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Francis Ngannou was a mountain too steep for Cain Velasquez.
Ngannou on Sunday buried the two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder with an avalanche of power punches in the first round of their UFC on ESPN 1 headliner at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. In his first appearance inside the Octagon since July 2016, Velasquez bowed out just 26 seconds into Round 1.
Perhaps overtaken by the moment, Velasquez closed the distance almost immediately and wandered into the Frenchman’s wheelhouse. Ngannou let his hands fly, and while he did not appear to land anything cleanly, his flurry did the trick. Velasquez’s knee gave way under his weight, as he collapsed to the canvas, winced in pain and turtled in the face of an oncoming barrage. Ngannou showed no mercy, as he pummeled him with punches and hammerfists until referee Jason Herzog had seen enough.
In the aftermath of UFC on ESPN 1, here are five matches that ought to be made:
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Francis Ngannou vs. Junior dos Santos: Has Ngannou done enough to warrant another crack at the heavyweight crown? Probably not. However, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound “Predator” remains a factor in a division short on legitimate contenders. Since his atrocious showing against Derrick Lewis in July, Ngannou has posted back-to-back technical knockout victories against Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes, re-establishing himself as a must-see attraction among heavyweights. The total time of those two fights: 71 seconds. The resurgent dos Santos will carry a modest two-fight winning streak into his showdown with the aforementioned Lewis at UFC Fight Night 146 on March 9. Should the former champion emerge victorious, he would make for an obvious dance partner for Ngannou.
Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta: Felder thrived in the co-main event spotlight, as he walked away from a three-round scrap against James Vick with a unanimous decision. All three judges sided with “The Irish Dragon,” casting 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 scores in his favor. Felder successfully navigated the height and reach disadvantages with which he was presented, targeting the lower leg of his 6-foot-3 adversary with a series of ruthless kicks. The former Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder weathered a number of sharp right hands from Vick and stayed true to his approach, all while responding with a variety of spinning strikes, including elbows, body kicks and backfists. Iaquinta has won five of his past six bouts and last competed at UFC on Fox 31 in December, when he took a unanimous verdict from Kevin Lee.
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Livinha Souza: Calvillo recorded her second straight victory and improved to 8-1 with a unanimous decision over Cortney Casey in a three-round women’s strawweight feature. Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27. Calvillo, 31, was the aggressor for much of the 15-minute confrontation, cutting loose with multi-punch combinations while sneaking in the occasional kick. Casey held her own, flexed some stellar takedown defense and pestered the Team Alpha Male representative with calf kicks but too often failed to show initiative in the standup exchanges. Souza ran her current winning streak to five fights at UFC Fight Night 144, where the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder eked out a split decision over Sarah Frota on Feb. 2.
Vicente Luque vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos-Curtis Millender winner: In a remarkable battle that saw nearly 300 combined significant strikes land, Luque was the last man standing. The 27-year-old Brazilian withstood a furious onslaught from Bryan Barberena and put away the MMA Lab export with a pair of knee strikes and follow-up punches in the third round of their welterweight showcase. Barberena succumbed to blows 4:54 into Round 3. The two welterweights threw caution to the wind for 14-plus breathtaking minutes, bringing the crowd to a boil in an early contender for “Fight of the Year.” Dos Santos will entertain Millender at UFC Fight Night 146 on March 9 in Wichita, Kansas.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Cody Garbrandt-Pedro Munhoz winner: Sterling continued to distance himself from a December 2017 knockout loss to former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes, as he laid claim to a surprisingly lopsided unanimous decision over Jimmie Rivera in the featured prelim. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27. Sterling paired a hyperactive kicking game with a suffocating clinch and short circuited “El Terror” across three rounds. The 29-year-old Serra-Longo Fight Team rep appears to have hit his stride at 135 pounds and will carry a three-fight winning streak into his next appearance. Garbrandt and Munhoz will lock horns at UFC 235 on March 2.