The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Sunday enjoyed a strong ESPN debut at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Five underdogs won on the 12-fight UFC on ESPN 1 card. They are front and center in this edition of Beating the Books.
Francis Ngannou (+175)
The main event featured the biggest upset, as Ngannou needed just 26 seconds to stop two-time heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez with punches. The finishing sequence came quickly -- fans needed to see a replay to see what truly happened -- but Ngannou landed some short punches that hurt Velasquez. Combined with an apparent knee injury, it put the former champion in a vulnerable position on the mat, where he got pounded out. Ngannou, who closed as a +175 underdog, may be next in line for a heavyweight title shot against Velasquez’s longtime friend and training partner Daniel Cormier.
Paul Felder (+100)
The co-headliner also featured an upset, as Felder used his superior striking technique to defeat James Vick via unanimous decision. Felder landed low kicks, spinning backfists and straight punches to batter Vick and win a clear decision on the judges’ scorecards. The UFC lightweight contender and part-time commentator closed as a +100 underdog.
Andre Fili (+130)
Opening up the main card, Fili used an effective jab to bloody Myles Jury’s face and win a unanimous decision. Fili suffered a slight scare in the second round, where Jury knocked him off-balance and dropped him with a spinning backfist, but he controlled the majority of the bout with an exceptional, lightning-quick jab. Fili closed as a +130 underdog.
Aljamain Sterling (+115)
In a showdown between bantamweight title contenders, Sterling used improved striking technique to outpoint Jimmie Rivera and win a unanimous decision. Most assumed Rivera would be the superior striker in the fight, but Sterling proved everyone wrong, landed more volume and moved forward the entire time to earn the nod on the judges’ scorecards. Sterling was a +115 underdog.
Nik Lentz (+140)
Lentz survived a battle of endurance and will against Scott Holtzman to take home a unanimous decision. This was an excellent fight, as both men chased the win and laid everything on the line. Ultimately, Lentz relied on his bread-and-butter wrestling game and secured takedowns at key moments to earn the victory on the scorecards. Though Lentz was transported to the hospital after the fight, he emerged as the winner as a +140 underdog.
Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for Sherdog.com, as well as the lead staff writer for MMAOddsbreaker.com. Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all-time is Dan Henderson-Mauricio Rua, and he wishes Pride Fighting Championships never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter at @MMAdamMartin.
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