UFC Phoenix marks the promotion’s main card debut on ESPN highlighted by former champion Cain Velasquez returning to the Octagon against Francis Ngannou, and Cageside Press has their picks set.

Staff Writers
Fili vs. Jury
Barberena vs. Luque
Gracie vs. Caceres
Calvillo vs. Casey
Felder vs. Vick
Velasquez vs. Ngannou
Drake Riggs (19-2)
Jason Payne (19-2)
Tony Fagnano (13-2)
Jay Anderson (18-3)
Mike McClory (5-1)
Paarth Pande (17-4)
Heath Harshman (16-5)
Alex Scaffidi (16-5)
Josh Evanoff (16-5)
Bryson Hester (16-5)
Joe McDonagh (16-5)
Ben Smith (3-1)
Gabriel Gonzalez (15-6)
Mike Straus (15-6)
Jesse Gillette (14-7)
Steve King (14-7)
Shawn Bitter (14-7)
Eddie Law (13-8)
Dan Doherty (12-9)
Rodney James Edgar (1-3)

The UFC Phoenix main event is a battle of behemoths. Cain Velasquez was well on his way to becoming the greatest heavyweight of all time before injuries began piling up. He has an Octagon record of 12-2, but has not fought since July of 2016, when he blitzed through Travis Browne at UFC 200. That fight was just his second since 2013. Ngannou burst onto the scene in 2015 with five knockouts and a submission in his first six UFC fights. An incredible uppercut KO over Alistair Overeem earned him a title shot, but that was when the hype train lost its wheels. Ngannou was soundly defeated by Stipe Miocic, then lost in a snoozefest against Derrick Lewis. He returned to his ways in his last fight with a 45-second knockout against rising contender Curtis Blaydes. Cageside Press is feeling nostalgic, with 10 of 18 writers picking Velasquez.

The co-main event pits Paul Felder against James Vick in his lightweight return. Felder was on a three-fight knockout streak before filling in on short-notice at welterweight against Mike Perry, losing a split decision. James Vick is 9-2 in the UFC, but recently had a four-fight win streak snapped in a first-round knockout loss to Justin Gaethje. All but four writers picked Felder.

Cortney Casey takes on Cynthia Calvillo in an intriguing strawweight bout. Casey, who is 4-5 in the Octagon, will be looking for a more definitive end to a fight this time around, with her last three ending in a split decision. She won her last one against Angela Hill. Calvillo earned recognition quickly with a pair of submission wins on consecutive pay-per-view main cards to kick off her run with the promotion. A tough loss to Carla Esparza gave her the only defeat in her career, but she was able to bounce back with another submission against Poliana Botelho. 13 of 18 writers picked Calvillo.

Kron Gracie will be making his UFC debut against Alex Caceres on the main card. After winning gold at ADCC in 2013, Gracie committed to MMA. He’s competed four times, submitting all his opponents, including wins over longtime veterans Hideo Tokoro and Tatsuya Kawajiri. Caceres has been an Octagon mainstay since 2011, going 9-9 in the promotion (one win was overturned due to marijuana). He’s coming off a split decision win over Martin Bravo in July 2018. Like the last fight, 13 of 18 writers picked Gracie.

A finishing machine in Vicente Luque fights a man who has never been finished in the UFC in Bryan Barberena. Luque is 7-2 with seven finishes in the Octagon with a pair of knockouts and a submission in his last three fights. Barberena is 5-3 in the UFC, and hasn’t been stopped in a contest since 2010, his first professional loss. All but four writers picked Vicente Luque.

Opening up the UFC Phoenix main card is a matchup of lanky featherweights in Andre Fili and Myles Jury. Last year, for the first time in his Octagon career, Fili won consecutive fights. Unfortunately, the second win was a heavily disputed split decision that many thought his opponent won. Overall, he is 6-5 in the UFC. Jury was one of the hottest prospects at lightweight, winning in his first six fights in the promotion. A loss to Donald Cerrone prompted a move to featherweight, where he is 2-2 and looking to bounce back from a loss against Chad Mendes. Cageside Press is split on this fight at nine picks apiece.