The UFC returned to Arizona and Francis Ngannou spoiled the return of former Arizona State Sun Devil Cain Velasquez with a first-round knockout 26 seconds into the fight.
In the first event live on ESPN, 14,269 saw a card that lived up to high expectations with six fights going the distance; three by knockout and three by submission.
Ngannou came out quickly and took the center of the octagon, with Velasquez moving laterally and opening up with a few surprising head kicks. Ngannou evaded three shots with little issue as he waited for an opening and his turn to strike.
His chance came when Velasquez tried to shoot, and an uppercut inside landed clean shortly after, and as Velasquez was toppled to the floor in wild fashion, legs split wide as his knee seemed to buckle.
Ngannou quickly jumped on Velasquez and connected with three hammer fists that brought an end to the fight in rapid fashion less than 30 seconds after it began.
“I promised you guys: I’m back,” Ngannou said. “You’re going to see me around again. I told you yesterday I have some surprises for you. I hope you like it. The knee buckled on (Velasquez) after I connected with the shot and you can see it on the video and I knew I hurt him because of the way he fell after the first punch connected.”
Velasquez, who had not fought since he scored a knockout of Travis Browne in July 2016, was looking to return to prominence after nearly three years out of the ring. During the time off, Velasquez has overcome numerous injuries, as well as experienced the birth of his second child.
“Man, I thought I was super ready for this fight, even coming in here, super calm and relaxed, ready to go,” Velasquez said. “This is why this sport is so great; you never know what’s going to happen.”
Velasquez, who recently signed a four-fight contract to return to the UFC, was focused on returning to title contention.
“The time was just right and I was feeling strong leading up to this fight,” Velasquez said. “This was my first time fighting in Arizona since college and I had the support of my family and friends and I was excited to put on a performance.”
Even with the defeat, Velasquez is focused on continuing to return to the top of the rankings.
“I want to continue fighting until it is not fun anymore,” Velasquez said. “As long as I am having fun, I will keep going out there and perform for the fans and keep putting food on my table for my family.”
Ngannou was quick to praise Velasquez after the fight and call out heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, a teammate of Velasquez.
“He just thanked me again and asked if he could help me with my foundation,” Ngannou said. “I think (Cormier) should come to avenge his teammate, and that would be a good matchup. “
As impressive a performance as the victory over Velasquez was, Ngannou said he wouldn’t rest on his laurels. After burning his way through the heavyweight division only to be humbled, he’s determined not to get to the top of the class once again.
“It was a great win that I’ve been waiting for two years, because I mentioned him after I fought (Andrei) Arlovski,” he said. “But I have to move forward. It’s not a title. I want the title.”
In other matchups on the card, Cynthia Calvillo (7-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) scored a 29-28, 29-28, 30-27 unanimous decision over The MMA Lab’s Cortney Casey (8-6 MMA, 4-5 UFC).
Casey, the No. 11 ranked strawweight, struggled against No. 12 ranked Calvillo as the two attempted to get an offense going. Casey unleashed a few big right hands, but Calvillo was able to slip the blows and fire back with quick combinations of her own. Casey was generally the aggressor with her hands, but Calvillo was more effective with her counters in the early exchanges.
Casey came out quickly in the second, but Calvillo was ready for the advances and continued to chop at her opponent’s lead leg. Casey tried to be more aggressive on her feet, but she struggled to find her target. Calvillo moved well on the outside and countered every punch thrown her way. Still, both women were unable to land much of an attack and the crowd grew a bit restless, starting a lengthy wave while booing the bout.
Casey again looked to pressure to start the third, but she struggled to get anything going on the feet. As round three finally got rolling late, the two women found themselves in a similar routine as Calvillo took a few more chances with her punches to no avail.
Bryan Barberena, who also trains at The MMA Lab, battled in the potential fight of the year against Vicente Luque, before falling in the final six seconds of the match via technical knockout.
Barberena opened the fight connecting with a number of right hands early while Luque continued to attack and connect with jabs of his own. Barberena continued to attack and Luque also attacked as the two threw a number of shots throughout the first two rounds.
After a quick embrace to start the third round, the two again connected with lefts and rights and Barberena’s power started to control the pace, but he continued to attack and keep Luque at a distance while Luque’s face was bloodied, red and swelling from the attack.
Luque held the center and appeared to attack more, but Barberena’s continued volume was near constant and he was leading late.
With 35 seconds left, Barberena continued to attack, but Luque returned fire with a few big uppercuts that landed clean. He then connected with two knees that landed in tight, and Barberena finally buckled. As he crashed to the floor, Luque unleashed a flurry of punches just before the bell, and referee Jason Herzog waved off the contest with just six seconds left in the fight.
“I felt the fight was very close, I wasn’t sure I was taking it in the third round, I didn’t want to leave it to the judges,” Luque said. “(Barberena) was a tough guy, I tried the rear naked choke and he got out so I knew I had to knock him out, so I got those knees in and got it done. “
Luque, after the big win, was quick to point out his next opponent.
“I have my eyes on Neil Magny right now. He’s a tough guy and a ranked guy, so I would love to fight him. I have no doubt I deserve a ranked guy. I have eight wins now in the UFC, all by knockout or submission. Usually, I win at the beginning of the fight but now I showed I can go three rounds, so I’m ready for anyone,” Luque said.
Alex Caseres, who also trains at The MMA Lab, lost via rear-naked choke 2:06 in the first round of his featherweight matchup against Kron Gracie, making his UFC debut.
Caseres started quickly, trying to attack Gracie, but he couldn’t get inside to connect with any shots. After moving around the ring, Gracie continued to advance and eventually wrapped up Caseres around the body and slipped to the back and brought him to the mat.
With a figure-four in tight around the body, Gracie went to work on the choke, getting the left arm under the neck and starting to squeeze. Caceres did his best to peel his hand out, but Gracie continued to adjust the grip and cinch in the squeeze, forcing his opponent to tap at the 2:06 mark of the first round.
UFC on ESPN 1 Results:
Francis Ngannou def. Cain Velasquez via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:26
Paul Felder def. James Vick via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Cynthia Calvillo def. Courtney Casey via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Kron Gracie def. Alex Caceres via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 1, 2:06
Vicente Luque def. Bryan Barberena via TKO (punches), Round 3, 4:54
Andre Fili def. Myles Jury via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Aljamain Sterling def. Jimmie Rivera via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Manny Bermudez def. Benito Lopez via submission (D’Arce choke), Round 1, 3:09
Andrea Lee def. Aslee Evans-Smith via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Nik Lentz def. Scott Holtzman via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Luke Sanders def. Renan Barao via TKO (punches), Round 2, 1:01
Emily Whitmire def. Aleksandra Albu via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 1, 1:01