The UFC’s first-ever dedicated event on ESPN is just around the corner.
Titled UFC on ESPN 1, the world’s leading mixed martial arts organization has loaded up a fight card with many fascinating bouts but none more important than a heavyweight showdown between Francis Ngannou and Cain Velasquez.
The event will also feature an interesting lightweight clash between James Vick and Paul Felder, as well as the UFC debut of Kron Gracie.
As always, we’re here to break down all of the main card to bring you actionable betting advice, tips and all of the best odds for UFC on ESPN 1.
Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez
This main event is almost too good to be true.
Fan-favorite heavyweight, Cain Velasquez, will be returning to action for the first time since UFC 200. That event took place all the way back in July 2016, and Velasquez disappeared from action since. In fact, rumors of retirement were stronger than those of him returning to the cage any time soon.
Velasquez isn’t just a fan-favorite, though, he’s regarded as one of the best heavyweight fighters that the UFC has ever seen. He won the heavyweight title from Junior dos Santos in December 2012 before defending it against Antonio Silva and then Junior dos Santos. Velasquez’s run of brilliance came to a shocking end when he was floored by Fabricio Werdum in the third round of UFC 188, ultimately losing his title.
Francis Ngannou was on the edge of stardom in early 2018. After crushing Alistair Overeem at UFC 218, Ngannou had made a name for himself as one of the most truly dangerous competitors the heavyweight division had ever seen. He looked unstoppable and had managed to stop all six of his UFC opponent’s before earning a title shot against Stipe Miocic. The champion embarrassed Ngannou with superior grappling, but that hasn’t stopped a recent rejuvenation and another upward trend for the Cameroonian. Most recently, he destroyed highly-regarded contender, Curtis Blaydes, in just 45 seconds.
Best odds for Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez:
This matchup is bizarre to break down.
On the one hand, Francis Ngannou is vulnerable in all of the ways that Cain Velasquez is most dangerous. Think Cain’s brilliant cardio and grappling, which could spell trouble for his opponent in the same way that Stipe Miocic was able to dominate Ngannou and stop his meteoric rise.
And on the other side of things, we’ve got Velasquez, who is not the best defensively. Walking forward, Velasquez is extremely vulnerable, and that’s precisely the opposite of what you want to be when inside the cage with Ngannou, who almost took the head off of Alistair Overeem’s shoulders with a devastating uppercut.
If Velasquez can push Ngannou to the cage, lock him up in the clinch, and then ultimately drag him to the mat and outwork him for minutes at a time, we’re looking at an easy decision win for the former champion.
However, if he gets a little too confident or careless against the heavy-hitting fighter across from him, he’ll suffer the same fate as many before him have done.
Velasquez is more than likely to eat a few of Ngannou’s best shots in this fight. We don’t advise betting against anyone surviving the extreme power that is packed in those strikes.
Bet on Francis Ngannou to win: +160 (Bovada)
James Vick vs. Paul Felder
This lightweight bout should be nothing other than pure excitement.
James Vick was quickly making his way through the lightweight division and gaining respect as a top lightweight contender before eventually being knocked out by Justin Gaethje. That incredible knockout ended his four-fight winning streak and sent him back down the rankings.
He’ll now be matched against a man who has struggled to get big fights and worthy opponents, Paul Felder. Much like Vick, Felder only recently had his impressive winning streak ended when Mike Perry defeated him via split decision at UFC 226. Before that defeat, Felder had managed wins over Charles Oliveira, Stevie Ray, and Alex Ricci.
Best odds for James Vick vs. Paul Felder:
One thing is for certain in this fight, James Vick has no business trading in the pocket with Paul Felder. Felder excels at close and mid-range, using intercepting elbows, knees and punch combinations to smack his opponent about. At long range, Felder isn’t as dangerous.
Unfortunately for “The Irish Dragon,” he’ll be standing across from one of the tallest in the lightweight division. Standing at 6-foot-3, Vick is a different kind of beast at 155-pounds. He’s recently improved his ability to fight from the outside, using his jab and a variety of kicks to pepper his opponent over the course of the fight.
Vick’s coming in as the underdog, but he has the right tools to nullify Felder’s best offensive weapons in this fight. Vick won’t be walking forward into elbows; he’ll be pumping out the jab from a safe distance.
Bet on to win: +107 (Pinnacle)
Cortney Casey vs. Cynthia Calvillo
Here we have an important matchup in the women’s strawweight division.
Cynthia Calvillo returned to action in November last year and quickly got back on track with a first-round submission of Poliana Botelho at UFC Fight Night 140. Calvillo was the underdog against the Brazilian fighter in this contest, but that didn’t stop her from cruising to an easy submission win. That win was Calvillo’s first since losing to Carla Esparza by unanimous decision in December 2017.
Calvillo will be looking to make it two in a row when she faces super-tough but underrated contender, Cortney Casey. Casey has lost three of her last five fights, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been competitive in defeat. Two of these three defeats were via split decision and the other was against top-rated Claudia Gadelha. Casey recently got back to winning ways by defeating Angela Hill in August last year.
Best odds for Cortney Casey vs. Cynthia Calvillo:
Cortney Casey generally wins her fights by dominant her opponent on the mat. She has decent top pressure and can smother her adversary to secure control time and eventually influence the scorecards.
However, this might not be a natural pathway to victory against the dangerous submission specialist, Cynthia Calvillo.
Calvillo is well-trained on the mat and has excellent jiu-jitsu technique.
This one’s going to end in a submission.
Bet on Cynthia Calvillo to win: -270 (Pinnacle)
Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie
Currently scheduled to be the 5,000th fight in UFC history, Kron Gracie will step into the cage this weekend looking to maintain his undefeated mixed martial arts record in his first-ever match with the promotion. The Gracie family member will be up against the typically exciting featherweight, Alex Caceres.
Caceres scored a win in Singapore last year against Martin Bravo, a short-notice opponent who replaced Artem Lobov. That win was Caceres’ second in his last five, as he’s struggled to string consistent performances together lately. Regardless of his now 14-11 record, Caceres will likely feature on UFC cards for as long as he’s healthy because of his relatively entertaining style.
30-year-old Kron Gracie joins the UFC after three consecutive submission wins in Rizin. He hasn’t competed since December 2016, when he submitted Tatsuya Kawajiri with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
Best odds for Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie:
The UFC couldn’t have handed a more favorable matchup to Kron Gracie if they had tried. Caceres is certainly a tough competitor, but he lacks takedown defense – arguably the most important skill when fighting Kron Gracie. Gracie is a high-level jiu-jitsu practitioner and is extremely dangerous on the mat. An easy takedown may lead to a quick back-take and submission via rear-naked choke for the latest Gracie to join the UFC.
Bet on Kron Gracie to win: -315 (Pinnacle)
Bryan Barberena vs. Vicente Luque
Vicente Luque is on a roll, and he’s looking to keep that going when he meets Bryan Barberena this weekend. The fast-rising welterweight has won three in a row – all by stoppage – to maintain his 100% finishing rate in his UFC wins so far. Luque has also shown an impressive range of finishes, mixing it up between knockouts (four) and submissions (three).
Bryan Barberena recently got back into the winning column with a win against Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night 135. His two most recent losses were against Colby Covington and Leon Edwards, both of whom are well-regarded as top contenders.
Best odds for Bryan Barberena vs. Vicente Luque:
Bryan Barberena is a tough matchup for anyone in the welterweight division; not because he’s exceptionally talented or dangerous, but mostly because Barberena is as durable as any other. He’ll walk through the heaviest of punches and keep on marching forward. He’s never been stopped, and that makes it an incredibly intriguing matchup for Luque, who has finished his opponent in all of his last seven wins.
If Barberena can survive the initial storm, is it possible he can outwork Luque in the later rounds to earn a decision victory? Certainly. At these odds, it’s worth a go.
Bet on Bryan Barberena to win: +285 (Bovada)
UFC on ESPN 1 fight card
UFC on ESPN 1 begins on ESPN+ from 5:30 pm ET (8:30 pm GMT) on Sunday, February 17.
UFC on ESPN 1 Main Card (9:00 pm ET / 1:00 am GMT)
- Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez
- James Vick vs. Paul Felder
- Cortney Casey vs. Cynthia Calvillo
- Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie
- Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena
- Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury
Preliminary Card on ESPN (7:00 pm ET / 10:00 pm GMT)
- Jimmie Rivera vs. Aljamain Sterling
- Benito Lopez vs. Manny Bermudez
- Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Andrea Lee
- Scott Holtzman vs. Nik Lentz
Early Preliminary Card on ESPN+ (5:30 pm ET / 8:30 pm GMT)
- Jessica Penne vs. Jodie Esquibel
- Renan Barao vs. Luke Sanders
- Aleksandra Albu vs. Emily Whitmire