By Matt Koontz, Mike Whitestone and Eric Jacinto
This card kicks off on ESPN + with the early prelims. The loaded prelims main card with one hell of a headliner as the main event are free on regular ESPN. We get to watch the return of Cain Velasquez this weekend and fight fans around the world should be more than excited for this. Matt and Mike will predict the entire card and I will only predict the ESPN main card as I'm doing this late.
ESPN+ Early Prelims @ 5:30 PM/ET:
Women's Strawweight Bout: Aleksandra Albu (3-0) vs. Emily Whitmire (3-2):
Kicking off the very first fight on the card, I believe, will set the tone for the rest of the action-packed night. This will be Whitmire's third fight in the UFC and Albu's fourth. Emily Whitmire may not be able to finish her fights, with all of her wins being by decision, but she always tries to push the pace. Percentage-wise she has a bad takedown offense only being at 50%, but she has only attempted two and got one of them so it isn't an in-depth representation of what her takedown skills are. Both of her losses are by submission so this may add an idea that she needs to work on her ground game even though she normally wins when she can keep it standing. I think her opponent, Aleksandra Albu, is someone we still don't fully know what they are capable of. She is 3-0 and has a win of each type; decision, knockout and submission. She started to get a little sloppy in her decision win, but she was able to do enough for it to be unanimous in her favor. I think Albu will be able to out-strike her opponent and get a TKO in the second. – Mike Whitestone
Whitmire rebounded from her TUF loss with a victory in her UFC debut against Jamie Moyle. Whitmire trains out of Xtreme Couture. She hasn’t finished a professional fight yet in her career as she has all 3 of her wins with decisions. Her only losses have come from submission which is going to make this fight dangerous for her. She needs to try and keep this fight standing and use her striking and octagon control to win this fight otherwise she might get smothered and pick up another submission loss. Her opponent is a Maldovan born woman who is extremely impressive. She has the talent to fight for the title and win one day but she has to fight more often than she does. She fights once every 2 years because she is a Russian model and body builder leaving her a busy life in between fights. Albu is a karate fighter and in her short MMA career has picked up a KO as well as a submission stopping 2 of her 3 fights. She is extremely dangerous and could stop the fight with her striking though I expect to see a takedown and smother Emily for a win. Albu wins in round 2 via ground and pound TKO. – Matt Koontz
Bantamweight Bout: Renan Barao (34-7) vs. Luke Sanders (12-3):
The next fight is between an all-time great and someone looking to get back on their feet. Sanders was unstoppable before the UFC going 11-0 including his first UFC match. Now he is 2-3 in the UFC and Dana isn't usually too lenient on fighters with records below .500. He is fighting against Renan Barao who in my opinion is a future Hall-of-Famer. Barao put on a 32 fight win-streak before Dillashaw came through. After that he wasn't the same man because he is now 2-6 in his last 8. Because of that and Sanders' aggressive fight-style I think Sanders will be able to pick up a first round TKO. – Mike W
I think this fight could be an early possibility for the FOTN contender. I loved Renan Barao but I believe he is past his great years and Sanders will win by 3rd round TKO. – Matt K
ESPN Prelims @ 7 PM/ET:
Lightweight Bout: Scott Holtzman (12-2) vs. Nik Lentz (29-9-2):
Nik Lentz has a great record, but recently has been win, loss, win, loss. He likes to use his striking to set up relentless takedown attempts and going for submissions. This is definitely his preferred method with 11 submission finishes, but also has stopping power gaining 8 wins by knockout. Lentz has a really bad takedown success rate sitting around 35% but still lands a substantial amount by attempting almost 200 takedowns total. His opponent prefers to keep the fight standing with 4 wins by knockout, but isn't much of a finisher with 6 wins by decision. I think Nik Lentz is just better in every situation and he will be able to do what he wants here which will most likely be a submission in the first. – Mike W
Scott will have more power than Nik which means he will need to choose his shots well and use his openings to land a big shot to win this fight. I believe Nik will avoid a big shot and win this fight via unanimous decision. – Matt K
Women's Flyweight Bout: #12 (12) Ashlee Evans-Smith (6-3) vs. #13 (14) Andrea Lee (9-2):
This fight will be the only of the women's fights to not be in the strawweight division. Evans-Smith will be making this her second fight in the division after winning her first. She has 3 wins by knockout and 3 by decision. Andrea Lee is a black belt in Kyokushin karate, brown belt in judo and purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Lee has 4 wins by submission and 2 knockouts and is also on a 5-fight win-streak. Evans-Smith has a more aggressive pace landing almost 1.5 more significant strikes per minute than her opponent regardless of the fact that her striking accuracy is less than half of Lee's. Lee lands more of what she throws, but the amount Evans-Smith attempts is much larger. Lee also lands more than double the number of takedowns as her opponent which makes me believe that Lee will take this to the mat more than once and will get a submission victory in either the first or second. – Mike W
I believe in the end Andrea’s pace and takedowns will overwhelm Ashlee leading to a 3rd round submission from Andrea. – Matt K
Bantamweight Bout: Benito Lopez (9-0) vs. Manny Bermudez (13-0):
Up next are two undefeated bantamweights that are still relatively new to the UFC. Manny Bermudez has 10 wins by submission and a knockout and only 1 of the 11 wasn't in the first round. His opponent Benito Lopez has 3 wins by knockout and 2 by submission with all of them in the first. Lopez seems to avoid the ground though and is a threat standing averaging 5 significant strikes per minute. Bermudez however barely has any significant strikes and attempts a lot of takedowns and submissions. Bermudez missed weight by 5 pounds, so I think he will use his extra weight to keep up his grappling and get that submission in the first. – Mike W
I have to agree with Mike on this one 5 lbs gives you a big advantage, overweight fighters are already over .95% winning percentage over the past year. – Matt K
Bantamweight Bout: #4 (5) Jimmie Rivera (22-2) vs. #7 (7) Aljamain Sterling (16-3):
Main event time before we finally go live on ESPN and it's two ranked bantamweights. Aljamain Sterling likes to use his striking to set up his wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills evidenced by his 7 wins by submission. He's an active striker with a pretty good striking defense but has an alright takedown offense and defense. His opponent is probably the most successful product of Tiger Schulmann. Most of Rivera's wins come by decision at 16 and he uses his perfect takedown defense and aggressive striking to dominate his opponents. Sterling is a dangerous ground fighter, but I don't see Rivera's pace being slowed and I say Rivera is going to keep Sterling uncomfortable and grind this out for a decision win. – Mike W
I agree Rivera wins, but I believe he is the superior fighter and wins this fight by way of 2nd round submission as he will dominate Aljo in round 2. With the domination of round 2 he will find his place and lock in a 2nd round submission via RNC. – Matt K
ESPN Main Event @ 9 PM/ET:
Featherweight Bout: Myles Jury (17-3) vs. Andre Fili (18-6):
Both of these guys have had trouble getting traction recently. Jury was 15-0 before going 2-3 in his last five fights and as for Fili he has mostly been win, loss, win, loss in his last 10. Fili is an aggressive striker but has the issue of not having a great defense. He is also one sided not being able to make things out of ground work. Myles doesn't land as much as his opponent, but he doesn't get hit half as much and excels on the ground. I think this will be super entertaining at the beginning with both guys striking then Jury will get it to the ground and get the submission victory before time runs out. – Mike W
I have Jury winning in round 2 via submission after they battle it out on the feet in round 1 and he changes the position in round 2 to catch Fili off guard. – Matt K
I'm gonna be different than Matt and Mike and go with Andre Fili with the Unanimous Decision.
Welterweight Bout: Vincente Luque (14-6-1) vs. Bryan Barberena (14-5):
This fight is very similar to the last one. Barberena is a monster in the standup, but lacks on the ground. However Luque is good at both standup and grappling. I think if it stays standing this is Barberena's. Barberena absorbs more shots than his opponent, but he also lands way more than Luque does. He has trouble making things work on the ground and only defends about 40% of takedowns. His opponent, Vicente Luque has an almost even amount of wins by finish with 7 by knockout and 6 by submission. Luque continually surprises me so I'm going to predict that he survives Barberena's onslaught and get him to the ground in the second to pick up a submission victory. – Mike W
Luque and Barberena are going to go back and forth for the first two rounds before Luque changes levels and locks in the arm bar submission in round 3 for the victory. – Matt K
I'll agree with both guys and go with Vincente Luque with the 1st Round TKO.
Featherweight Bout: Alex Caceres (14-11) vs. Kron Gracie (4-0):
Next up is the debut fight for Kron Gracie against "Bruce Leroy" Alex Caceres. Gracie is part of the great Gracie family so he is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and judo. All four of his wins are by submission and 3 of them were in the first round. Caceres is known for being a creative and unconventional striker. Caceres is a hard guy to read and Gracie has close to no striking experience because of how quick he finished his opponents. I think Caceres won't give him a chance to grapple and get a TKO in the first. – Mike W
I see this fight to be similar to Uriah Hall vs Gegard Mousasi. Caceres like Hall will get taken down in round 1 but survive that. I believe the lack of striking experience that Kron has will become his downfall and his arrogance. Caceres wins via round 2 TKO.
I'm gonna go with Kron Gracie to stay undefeated and get the 2nd Round Submission win.
Women's Strawweight Bout: #11 (11) Cortney Casey (8-6) vs. #12 (12) Cynthia Calvillo (7-1):
Here we are at the last female fight of the night. Casey lands more strikes against her opponent than Calvillo, but Casey takes more shots than she lands and Calvillo lands more than what she takes. Calvillo is also a more active grappler and succeeds in takedowns about 50% of the time while Casey only defends about 25%. I think this fight will see a lot of ground time. I predict that Calvillo will grind out Casey and in the third she will pick up a late TKO. – Mike W
I am 100% disagreeing with Mike on this one. Cortney Casey’s loses in the UFC come to all tougher opponents than Calvillo has even beat. Casey is an extremely underrated fighter and she is going to be dangerous in this one. Casey wins this fight by a dominant unanimous decision. – Matt K
I'm gonna agree with Mike on this and go with Cynthia with the win; Calvillo via 2nd Round TKO.
Co- Main Event, Lightweight Bout: #14 (10) James Vick (13-2) vs. #13 (NR) Paul Felder (15-4):
Both of the guys in the co-main here are coming off a loss and looking to start up another win streak. These guys absorb a similar number of strikes, but Vick defends more due to the amount attempted against him is higher. Vick also tends to land more often than Felder. They are very similar with takedowns and takedown defense and when they are there Vick goes for the submission while Felder prefers to keep striking. When Vick can't get a submission he normally ends up going to decision even though he does have a couple knockout victories. Felder almost always gets his knockouts or TKOs and when he can't it ends in decision. I get the feeling that both of these guys are going to have a hard time getting their way here and it's going to end in a decision. I'm going to say it will be in favor of Vick because he will use his more active striking. – Mike W
Felder is the better fighter in my eyes and the hard weight cut for Vick is going to be the downfall of him. Felder exhausts you the way he wrestles and strikes. He just flat out exhausts and mentally abuses his opponents. I have Felder winning this fight via a dominant unanimous decision. – Matt K
I will again agree with Mike on this and go with James Vick for the win; Vick via 3rd Round KO.
Main Event, Heavyweight Bout: #2 (3) Francis Ngannou (12-3) vs. Cain Velasquez (14-2):
Finally, the main event and I find this one pretty hard to call. Cain Velasquez has only fought twice in the last five years and not at all in the last three. Before then, Velasquez was a monster and could obliterate the best of them. He has an 85% for takedowns defended and that's only because he wants to take you down and put you away with almost 7 significant strikes per minute which has earned him 12 knockouts/TKOs with 9 of them in the first minute. Ngannou also looked unstoppable for most of his career then he suffered a bad decision loss to Stipe and put on one of the worst fights ever against Lewis. In his last fight he almost murdered Curtis Blaydes in less than a minute. There's a big chance Velasquez doesn't come back the same, but if he does then this could turn into fight of the year potential. They always say AKA is one of the most savage camps in the world and with Cain having a constant training partner in Dan Cormier I'm going to assume that "ring-rust" won't be a factor for Velasquez. I say that this war will end with a brutal first round knockout by Velasquez possibly after taking some damage from the monster Ngannou.- Mike W
The return of Cain is here and we will see him face a true test for such a long layoff. Ngannou will need to have mastered his takedown defense and land some knees if he wants to prevent Cain from dominating him. Cain is a monster arguably the best heavyweight of all time. If Cain returns in top form then this man is coming for the heavyweight belt and nobody will be able to stop him. I believe sea-level and fully recovered Cain is too dangerous and will pick up the win via 3rd round submission thanks to an exhausted Ngannou. – Matt K
I'm excited for the return of Cain Velasquez as he is my favorite UFC fighter it's been two years to long since we've seen him. I think Cain will dominate this fight from the moment it starts, Cain wins via 2nd Round TKO.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.