February 18, 2019

UFC on ESPN 1: Storylines Emerging From UFC Phoenix

By Adam Martin

The UFC made its debut on big ESPN on Sunday night in Phoenix, Arizona, and overall the event was a "decent" offering according to Dana White. It certainly wasn't the most entertaining card of the year, as many of the bouts ended in decisions, but it was still a pretty solid card that featured some important storylines going forward, which are highlighted below:

Ngannou Could Get Next Title Shot Against Cormier

In the main event, Francis Ngannou needed just 26 seconds to brutally finish Cain Velasquez. The finish was strange, as it appeared Velasquez injured his knee, but replays showed Ngannou landed some heavy short punches that staggered him. Regardless, Ngannou has now won back-to-back fights over Curtis Blaydes and Velasquez by knockout, and he could be next in line to fight UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier.

Should Velasquez Retire?

On the flipside, you have to wonder whether it's time for Velasquez to hang his gloves up. This was his first fight since 2016, and it lasted less than a minute with him getting injured and knocked out. Considering how many injuries he's dealt with during his career, along with the fact he's 36 now, Velasquez should consider retiring while he still has his wits about him.

Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez: Francis Ngannou def. Cain Velasquez via KO (punches) at 0:26 of Round 1.

Gracie Shines in Octagon Debut

Kron Gracie became the first Gracie lineage fighter to win a bout in the Octagon since 1994 with an impressive first-round rear-naked choke over Alex Caceres. Gracie is now a perfect 5-0 in MMA, with all of his wins coming by submission. He has a lot of charisma too, and could make a run for the featherweight division's top 15 sooner rater than later.

Luque and Barberena Fight To The Death In "Fight Of The Year" Candidate

Welterweights Vicente Luque and Bryan Barberena went to war for nearly three full rounds before Luque got the knockout with just six seconds left in the third. These two landed hundreds of significant strikes on each other and both should be commended for their toughness. For Luque, it's his fourth straight win by stoppage and he should get a ranked opponent in his next fight, while for Barberena it was a fight where his stock went up in defeat.

Bryan Barberena vs. Vicente Luque: Vicente Luque def. Bryan Barberena via TKO (strikes) at 4:54 of Round 3.

Sterling Beats Rivera In Bantamweight Contender Fight

Aljamain Sterling showed off an evolution to his game as he defeated Jimmie Rivera via unanimous decision. Most figured Rivera would be the better striker of the two, but it was actually Sterling who won the striking exchanges, and he was the more effective grappler as well. With three straight wins, Sterling has set himself up for a top-five opponent in his next fight.

Lee Increases Win Streak

UFC women's flyweight contender Andrea Lee upped her winning streak to six fights with a unanimous decision win over Ashlee Evans-Smith. Lee appears to be one of the best prospects at 125 lbs right now, and she exhibited an excellent boxing attack in this fight, along with solid takedown defense. Lee could be challenging for Valentina Shevchenko's title sooner than later.

Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Andrea Lee: Andrea Lee def. Ashlee Evans-Smith via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

Sanders Knocks Out Barao

Bantamweight prospect Luke Sanders saved his UFC career -- and perhaps ended Renan Barao's at the same time -- as he brutally knocked the former UFC Bantamweight Champion out with punches in the second round. Sanders badly needed to get back in the win column, and he did just that, while Barao dropped his seventh loss in his last nine fights. At this point you'd have to imagine Barao has seen his last days in the Octagon.

Even on cards like this where it feels like not much happened, looking back there was actually quite a bit of significance to some of the fights, and the results of them will change the careers of both the fighters involved and their divisions going forward.

UFC on ESPN 1: Ngannou vs. Velasquez took place February 17, 2019 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN 1 Post-Fight Analysis

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