Sunday Morning Cornerman: UFC on ESPN 1 — Ngannou vs Velasquez

Cain Velasquez UFC
Cain Velasquez Credit: Dave Mandel/

Thanks to the UFC putting on a Sunday show, it’s Monday Tuesday Morning Cornerman this week, where we break down the UFC’s debut on ESPN proper.

The UFC was back in the Valley of the Sun on Sunday night. There, former UFC champion Cain Velasquez took on #3 ranked Francis Ngannou. It was not a great night for Arizona, as Arizona fighters went 0-4, but it was still a great night of fights overall. 14,269 fans attended for a gate of $1,409,447 according to

The bonuses went to Bryan Barbarena and Vicente Luque for fight of the night. Luke Sanders and Kron Gracie also received perfomance bonuses, as well.  All four fighters were paid an additional $50,000.

Now lets look at the card a little closer.

#3 Francis Ngannou def. Cain Velasquez by KO via strikes (0:26, R1)
This was supposed to be the fight that put Cain Velasquez back at the top of the Heavyweight rankings, re-connected him with the Hispanic fan base and launched what would be an amazing third act, post-teammate Daniel Cormier’s retirement. And then freight train Francis Ngannou hit Velasquez with a short upper cut that changed everything. Velasquez left with a damaged knee and an uncertain future, and Ngannou left eyeing his teammate’s belt.
Technique Talk:
You can’t talk technique when a knee buckles, so for now let’s discuss this finish as a byproduct of the uppercut. I agree with Chael Sonnen’s assessment that you don’t start a fist fight throwing kicks. The plan should have been punches and low kicks into some wrestling BUT if we are to believe that short uppercut was the culprit, how do you defend yourself from that?  You could do all the right things and that punch could still find you. Cain said in the post fight himself that he was too close. So maybe you could make an argument that the kicking kept him at distance but why the high kicks?
What’s next:
If you are Ngannou, you have to disrespect Cain’s performance, if only to draw out DC. Dana said in a post fight interview that there is a plan for DC and it doesn’t involve Ngannou. This means if your Francis, you have to get the fans excited about a fight with DC before an announcement is made. For Cain, it should probably be the rocking chair.


Paul Felder def. #10 James Vick by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Technique Talk:
Felder spent most of the first round at the end of Vicks punches and at distance. But he did find a home for some of his spinning techniques. Vick controlled the upper body but Felder was chopping him down. Felder’s leg work affected Vick’s ability to deliver combinations. Felder did get a little obsessed at times with the leg kicks but his obsession paid off as he limited Vick’s movement en route to the decision victory.
What’s next:
Let’s start with Vick. He’s not universally liked, for a number of reasons, but this guy needs a win. He can’t stick around on his popularity. He has been humbled lately, so I say put him in there with another guy who got humbled, Alexander Hernandez, someone has to get more popular after this one, right?  For Felder, he called out the winner of Gaethje and Barboza, I like that fight, so lets go with it. Plus it gives Felder time to heal up.


Kron Gracie def. Alex Caceres by submission via rear naked choke (2:06, R1)
It was a Gracie that started the UFC and it was a Gracie who was back in the Octagon again on Sunday night. No fighter had more pressure on them on Sunday. The pressure comes from not only the last name but the first name….of his father. Rickson Gracie is like folklore in MMA. A Bo Jackson type whose exploits are so amazing, it’s almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. However, pressure be damned, Gracie found Caceres’ back and it was all she wrote, he ended the fight quickly and set himself up for the next one.
Technique Talk:
Caceres missed on one strike and that was all Kron Gracie needed. He closed the distance, found a trip, took Caceres’ back and strangled “Bruce Leeroy” until he tapped.
What’s next:
For Caceres, back to the drawing board, and the jiu-jitsu mat. People like him, so he’ll get another one, hopefully against a stand up guy so we can have some fun. For Gracie, I’m hearing people say Ryan Hall and honestly why mess around having these guys fight inferior grapplers. Let’s just get them in there and see what’s what.


Vicente Luque def. Bryan Barberena by TKO via strikes (4:54, R3)
No one coming into this fight thought they were looking at a FOTY candidate but that’ s exactly what we got. Luque and Barberena went to war and the fight seemed destined to go to the cards after neither man looked to be wilting. But Luque found a knee and closed the show at the very end of the third round.
Technique Talk:
Not ALOT to be said here because they were just gunning for most of the fight. But I will say that Luque found the knee that ultimately led to the finish earlier in the fight so it was a good read by him to go back to it.
What’s next:
An ice tub. For both guys. There will be fights for them moving forward but for now let’s just enjoy this one.


#5 Jimmie Rivera vs. #7 Aljamain Sterling
The champion at 135 lbs wants to be a flyweight so that leaves a lot of fighters trying to figure out what the future holds. Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera got together to secure an outside shot at a fight for the belt at 135 lbs and Sterling staked his claim. 
Technique Talk:
So Sterling’s gameplan was really impressive, he wasn’t there to be hit until after he had worn Rivera down with wrestling and kicks. He was in constant control of the distance. In close when he wanted to be, connecting from distance with the kicks. Sterling has the tools but I don’t think we got the best Rivera so we don’t really know what we have in Sterling.
What’s next:
Sterling wants Marlon Moraes. That’s not going to happen. Well, heres the only way it happens. If Moraes reads the writing on the wall that Cejudo v. Dillashaw might get run back at 135, then I would pitch to Dana and the public, a 4 man tournament between Cejudo and TJ on one side, Moraes and Sterling on the other.  That’s the play and Moraes has Ali Abdel Aziz in his corner who also manages Cejudo. So let’s roll. For Jimmie Rivera, screw it, let’s do him and Ricky Simon and watch those boys cook.

Trending Up:

Cynthia Calvillo-I wont call Cortney Casey a gatekeeper, she is some yet to be determined term that represents a test to see if you can REALLY fight. You can’t get past  Casey on talent alone, you have to work and you have to show some heart. Calvillo did both of those things and she leaves Phoenix a changed and much improved fighter.

Emily Whitmire-Here’s how you turn your career around after two high profile losses on TUF 26. You do well on big stages. Whitmire went the distance with Jamie Moyle and blew Aleksandra Albu out of the water. The former was on the prelims of Cormier-Miocic and the latter on the first ever UFC on Big ESPN card. Tapology has her ranked 34th globally. Ashely Yoder is 32nd. I’d call her name because she has a lot of big name opponents and with a win, Whitmire could call out bigger names potentially.

Trending Down:

Myles Jury-This kid was the second coming of Rory MacDonald when he burst on the scene and it just never happened for him.  This puts him out of the top 15 and if the next one isn’t impressive, he may be on the next train to Cokerville.

Jimmie Rivera-Mad props to Sterling but Rivera has been telling us he’s the uncrowned champion for some time now. Well Moraes got him, he bounced back against Dodson and now Sterling outworked him. It’s peace to the top 5 for now, but he’s young, we may see him up near the top again.

Not for Nothing:

But Andrea Lee may be on her way to being a star, great skills and she has a nice little gimmick.

But first round KO’s of a potentially overrated Curtis Blaydes and a washed Cain Velasquez don’t make me forget about the Derrick Lewis no-show.

But the Serra-Longo team may come to the cage with the best game plans in all of MMA.

But Renan Barao’s fall and The Golden Snitch’s rise, may have alot to do with each other.

But Anik will never be Goldie.

Shocker of the Night:

Luke Sanders-It’s hard to tell how much of what Renan Barao is now, is simply relative to what he was. We may have mis-assessed his division back in the day.   But be that as it may, Sanders knocking dead, someone we used to think was one of the P4P best in the world, has his star rising.

From the notebook:

I have seen thoughts both ways but I like Trevor Wittman’s contribution to the broadcast. If I’m correct it’s only for ESPN broadcasts because audience likes that type of insight. (Coaches perspective)

Dominick Cruz’ approval rating has to be up in the 90s. Everyone seems to like this guy cageside. My favorite though, is him calling Jon Anik, “Anik”. Hilarious.

I hope Rashads Evan’s haircut isn’t the beginning stages of long dreads.  You are close fade with a chin strap beard, my guy, that’s your look.

Chael and Ariel on the Sportscenter set is a nice touch. I like them at the arena but it’s too many desks. Either make them the permananent pre and post fight hosts or send their asses to Bristol on fight night.

Talk that shit:

“Everybody had better watch their f*cking neck” Kron Gracie, in cage post fight interview

“Come avenge your teammate” Francis Ngannou “talking” to Daniel Cormier

“No” Dana White when asked by Megan Olivi if we would be seeing Nate Diaz in the Octagon soon.

“I got two lungs, can I get a beer for sh*ts sake.” Paul Felder, on Twitter, in the hospital for a ruptured lung.

“I channeled my David Goggins, you gotta embrace the hell and live in it and push through it” Cynthia Calvillo on how she handle being injured mid fight.

“I thought I was Hot Sugar Honey Iced Tea, I can’t curse.”  Aljamain Sterling discussing why he lost to Marlon Moraes in their first fight.

Well that does it for this card.  Be sure and listen to the audio version of The Sunday Morning Cornerman and all the podcasts at the Cageside Press Podcast Network.