UFC on ESPN 1 predictions -- Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou: Expert picks, odds, fight card

Cain Velasquez is making a habit of fighting in big debut spots. The former heavyweight champion put his belt on the line eight years ago during the UFC on Fox debut, but suffered a shocking 64-second knockout against Junior dos Santos. Now, he will usher in the UFC on ESPN era against another incredibly formidable striker in Francis Ngannou. 

Both fighters come in looking to move closer to a heavyweight title shot, but the picture is a lot less clear for Velasquez as his friend and training partner, Daniel Cormier, currently holds the strap. The two have discussed what the future might hold, including Cormier's possible return to light heavyweight and a trilogy bout with Jon Jones, but Velasquez isn't worrying about that just yet.

"For me, I'm busy in what I'm doing and for Daniel, it's just whatever he wants to do," Velasquez said this week. "If he wants to retire soon then I believe that and do that. But if he doesn't, I understand him as a competitor. He's a truly competitive guy and he's a gamer when the time comes."

Ngannou, meanwhile, bounced back in a big way with a quick stoppage over Curtis Blaydes after many wrote him off following a forgettable showing against Derrick Lewis last July.

Plus, James Vick and Paul Felder square off in a critical lightweight bout, Cynthia Calvillo makes her return in the women's strawweight division and Kron Gracie makes his UFC debut against Alex "Bruce Leeroy" Caceres.  Here's a look at the complete fight card for Sunday's debut on ESPN.

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UFC on ESPN 1 Fight Card

FavoriteUnderdogWeightclass

Cain Velasquez -165

Francis Ngannou +135

Heavyweight

James Vick -125

Paul Felder -105

Lightweight

Cynthia Calvillo -335

Cortney Casey +255

Women's strawweight

Kron Gracie -310

Alex Caceres +240

Featherweight

Vincente Luque -450

Bryan Barberena +325

Welterweight

Myles Jury -155

Andre Fili +125

Featherweight

With a big card on tap, our experts took a crack at picking each of the main card fights. Here are your pick makers: Brian Campbell (combat sports writer), Matthew Coca (producer), Michael Mormile (producer), Jack Crosby (editor) and Brandon Wise (editor). 

UFC on ESPN 1 predictions        

FightCampbellMormileCocaCrosbyWise
Velasquez vs. NgannouVelasquezVelasquezNgannouVelasquezVelasquez
Felder vs. VickFelderFelderFelderVickVick
Calvillo vs. CaseyCalvilloCalvillo    
CalvilloCalvilloCalvillo
Gracie vs. CaceresGracieGracieGracieGracieGracie
Luque vs. BarberenaLuqueLuqueLuqueLuqueBarberena
Fili vs. JuryFiliJuryJuryJuryJury
Overall (2019) 2-2-0 3-1-0 1-3-0 3-1-0 3-1-0

Campbell on why Velasquez will win: While cage rust is certainly something not to be ignored, Velasquez returns to find an entirely winnable matchup against the dangerous yet completely one-dimensional Ngannou. The former champion is physically and mentally healthy for the first time in years and has stayed fresh in the gym helping prepare teammate Daniel Cormier for recent fights. As long as Velasquez survives the storm of the first two minutes where Ngannou is a threat to finish anyone, expect wrestling and cardio for days and a dominant win.

Wise on why Vick will win: It's weird to call this a must-win situation for Vick after suffering his second pro defeat in August, but it sort of feels that way. If he is truly going to compete at the elite level in the lightweight division, these are the kinds of fights he needs to finish and finish violently. Felder is no slouch in the standup department and this has the making of a Fight of the Night contender, but I'll take the younger, more diverse striker in this spot, given his confidence is back after the shocking knockout loss to Justin Gaethje.

Who wins Velasquez-Ngannou and Vick-Felder? How exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks for all 13 bouts in UFC on ESPN 1, all from the sizzling expert who went 9 for 11 last week and is up $19,000 on MMA in the last nine months alone.

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