Preview: UFC on ESPN 1

The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its long-awaited ESPN debut this Sunday.

The main card begins at 9PM ET, while the preliminary bouts will be aired at 7PM ET. Additionally, ESPN+ will exclusively cover three bouts beginning at 5:30PM ET. Full fight card at the bottom.

ESPN+ Preliminary Card:

Renan Barao v. Luke Sanders

Most noteworthy of the ESPN+ matches is perhaps Renan Barao v. Luke Sanders. After making a name for himself in the WEC, Barao was the former UFC Bantamweight Champion, having been awarded the belt after Dominick Cruz pulled out from an expected title fight due to injury. Barao defended the belt against Urijah Faber at UFC 169, but T.J. Dillashaw ultimately defeated him at UFC 173. Having lost his past three fights after struggling to make weight, Barao will certainly be hoping to make a statement against Luke Sanders. With a history of exciting fights, including finishes by arm-triangle chokes, RNC, and armbars, Barao is surely looking at Sanders’s losses via heel hook, knee bar, and RNC as a promise that this match will go to the ground and end on Barao’s terms.

ESPN Preliminary Card:

Jimmie Rivera v. Aljamain Sterling

The preliminary bouts include Jimmie Rivera v. Aljamain Sterling at 135lbs. Rivera ended his twenty win streak last June against Marlon Moraes, but came back with a win over John Dodson. Sterling has also fallen prey to Marlon Moraes, losing by a devastating knee, but has also gotten back on track with two wins. Sterling has won seven times via submission, six of which were chokes, while the other one was declared one of 2018’s Submissions of the Year (a Suloev stretch kneebar win over Cody Stamann). Rivera might have an edge on the feet, but Sterling brings a higher level of wrestling and a reach advantage.

Manny Bermudez v. Benito Lopez

This match will feature another submission artist in Manny Bermudez. He has won ten of his thirteen fights via submission, earning his nickname “The Bermudez Triangle”. While Benito Lopez will have a reach advantage, he may also have a bit of ring rust, having not fought since December 2017.  

Nik Lentz v. Scott Holtzma

The most experienced fighter on the preliminary card, Nik Lentz comes fresh from a knockout win over Gray Maynard. 11 of his 29 wins have come via submission, it would be reasonable to expect Lentz to be hunting for his favored guillotine. His fight with Scott Holtzman could go either way, as Holtzman continues to improve his wrestling fight after fight.

ESPN Main Card:

Kron Gracie v. Alex Caceres

Perhaps the most anticipated main card bout besides the main event, Kron Gracie will face Alex Caceres in his UFC debut. “Bruce Leeroy” is a nineteen-fight veteran of the UFC, having made his debut on The Ultimate Fighter and becoming an instant fan favorite. Gracie, however, has had just four professional fights. As Rorion Gracie’s nephew and the youngest son of Rickson Gracie, Kron has had access to top-level training his whole life. He currently trains with the Diaz brothers, which may prove a disadvantage as Caceres is known for his unorthodox movement – exactly what fighters need to stay out of the Diaz brothers’ range. To secure the win, Kron Gracie will have to score a takedown and do what he does best. However, many question whether this is another attempt by the Gracie family to prove BJJ’s dominance in MMA, or if Kron is truly looking to be the next UFC champion. Time will tell – will we see a better striking game and heavy emphasis on dirty boxing, or will we see a guard pull and submission? Or will Caceres’s experience prove too much for the relatively inexperienced fighter?

James Vick v. Paul Felder

The 155 pounders will square up, with both looking to make an impact and start rising to the top of their division. Both are coming off of losses, and will hopefully make for an interesting fight. Felder’s last three wins have come by knockout or TKO, so he may have the slight advantage on the feet, but Vick has longer limbs and may be able to secure a guillotine, d’arce choke, or triangle. If he decides to take it to the ground, he may have an advantage, but his history indicates he may try to keep it standing to prove a point after being knocked out.

Cain Velasquez v. Francis Ngannou

Valasquez returns after an over two-year layoff to headline yet another UFC first (having been the main event on the UFC’s Fox network debut). Francis Ngannou is more than ready for this fight, having proven his power against top competition. Despite his size, Velasquez has shown incredible conditioning, and if he can shake the ring rust, may have a chance to climb back to the top. At 36 years old, many question if the UFC veteran has it in him to claw his way back to the top. Ngannou has proven time and time again that he belongs in the upper levels of the heavyweight division, coming off of a TKO victory over Curtis Blaydes.

Full Fight Card:

Main Card (9PM ET):

Cain Velasquez v. Francis Ngannou

Paul Felder v. James Vick

Cynthia Calvillo v. Cortney Casey

Alex Caceres v. Kron Gracie

Bryan Barberena v. Vicente Luque

Andre Fili v. Myles Jury

Preliminary Card (7PM ET):

Jimmie Rivera v. Aljamain Sterling

Manny Bermudez v. Benito Lopez

Ashlee Evans-Smith v. Andrea Lee

Scott Holtzman v. Nik Lentz

Preliminary Card (ESPN + at 5:30PM ET):

Jodie Esquibel v. Jessica Penne

Renan Barao v. Luke Sanders

Alexandra Albu v. Emily Whitmire

Rachel Dows

Rachel is a 20-something year old writer and martial arts enthusiast. She works at a desk job all day to afford to be able to spend the majority of her free time at the gym, where she is a blue belt in BJJ. She also sometimes goes outside to run, hike, and enjoy living in small town USA.