Jury eking this one out via decision.

UFC on ESPN 1 ‘Prelims’ Undercard (ESPN):

135 lbs.: Jimmie Rivera vs. Aljamain Sterling – This is an awesome fight. At first I was leaning Sterling, but Rivera is just so well rounded. He’s yet to be taken down in the UFC and while Sterling has excellent wrestling and grappling, I just feel Rivera has almost impenetrable takedown defense to negate it. On the feet, Sterling has vastly improved his boxing to go with his strong kicking game. Rivera meanwhile is top notch boxer who thrives in the pocket. He’s got solid fight IQ and he’s just a bonafide winner. So with that, I have Rivera outpointing Sterling en route to a decision victory.

135 lbs.: Manny Bermudez vs. Benito Lopez – Bermudez has been on a tear since joining the UFC and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. So with that, I have Bermudez winning via submission.

125 lbs.: Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Andrea Lee – Evans-Smith is better than what she displays. Her issues stem from her not using her strength, wrestling. Evans-Smith often keeps the fight standing and throws all her energy into power shots. As for Lee, she’s a more polished striker who has shown to have a strong clinch game. Lee can also wrestle-some which might aide her in keeping Evans-Smith off her. In the end, I think Lee just eek’s our a decision victory.

155 lbs.: Scott Holtzman vs. Nik Lentz – Holtzman has been on a nice little streak here and has shown improvements each fight. Meanwhile Lentz has been up and down since returning to Lightweight. In what should be a fairly competitive fight, I think it comes down to cardio and pace. Lentz has had problems in those areas, where as Holtzman has thrived. So with that, I have Holtzman winning via decision.

UFC on ESPN 1 ‘Prelims’ Undercard (ESPN+):

115 lbs. Jodie Esquibel vs. Jessica Penne: Despite the lengthy absence from the octagon, I believe Penne will use her height and jab to outpoint Esquibel via decision

135 lbs.: Renan Barao vs. Luke Sanders – Barao is clearly a shell of himself, which is crazy given the run he had in the WEC/UFC. He was once regarded by some to be the best pound for pound fighter, and now he’s fallen to the bottom of the prelims. As for this fight, Sanders is dangerous and the better fighter at this stage. However, he’s got some of the worse fight IQ I’ve seen. He’s wasting his talent because of it and I think it continues to haunt him here. So with that, I have Barao winning via decision.

115 lbs.: Alexandra Albu vs. Emily Whitmire – This should be interesting. Whitmire is the more technical fighter, while Albu is more of a technical mess. However, while being a technical mess, Albu has shown to be rather fast and powerful. She throws in volume too, which should aide her in the yes of the judges. So with that, I have Albu winning via decision.

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