Fresh after another positive betting performance at UFC 234, we’re here to run you through the next exciting UFC fight card to bring you our thoughts on the very best betting opportunities this weekend.
We’ve had quite the start to 2019, managing to come out on top after all three UFC events to date.
- + 1 unit profit at UFC 234
- + 5.15 unit profit at UFC Fight Night 144
- + 1.12 unit profit at UFC Fight Night 143
We’re up 7.27 units so far this year and plan to keep the momentum going strong as we approach UFC on ESPN 1.
UFC on ESPN 1 – Sunday, Feb. 17
ESPN Main Card – 9:00 pm ET
- Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez
- James Vick vs. Paul Felder
- Cynthia Calvillo vs. Cortney Casey
- Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie
- Bryan Barberena vs. Vicente Luque
- Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury
ESPN+ Preliminary Card – 7:00 pm ET
- Jimmie Rivera vs. Aljamain Sterling
- Manny Bermudez vs. Benito Lopez
- Andrea Lee vs. Ashley Evans-Smith
- Scott Holtzman vs. Nik Lentz
ESPN+ Early Preliminary Card – 5:30 pm ET
- Jessica Penne vs. Jodie Esquibel
- Luke Sanders vs. Renan Barão
- Aleksandra Albu vs. Emily Whitmire
Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez
Let’s jump straight into analyzing the biggest and best fight of the entire weekend; and that’s saying something, considering there are more than ten different major mixed martial arts events taking place around the world.
Cain Velasquez, a former UFC heavyweight champion and one of the greatest to have ever competed in the division, will return to the cage for the first time in two-and-a-half years this weekend. Hopefully.
The former champ has been ridden with injuries for the longevity of his mixed martial arts career, but it looks like those days are finally behind him. Velasquez’s last outing was at milestone event UFC 200, where he featured in a clash with Travis Browne. Browne was a significant step down for Velasquez at the time, and sure enough, the giant made easy work of his opponent on one of the grandest stages in mixed martial arts history.
The victory was a much-needed one for Velasquez, who was surprisingly defeated by Fabricio Werdum almost 12 months earlier. It was Velasquez’s third attempt at defending the UFC Heavyweight Championship, and many expected him to crush Werdum in the same way he had finished Junior dos Santos (twice) and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the surrounding years.
But despite entering the fight as a significant betting underdog, Velasquez suffered from an experience that will likely be attached to him for the rest of his career. Competing at the Mexico City Arena at an altitude of 7,200 feet (2,195 meters), Velasquez – for one of the first times in his career – showed signs of fatigue and couldn’t hang with his Brazilian opponent. Werdum eventually stopped him in the third round.
This is the exact moment that ‘Sea Level Cain’ was born.
At sea level, Velasquez seemed unstoppable. However, the altitude at Mexico City Arena impacted his endurance and fighting ability.
Fortunately for Velasquez (and bettors), the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix is close enough to sea level to suggest there’ll be no noticeable impact.
At UFC on ESPN 1, Velasquez will be facing Francis Ngannou, a man who no more than 13 months ago was viewed as one of the most terrifying athletes on the entire roster. After almost taking Alistair Overeem’s head off from his shoulders, media members and fans were beginning to wonder if athletic commissions would even continue to sanction Ngannou – for he was both incredibly violent and powerful.
The UFC ran with their new, very marketable prospect and immediately threw him into a title fight against Stipe Miocic. At the time, he seemed more than ready for someone of Miocic’s capabilities. But after just a couple of minutes, the world knew that Ngannou had been exposed and that he wasn’t the world-beater we had come to know from the UFC’s costly marketing campaigns. Rather, he’s a raw fighter who has grappling and cardio limitations and this would ultimately be his downfall. After being taken down by the champion on multiple occasions, it was clear that Ngannou had no answer for the ground game of his adversary. He eventually lost a five-round unanimous decision.
But since then, Ngannou has bounced back in a big way – and it’s certainly worth noting that he returned to his thunderous days of old when he finished Curtis Blaydes in less than 90 seconds in his last bout.
Here’s how the bookmakers have this one:
Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez Odds
That’s one short line for a fighter who has been out of action for two-and-a-half years.
What are the bookmakers and punters expecting to see from the former champion? Some improvements? Any improvements? At his best, Velasquez is a very tough opponent for Ngannou, but if he’s not at his best – Ngannou could run away with it.
Most interesting in this main event battle is how the strengths of each fighter are almost directly effective against the weaknesses of the other.
For example, Velasquez’s intense pressure, excellent grappling, and clinch-work is enough to overwhelm almost anyone in the UFC heavyweight division. But put those attributes up against Ngannou’s lack of knowledge on the ground combined with poor endurance, and you’ve got a very clear pathway to victory.
And for Ngannou, who hits extremely hard with powerful, and relatively unique counter punches, these types of strikes will be extra useful against a forward-mover such as Velasquez. In many of his fights, you’ll see Velasquez storm forward into punching range with his hands down and no real awareness of defensive striking techniques. That’s not ideal against one of the heaviest hitters to have ever stepped foot inside the Octagon.
Ngannou isn’t the crispest, traditional boxer we’re going to see at heavyweight. He’s not lighting up an opponent with lightning-fast jabs and straights, but he’s most dangerous because he doesn’t do those things. Ngannou will sling wild uppercuts and hooks from impossible angles, and it might just take one (or two) of those big shots to land and send Velasquez to the floor.
Bet on Francis Ngannou to win: +145 at BetOnline
James Vick vs. Paul Felder
The UFC on ESPN 1 co-main event is a fascinating lightweight bout between two highly-skilled contenders, but even the most talented of fighters in the lightweight division can be often buried deep in the rankings, much like James Vick and Paul Felder have been.
The 155-pound category is a shark tank full of some of the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artists the organization has to offer. Khabib Nurmagomedov reigns at the top, while Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier are clawing for a shot at his title. Other notable fighters such as Conor McGregor, Kevin Lee, Al Iaquinta, and more, prove that it’s extremely difficult to ever shoot your name up into title contention as a lightweight.
But James Vick was very close.
Vick moved to 9-1 with the UFC early last year after a unanimous decision win against Francisco Trinaldo. It was Vick’s fourth consecutive victory, and he was moving through the rankings with ease. But then he ran into Justin Gaethje in what proved to be a pivotal moment in Vick’s career so far. It’s also a notable part of our breakdown, so we’ll touch on more of that fight very soon. Vick was knocked out in less than 90 seconds and now finds himself desperately needing a win to regain lost momentum.
He’ll be stepping into the cage with Paul Felder, a man who is on somewhat of a roll in the lightweight division lately. Felder’s won all three of his 155-pound fights in 2017, scoring big wins over Charles Oliveira, Stevie Ray, and Alex Ricci. In July last year, Felder was offered the opportunity to step into a fight with 170-pound fighter Mike Perry, and he took the chance. Although it didn’t end well for Felder – who came out with a split decision defeat – it hasn’t influenced the perception of him as a lightweight.
Felder and Vick were originally supposed to throw down in July last year, but Vick was moved to that fight with Gaethje and Felder was consequently handed that fight with Perry.
Here at UFC on ESPN 1, they’ll finally get their chance to stand toe-to-toe.
James Vick vs. Paul Felder Odds
Now, it’s time to come back to that vicious Justin Gaethje knockout of James Vick.
The knockout was one of the very best of 2018 and might have won the title of best knockout of the year if it wasn’t for Yair Rodriguez’s ridiculous spinning back elbow KO.
But if you look past the strike itself, you’ll see that Gaethje earned that knockout by pressuring Vick around the cage before eventually giving him no space to move. Vick tried escaping the dangerous range but was tracked by Gaethje. Without options, Vick was forced to stand inside boxing range with Gaethje and was crushed by an overhand right.
Fighting at that distance isn’t ideal for James Vick, who stands at 6-foot-3, an incredible height for the 155-pound division. He prefers to be fighting at long range, pumping his jab out and damaging his opponent with kicks. If he can gain the respect of his opponent, he’ll have success sticking and moving around the cage. It’s just too bad that no one earns the respect of Gaethje, and he is willing to eat hundreds of shots before eventually landing that knockout blow.
That pathway to victory is one that Felder would like to be able to follow but is also one that isn’t exactly accessible to him. Felder doesn’t have the same pressuring ability that someone like Gaethje does, and rather Felder excels at planting his feet and intercepting an incoming opponent. It’s here where Felder can land his devastating short-range strikes such as elbows and knees. If someone stands directly in front of Felder, he’s going to piece them up with these kinds of strikes.
Vick isn’t the man to do that, though, and we can only expect Felder to have a hard time finding his range against the much taller opponent. Felder is giving up 6-inches of reach and 4-inches of height to Vick, and we’re counting on this being a defining factor in the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 1.
Bet on James Vick to win: -110 at William Hill
Best Bets for UFC on ESPN 1
Here are our best bets for UFC on ESPN 1, happening this Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona.
- Francis Ngannou to win: +145 at BetOnline
- James Vick to win: -110 at William Hill