UFC on ESPN 1: Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez

UFC on ESPN 1: Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez

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)

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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

UFC 234: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

UFC 234: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

The UFC heads back to Australia this weekend with a relatively top-heavy fight card that features local hero Robert Whittaker’s title defense against Kelvin Gastelum. In the co-main event, New Zealand’s Israel Adesanya will fight Anderson Silva in what should be an intriguing clash of styles.

We’re here to break down the entire UFC 234 main card to bring you the best bets and betting advice for this pay-per-view event.

Let’s get started.

Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Robert Whittaker will attempt to defend his UFC Middleweight Championship in front of thousands of screaming local fans in Melbourne, Australia. The last time he stepped foot in the Rod Laver Arena, he competed against Derek Brunson, and it turned out to be a thrilling first round of action that saw both fighters stumbling around the cage. “The Reaper” defeated Brunson and it inspired an exciting run to the title.

Now, at the top of the middleweight division, Whittaker is coming out of two intense battles with Yoel Romero. In the first one, his knee was damaged just a few minutes into the fight after Romero smashed it with a push kick. He overcame the adversity to win a decision after denying Romero’s takedowns and beating him up with heavy strikes.

Whittaker then managed to injure his hand in the second fight before somehow hanging on and winning a split decision. The second fight was much more competitive than the first, with Romero coming out of it feeling robbed by the judges after he scored some significant knockdowns.

Whittaker will be facing Kelvin Gastelum, who – like Whittaker – made a move up to middleweight after a lengthy stint as a welterweight. Gastelum has jumped all the way up into a title shot after recent wins against Michael Bisping and “Jacare” Souza. The Bisping knockout was impressive in nature, but more of a measure of Bisping’s decline and baffling decision to take a fight on two-week notice, more so than Gastelum’s meteoric rise. Moreover, the “Jacare” fight proved to be incredibly competitive, with Gastelum just making it over the line at the end of three rounds.

Best odds for Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum:

Whittaker’s a favorite in this one, and it’s easy to see why.

Anyone who can come out on top after ten rounds with Yoel Romero demands respect. There’s even the fact that Robert Whittaker might just be the greatest middleweight fighter in the history of the UFC. Now that’s something.

So, Gastelum, a guy coming off two wins over “aging” competitors, finds himself against one of the best to ever do it? How can he win?

Gastelum has a pathway or two to victory, but he’s going to need to act fast. Whittaker’s typically most vulnerable in the first round. It takes the Australian a few rounds to get going in his fights, helping to understand his opponent’s style and movements and then implement an appropriate game plan to beat them. We saw this when Brunson – not the best of strikers – clipped Whittaker and nearly finished him.

Gastelum’s going to need to rush out and make the most of his advantages in the early rounds before Whittaker’s cardio and intelligence takes over.

However, Whittaker is insanely durable. Yes, he often gets injured or harmed during fights, but he survives.

That’s why we see Whittaker outlasting Gastelum in this one to win.

Bet on Robert Whittaker to win: -229 (Pinnacle)

Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya

Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya is completely bizarre.

Adesanya has quickly become one of the most talented – and talked about – strikers in the UFC since joining last year. Rising to the occasion in all of his appearances so far, Adesanya was 2018’s breakout mixed martial artist and finds himself already close to earning a title shot against the winner of Whittaker vs. Gastelum. He ranks amongst the best in the division, yet the UFC decided to pit him against a legend of the sport who hasn’t competed in quite some time.

Anderson Silva is an all-time great and a fan-favorite, but that doesn’t exactly help you when you’re locked inside a cage in 2019. Moreover, if you’re wondering how Silva and Adesanya are matched against each other if it’s such a ‘mismatch,’ the UFC has tricked Silva into believing he’ll be awarded a title shot if he defeats Adesanya this weekend. It’s an offer “The Spider” couldn’t refuse.

Best odds for Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya:

People continue to draw similarities between Anderson Silva and Israel Adesanya for many fairly obvious reasons. Stylistically, they look similar in some ways. Yes, they utilize loads of feints, spinning attacks, and unique striking techniques, but there’s a huge disparity right now when it comes to the actual attributes of these two.

Adesanya is lightning-fast and uses his excellent anticipation to read his opponent and smoothly measure a safe operating distance inside the cage. His opponents have a difficult time landing their hands on him. Silva’s going to need to turn back the clock many, many years if he wants to top Adesanya this weekend in Melbourne. However, there’s a fair chance that even the best version of Silva would fall short against “The Stylebender.”

Bet on Israel Adesanya to win by decision: +200 (Bovada)

Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon

Moreover, this is where the pay-per-view all falls apart. The third-last bout of the evening will see Rani Yahya compete against Ricky Simon in what should be an entertaining fight, albeit one between two competitors that don’t demand respect or attention of the four fighters above.

Rani Yahya has been doing some of his best work in the UFC in his last three fights, despite having been with the promotion since January 2011. Yahya has three consecutive stoppage victories to his name against Henry Briones, Russell Doane, and Luke Sanders, helping him to recover after losing to Joe Soto back in March 2017.

Ricky Simon is undefeated in two fights with the UFC and enters UFC 234 with an impressive seven-fight winning streak behind him, dating back to his time in Titan FC and KOTC. His UFC debut was a controversial one, as he finished the fight with a guillotine choke locked in but didn’t get a tap from Merab Dvalishvili when the final horn sounded. Strangely, Dvalishvili was deemed unconscious after the horn and Simon was awarded the win.

Best odds for Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon:

Rani Yahya’s dangerous submission game is the X-factor in this fight. Simon loves to scrap in a fast-pace fight and that might lead to stumbles, takedowns, and trips, eventually resulting in mat time. The longer this one is on the mat, the more Yahya’s chances of a finish increase.

We’re taking Yahya to win.

Bet on Rani Yahya to win: -105 (Bovada)

Nadia Kassem vs. Montana De La Rosa

Undefeated Nadia Kassem will look to make it two in a row in the UFC when she fights Montana De La Rosa this weekend at UFC 234.

Kassem, an athlete from Sydney, Australia, had finished all four of her first fights outside the UFC via the first-round stoppage and none of them lasted more than 90 seconds. Against Alex Chambers in Sydney, though, Kassem was taken the distance before winning a unanimous decision.

Montana De La Rosa is 2-0 in the UFC after first appearing during The Ultimate Fighter Season 26, where she lost to eventual champion, Nicco Montano. De La Rosa scored submission wins against Christina Marks and Rachael Ostovich, to make it three submission victories in her last three professional fights.

Best odds for Nadia Kassem vs. Montana De La Rosa:

We haven’t seen a whole lot from Nadia Kassem through her professional career to date, and there’s not a lot to suggest she can hang in there with Montana De La Rosa if this fight hits the mat. There’s also not enough evidence that indicates she can keep it upright and out of danger.

De La Rosa is a decent takedown artist who will be looking to get this one to the floor and lock up a submission – that’s if a KO/TKO victory doesn’t come before it though.

Bet on Montana De La Rosa to win: -242 (Pinnacle)

Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey

Jim Crute is the latest Australian prospect to crash the UFC’s roster. He made a name for himself on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series by smashing Chris Birchler in the first round. That KO/TKO win earned him a spot in the big leagues and he started with a bang against Paul Craig at UFC Fight Night 142, where he earned a kimura submission win.

Crute was originally scheduled to face Ryan Spann this weekend, but a change of circumstances has led to him needing to prepare for Sam Alvey instead.

Sam Alvey is a heavy-hitting southpaw fighter, who was training for a fight with Gadzhimurad Antigulov. He welcomes the challenge here against the Aussie prospect and is certainly excited to compete on his first-ever pay-per-view main card.

Best odds for Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey:

Crute is also a powerful, lightweight fighter with extremely devastating top game and decent kickboxing ability. When he secures a top position, he rains down heavy ground and pound and has excellent submission ability to top it all off.

Alvey’s left-handed cross might cause problems for Crute who was training for Spann, and that combined with his knockout power could be a recipe for disaster for the Australian.

Crute fought to a close fight with Paul Craig, who seemed levels below most other fighters in the division when inside the cage.

This one is a winnable fight for Alvey, and we’re taking the underdog in this one.

Bet on Sam Alvey to win: +110 (Bovada)

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UFC 234 fight card

UFC 234 begins on ESPN+ from 6:30 pm ET (10:30 pm GMT) on Saturday, February 9.

UFC 234 Main Card on PPV (10:00 pm ET / 2:00 am GMT)

  • Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
  • Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya
  • Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon
  • Nadia Kassem vs. Montana De La Rosa
  • Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey

UFC 234 Preliminary Card on ESPN+ (6:30 pm ET / 10:30 am GMT)

  • Dong Hyun Ma vs. Devonte Smith
  • Austin Arnett vs. Shane Young
  • Kai Kara-France vs. Raulian Paiva
  • Teruto Ishihara vs. Kyung Ho Kang
  • Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Rosa
  • Jalin Turner vs. Callan Potter
  • Wuliji Buren vs. Jonathan Martinez