Saturday June 29th 2019 at the Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Main Card: from 9pm ET on ESPN
Prelims: from 6pm ET on ESPN
This week the UFC holds its third ESPN televised main card which boasts a heavyweight headliner to get any fight fan to stay in on a Saturday! It’s an odd event as without the main event it might look a little bare considering that the UFC typically goes all-out to impress when they get their chance to showcase to the wider audience. Nonetheless, there’s a few diamonds in the rough and a couple we’re going to be laying our money on! Let’s get into this week’s fight picks for UFC on ESPN 3: N’Gannou vs. dos Santos.
Main Card Bout – Welterweight (170lbs): Damian Maia (26-9-0) vs. Anthony “Rocco” Martin (16-4-0)
Maia has been a long-time UFC servant and his BJJ skills will be remembered for years after his retirement from the game. There is no question there… although there is one question, and that is “for how much longer?”. I’m one of his biggest supporters and although he still looks good, he’s just not going to be getting better now that he’s eclipsed 41 years of age… yes, 41… there’s not many 40 year olds that go into UFC bouts as favorites, especially ones that sit as high as -192.
Anthony “I refuse to call him Rocco” Martin (seriously, look it up, it’s stupid) will be my pick for this welterweight fight. He’s on a four fight tear, with his last opponent Serio Moraes bearing a similar skill to that of Damian’s. Moraes is also a fighter that wants to take his opponent down and go for the submission. ‘Tony did a decent job of keeping the fight standing and when taken to the mat, he faired well, winning a unanimous decision.
His takedown defense has looked much improved (although still housing holes) and his stand-up is crisp and shall be a couple of classes above that of Maia’s. The Brazilian BJJ specialist will always hold the advantage on the ground, but the plus number is just too big here on the younger and more athletic striker. We’re going to take Martin here on the moneyline as he could win this over the distance or with a potential finish over the durable, yet ageing Maia.
1.5u – Anthony Martin @ +150
Main Event – Heavyweight (265lbs): #2 Francis “The Predator” N’Gannou (13-3-0) vs. #3 Junior “Cigano” dos Santos (21-5-0)
In this card’s much needed main event, we have the most feared man in mixed martial arts in Francis N’Gannou and the surging former champ ‘JDS’. This card promises hard hitting action and a likely fast finish.
Dos Santos has been on a good run as of late having won 3-straight after his stoppage loss to former champ Stipe Miocic. In his recent victories; he beat Blagoy Ivanov after going the five round distance, young HW Tai Tuivasa in a come-from-behind TKO win, and a TKO stoppage win over the apparently injured (pre-fight) Derrick Lewis. Junior has highlighted different skills in each of these three fights. His movement against Ivanov was slick and illusive, allowing him to outpoint the Bulgarian. His victory over Tuivasa was impressive despite getting caught, as he then had to toughed it out and out-vet the youthful Aussie. His last win against Derrick Lewis (the most recent HW title contender) proved his awareness and ‘situational feel’ in the cage was as good as ever, following Lewis’ attempts to ‘play possum’ and lure JDS into a Hail Mary swing after feigning injury.
N’Gannou has been on a run off his own since his back-to-back defeats to Miocic and Lewis. He blasted his way through the durable and wrestle-heavy Curtis Blaydes, and then he ‘slicked’ Cain Velazquez. The French-Cameroonian has looked like an absolute killer following his questionable performance versus Lewis, but now he looks ready to ramp-up and get back to a world title shot.
We’re going to be picking N’Gannou here to get the victory. His keys to the win are clear, keep the fight standing and land on his opponent. Dos Santos may have good movement and clean boxing, but he’s always been vulnerable to getting clipped by his opponents, but now he looks increasingly susceptible to damage involved in his style. I think it’s unlikely that Junior will seek to grapple with N’Gannou, even if that could be one of his potential keys to victory. I can’t look past N’Gannou getting the early finish, so we’re going to take him to get it done in round one.
1.5u – Francis N’Gannou To Win In Round 1 @ +125