The first main card to air on ESPN gave fight fans plenty to chew on walking away from Sunday night. With a fight card littered with narratives – debuts, comebacks, turning points – Fight Night Phoenix delivered the goods.
From Emily Whitmire’s record-breaking submission to open the show to the card’s stunning conclusion in the main event, there’s plenty to talk about from this group of fights.
Here’s some of the more notable notes from Fight Night Phoenix.
Not The Return Velasquez Was Looking For
Cain Velasquez’s return to the Octagon after nearly three years away was a big talking point heading into the main event. With the heavyweight division as it is now, Velasquez could have conceivably catapulted himself back into title contention with a win over Francis Ngannou.
Less than 30 seconds into the fight, though, Ngannou connected with a short uppercut and Velasquez “hear a pop” in his left knee. Moments later, the fight was over.
The former heavyweight champ wasn’t sure if this was the last time he’d fight, but Velasquez said several times that the “fire in him” is still strong and would like to continue to fight.
Whether or not he does, he could potentially return to a heavyweight division ruled by Ngannou. After suffering losses to Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis, Ngannou now has first round finishes over Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez. Few fighters possess his physical stature as well as his raw powe, so he has more than a puncher’s chance in any bout. All that is up in the air is who that next bout will be, and if a title belt will be on the line.
Return of the Dragon:
Another return took place in the co-main event as Paul Felder secured his first win in more than a year with his unanimous decision victory over James Vick. Utilizing a steady stream of leg kicks to chop Vick down, Felder displayed the striking prowess and overall toughness that made him a rising star in the lightweight division back in 2017. It wasn’t an elbow TKO, but it was a solid victory for “The Irish Dragon,” who said he is keeping a close eye on the winner between Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje when those two fight in Philadelphia next month.
Around the card:
The buzz around Phoenix’s card had as much to do with the main event as it did about the debut of Kron Gracie. The name obviously holds legendary weight in mixed martial arts, but it’d been quite a while since a Gracie won in the UFC. That streak ended when Gracie sunk a rear naked choke in on Alex Caraces in the first round. It was exactly the expected performance from “Ice Cream” Kron, and he made it clear he’s coming for the top-10 in the featherweight division.
While Gracie believes his first UFC win should earn a top-10 matchup, Vicente Luque has chipped his way up the welterweight ranks. In the Fight of the Night, Luque got a last-gasp TKO on Bryan Barberena, Luque’s fourth consecutive win. The New Jersey-born Brazillian has made a habit of finishing fights, and even after it seemed like Barberena’s iron chin was going to take the fight to the judges, Luque was still able to end the fight early. Now, the biggest under-the-radar fighter in the welterweight division might be primed for a top-15 matchup.
Although Aljamain Sterling is well-established, his performance against Jimmie Rivera proved he’s a true force that continues to improve. Without needing a true takedown, Sterling dominated Rivera, out-grappling and out-striking his opponent. The bantamweight division is pretty crowded at the top, but Sterling certainly belongs in the title contender conversation.