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UFC on ESPN: Ngannou vs. Velasquez staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Sunday’s UFC on ESPN: Ngannou vs. Velasquez fight card in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its predictions for Saturday’s UFC Phoenix card, and opinion is divided as to who will win the main event between Cain Velasquez and Francis Ngannou. As for the co-main event, most of us are going with Paul Felder over James Vick in what should be an entertaining lightweight scrap.


Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou

Mookie Alexander: I can’t do it. I want to pick Velasquez. It would be a terrific achievement if he does win after such a long layoff due to all of those injuries. But it’s the type of injuries that has me thinking we aren’t getting vintage Cain again. Ngannou may not have very good takedown defense or cardio, but Velasquez’s historical willingness to be aggressive and pressure means Ngannou will have opportunities to counter. And Velasquez has always been there to be hit, he’s just usually had a very good chin. If Velasquez can summon up even 70% of what he once was, Ngannou is screwed. I can’t bank on that, even at heavyweight. Of course, this is also heavyweight, so maybe Cain will just KO Ngannou with ease and we’ll all be hyped up. Anyway, Francis Ngannou by KO, round 1.

Zane Simon: If Velasquez can get Ngannou down with ease, then he’s pretty much got this in the bag. But, even Miocic didn’t have that easy a time getting Ngannou down early, and took some big shots to get there. Add in Cain’s long layoff and that the last time he hit a real takedown in the cage was against Fabricio Werdum (more than 3 years ago!), and the fact that Ngannou never looks like a more comfortable striker than when opponents are trying to close him down and wrestle him... and I gotta pick Ngannou. If nothing else, he’s a known quantity, where Cain isn’t. And if Velasquez comes out looking to pressure box Ngannou into the fence early, he could really easily get slept. Francis Ngannou by KO round 1.

Staff picking Velasquez: Shak, Harry, Nick, Dayne
Staff picking Ngannou: Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie

James Vick vs. Paul Felder

Mookie Alexander: Vick has the advantage at range, whereas Felder’s clinch game is getting nastier with each fight. On the other hand, Felder’s ability to absorb damage is significantly better than Vick, who’s twice shown he can be wiped out with one shot. I just feel like while Vick may be the more patient and calculated striker, and he has the element of an underrated submission game, Felder is more dangerous minute to minute, and Vick is going to have some round-losing moments taking some massive strikes from Paul. Paul Felder by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: If Paul Felder can sit in the pocket in front of Vick and stay aggressive, or get to the clinch and keep his guard up, he will have chances to KO the rangy Texan. However, I don’t really trust Felder to do that. While he can be an aggressive attacking striker and does have power in the clinch, he’s just as likely to relax into a slow paced range kickboxing bout or let his opponent control offense inside. Vick has only gotten better at keeping distance and picking off opponents with his massive frame. And Felder has tended to lose striking battles to opponents that can just keep him at distance (including Mike Perry and Ross Pearson). After a back and forth first round, I expect Vick will mostly just coast out the latter half of the fight, jabbing and kicking off the back foot. James Vick by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Much as I’d much, much rather see Felder win, this seems like a tough style matchup for him. He’s somewhat plodding at range and sits heavily on all his strikes, making it more than possible for people to rack up points with hit’n’run and counterpunching strategies. Where he really makes his hay is in grappling and the clinch, but Vick will be on his bike the entire time and I’m not sure how Felder closes him down effectively without just eating jabs and front kicks. James Vick by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Vick: Phil, Zane
Staff picking Felder: Shak, Harry, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Cortney Casey vs. Cynthia Calvillo

Mookie Alexander: Casey’s terrible takedown defense and willingness to fight off of her back seems like recipe for disaster against Calvillo, who’s shown herself to be a really talented grappler. The only concern I have for Calvillo is she’s sometimes way to willing to kickbox, when she’s awkward at it. As long as Calvillo sticks to what she’s really good at, Casey is going to be submitted. Cynthia Calvillo by submission, round 2.

Zane Simon: Calvillo is an excellent grappler, but neither as busy nor as technical a wrestler and striker as she seems to think she is. The striking part is especially notable, since she let herself get out-worked in a fist-fight with Carla Esparza. However, Casey’s takedown defense is really not good. And she tends to short-arm her punches, so opponents really have to stand and trade with her for her to be effective. Calvillo should be able to find her way around that, and get the fight to the mat. Cynthia Calvillo by submission, Round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Casey has unwarranted confidence in her game off her back, and Calvillo has unwarranted confidence in her kickboxing. Either one could end up getting themselves stuck into a fight they don’t want to. However, in a wild and woolly fight which is likely to go everywhere, Calvillo still has the clear technical advantage in at least one area, and her ability to take the back means that her wrestling should pick her up at least one round, if not a submission win. Cynthia Calvillo by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Casey: Shak
Staff picking Calvillo: Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie

Mookie Alexander: Alex Caceres just makes too many awful decisions for me to trust him against anybody, and he’s never been difficult to submit. Kron Gracie by whatever he wants, round 1.

Zane Simon: Caceres SHOULD be able to win this fight. He’s infinitely better than Kron Gracie literally everywhere except submission grappling. However, Caceres also seems totally incapable of having a fight other than the fight his opponent wants. He should have beat Wang Guan too. He was better than Wang everywhere other than range striking. Didn’t matter. Caceres is too willing to go high risk low reward. Seems to uninterested in the outcomes of his fights, and isn’t dangerous enough as a striker to feel like he can just blow Gracie away. At some point this will hit the mat. Don’t be too surprised if it’s because Caceres takes it there. Kron Gracie by submission, Round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Most people’s fight IQ gets better as they age. Caceres may be one of the rare fighters who has actually deteriorated. The obvious thing for him to do is just snipe the rather plodding Gracie from range, but even if he does that I think he’ll start feeling himself and throw himself into a high-octane move for no reason. Kron Gracie by submission, round 2.

Staff picking Caceres: Shak
Staff picking Gracie: Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena

Mookie Alexander: I love me some Vicente Luque. I’m of the opinion that he’s one of the most underrated fighters on the entire UFC roster. Barberena is tough as nails and is capable of grinding out a win here, but Luque has more offensive firepower and an improved all-around game that has me thinking he’ll rack up another W. Vicente Luque by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Barberena is tough as hell, but the way he fights he kind of has to be. An inveterate ‘slow starter,’ he usually gets cracked hard early on before rallying late with volume to either get the win or at least keep the fight close. And that could work with Luque. Vicente is likely more technical than Barberena everywhere, but he’s been known to get out-worked and get tired before. However, if Barberena starts slow, I’m not confident that he can push Luque hard enough to tire him out. Especially since Luque has only been getting more comfortable and evenly paced in his pressure counter-punching. Barberena may have some success late, but I don’t trust it to be enough to turn the bout. Vicente Luque by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Millennial Matt Brown has at least one obvious path to victory against Erick Silva But Better, but he’s likely going to be fighting back against a significant disparity, because Luque is probably going to crack him hard right from the early going. Unlike the real Matt Brown, Barberena isn’t a dynamite finisher (although he’s a little underrated there), so even if Luque fades out badly, he’ll still likely have a 2 round cushion to survive on top of. There’s also the not-inconsiderable possibility that Luque just immediately knocks Barberena out as he has so many others. Vicente Luque by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Luque: Shak, Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Barberena:

Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury

Mookie Alexander: Fili has stalled out and is just going to have a permanent state of inconsistent performances. I know Jury is coming off the wipeout against the since-retired Chad Mendes, but he’s the better fighter and I can see him winning this in similar fashion as he did against Rick Glenn. Myles Jury by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Fili is more aggressive and fights at a better pace. But, he’s not 100% comfortable coming forward and gets pretty wild and open as he does. Jury is a bred-in-the-bone counter striker with good reactive wrestling and top control to go with it. But, he has had some problems commanding range, especially against long, tall fighters. I’m still picking Jury here, I think he’ll just be too slick off his back foot, and Fili not slick enough. But it could be a close war. Myles Jury by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: This is likely to be a tightly contested mirror match. Jury is the more dynamic fighter pretty much everywhere, but he’s also not a blow-you-out-of-the-water physical threat, who kind of fights like he is: reluctant to lead and confident that he can finish his opponents in a big moment. Fili, as Zane pointed out, is a bit wilder but also has slightly more of a functional round-winning style. In the end, Jury is just more defensively responsible and powerful, but it should be razor close. Myles Jury by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Fili: Harry, Nick, Dayne
Staff picking Jury: Shak, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie

Aljamain Sterling vs. Jimmie Rivera

Mookie Alexander: Very very tempted to pick Sterling, especially since he seems more comfortable with his boxing than in years past, to add to his kicks. But he does rely first and foremost on his wrestling and grappling, where he undoubtedly excels, and Rivera has yet to be taken down in his UFC career. Rivera is also the more dangerous striker in the pocket, and even with the lack of finishes, he has some power in those hands. I’ve got to go with Rivera being able to win a mostly kickboxing match. Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I want to pick Sterling. His range tools are much more diverse and consistent than Rivera’s. However, his defense is not. Rivera is a solid defensive counter-puncher when he wants to be, and while he’s more wild going forward, he’s not so wild that he’s in extreme danger. Sterling can be caught by long combinations when moving backward and hard counters when he pushes forward. It just feels like too many options for Rivera to capitalize on and would require too perfect a rangy sniping performance from Sterling to win. Jimmie Rivera by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Sterling’s fight with Raphael Assuncao was very very close, which spoke good things about his ability to compete in range kickboxing fights with elite talent. However, it was also a fight where it felt like something small could have made it more decisive. In this case I think it’s Rivera’s more willing kicking game and his essential meanness in the pocket. He’s far less likely to retreat out of combinations than Assuncao without putting his stamp on them. Sterling still has the potential advantage of being able to steal rounds or the fight with his grappling, but Rivera’s TDD has been fairly impenetrable thus far. Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Sterling:
Staff picking Rivera: Shak, Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Benito Lopez vs. Manny Bermudez

Zane Simon: At some point Lopez will get snuffed for his incredibly willing, pressing, wooden boxing style. But, I can’t bet on Lopez to be the guy to do it. He’s dynamic enough, but to a fault. Lopez tends to carry himself out of the same success his dynamic attacking style brought him into. He falls into the clinch, gets taken down, ends up in scrambles, gets countered. All in the name of generating quick, exciting offense. At some point, Bermudez likely jumps on an opening and uses it to get the sub. Manny Bermudez via submission, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: This is a little like Calvillo-Casey further up the card, or even Caceres-Gracie: Lopez is bigger, more dynamic on the feet, but also has minimal control literally anywhere in the fight. Lopez is going to throw himself into clinch situations, where Bermudez can wrestle and scramble with him. Maybe he can’t finish Lopez, as it’s notoriously tricky to choke out TAM fighters, but Manny Bermudez by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Lopez: Shak
Staff picking Bermudez: Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Andrea Lee vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith

Zane Simon: Evans-Smith is just so set on spending her fights standing at range trying big, dynamic moves. It tires her out, and leaves her way out of range to make use of her wrestling background. Lee, often tries to wrestle against her better judgement, but I think she’s just a little too sharp standing, especially in the clinch, for me to trust that Evans-Smith can out-kickbox her if that’s all she tries to do. Andrea Lee by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Evans-Smith is a big, dynamic mess. Lee is a little like Felder in that she’s a plodding striker who does all her best work in the clinch. There’s a significant chance here that Lee just gets outwrestled, as she hasn’t really been tested there against anyone of note, but she’s a moderately better striker which should be enough, as Evans-Smith doesn’t go to her wrestling nearly as often as she should. Andrea Lee by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Lee: Shak, Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie
Staff picking Evans-Smith: Dayne

Scott Holtzman vs. Nik Lentz

Zane Simon: Lentz is the better wrestler and grappler, but his cardio has just fallen apart since his move back to lightweight. Even Gray Maynard almost mounted a round 2 comeback against him before Lentz put him away. Holtzman may not be too technical anywhere, but he’s tough everywhere, has never been finished, and fights hard and well late into bouts. Scott Holtzman via TKO round 3.

Phil Mackenzie: Holtzman has improved nicely since that fight where Drew Dober just took him down a billion times, and that seems to be the crux of the matter: can he fight off Lentz takedowns? Increasingly it seems like most people can, so Lentz makes his way as a gritty, fairly durable, fairly high-paced brawler, who can nonetheless be beaten in any given area. Holtzman has a major size and dynamism advantage, and although I think the first round will be sneaky tough, I think he takes over as Lentz fades. Scott Holtzman by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Holtzman: Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Lentz: Shak

Renan Barao vs. Luke Sanders

Mookie Alexander: Barao is washed. Luke Sanders by KO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Barao COULD win this. Sanders is just the kind of, dangerous but inconsistent talent that could give Barao enough confidence to stay in the fight, even after getting hurt. But, Andre Ewell should have been that dude too. Barao just seems way to in his own head anymore to trust him. He starts strong, but the first sign of adversity makes him panic, and then he starts to tire, and then his offense shuts down. Luke Sanders by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Not picking Barao any more. Sanders is incredibly defensively porous and fights like the young man that he is not, but he’s also aggressive and dangerous. Luke Sanders by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Barao:
Staff picking Sanders: Shak, Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Jessica Penne vs. Jodie Esquibel

Zane Simon: Penne is exceptionally hitable (or was when she last fought). Her walking forward, head high, style makes her an incredibly easy target. But, she’s also driven to have a very specific type of aggressive fight, and she’s consistent about it. Esquibel fights in short bursts, and does her best work throwing power hooks. But given her short stature, it makes her opportunities for success few and far between. I’ll take Penne to keep a better pace, but Esquibel may just be able to do what Danielle Taylor did. Jessica Penne by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: This fight will not be particularly good. Penne at least has a functional range tool (her jab), but Esquibel’s “Kowalkiewicz, but worse” approach may be enough to overcome her in a range kickboxing bout. However, Penne should recognize that it’s time to grapple in this one. Jessica Penne by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Penne: Shak, Harry, Nick, Phil, Zane, Mookie
Staff picking Esquibel: Dayne, Stephie

Aleksandra Albu vs. Emily Whitmire

Zane Simon: Whitmire is working on a much more technical game, and showed dramatic improvement since her UFC debut, with a win over Jamie Moyle. But, it was also a not very physically dominant performance against one of the division’s least athletic competitors. Albu may be a technical mess who’s as likely to throw herself to the mat as her opponent, but she’s also fast and powerful. I’ll take that over Whitmire’s consistency, but it’s a close run thing. Aleksandra Albu by split decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Hard to say where Albu is, as she largely just dominated Kailin Curran physically, which is... not hard. However, that physicality can’t really be discounted entirely, so Alexandra Albu by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Albu: Harry, Nick, Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Phil
Staff picking Whitmire: Shak

Poll

Who wins the UFC Phoenix main event?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Velasquez by stoppage
    (289 votes)
  • 36%
    Ngannou by stoppage
    (269 votes)
  • 9%
    Velasquez by decision
    (73 votes)
  • 1%
    Ngannou by decision
    (8 votes)
  • 13%
    Mitrione by groin kick NC
    (100 votes)
739 votes total Vote Now