UFC on ESPN 3 Staff Picks: Predictions for Ngannou vs. Dos Santos

Bleacher Report Combat Sports StaffFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2019

UFC on ESPN 3 Staff Picks: Predictions for Ngannou vs. Dos Santos

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    Fight fans will want to have their popcorn ready for the main event as the UFC heads to Minneapolis on Saturday. 

    The weekend card will crescendo toward a heavyweight showdown between Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos.

    Ngannou's reputation as one of MMA's scariest fighters took a hit after a perplexingly actionless fight against Derrick Lewis last year, but it is on its way back after consecutive first-round stoppages in his last two contests. He'll look to make it three in a row against Junior Dos Santos, who is coming into Saturday's event on a three-fight win streak. 

    While the big guys rightfully take top billing, the co-main event features a compelling fight at a lower weight class with serious stakes.

    The winner of Jussier Formiga vs. Joseph Benavidez will have a strong case to be next in line if and when two-division champ Henry Cejudo decides to defend his flyweight belt. Benavidez in particular will be motivated to earn that opportunity as he is the last man to defeat Cejudo. 

    Further down the card, Roosevelt Roberts and Alonzo Menifield will look to continue building on their exposure from Dana White's reality shows.

    Read on to see who our expert panel of Jeremy Botter, Scott Harris, Nathan McCarter and Jonathan Snowden are picking in each fight on the main card. 

Francis Ngannou vs. Junior Dos Santos

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    Jeremy Botter

    The marketing for Ngannou vs. Dos Santos centers on fists and knockouts and limp bodies falling to the canvas (or rocketing into orbit). That both men are among the nicest in the sport is immaterial.

    These giants have a long history of separating people from consciousness, and doing so is pretty much their whole thing. Others can do mixed martial arts if they want; Ngannou and Dos Santos are content to get by with just the striking part.

    The easiest prediction here is the obvious one: Someone is getting knocked out.

    Ngannou will either finish Dos Santos in the first round, or he'll use up his limited energy reservoir trying for the kill, in which case Dos Santos will pick him apart until the ref stops the fight.

    Ngannou is the most terrifying man on earth for the first three minutes of a fight. We know this. JDS surely knows this. If he can avoid an early bludgeoning, Dos Santos' boxing and speed will be too much for a tired Ngannou to endure.

    Dos Santos, TKO, Rd. 2


    Scott Harris

    There's a not-unreasonable case to be made that this is the most exciting possible matchup in the heavyweight division. The time feels right for Ngannou to announce his presence with authority again. No muss, no fuss, just another entry on the highlight reel.

    Ngannou, TKO, Rd. 1


    Nathan McCarter

    For as much as Dos Santos is a better technical boxer, Ngannou will end this with one punch. JDS enjoys a good stand-up fight, but he also gets hit in those fights. Ngannou will send him into another dimension when he connects to claim another title shot.

    Ngannou, KO, Rd. 1


    Jonathan Snowden

    Dos Santos has quietly put together a three-fight winning streak. And, while a closer examination of those fights reveals an athlete past his prime, his world-class skill level will make him a factor against second-tier heavyweights for years to come.

    The real question here is whether Ngannou is the fighter UFC bet big on early in his career, or a flash-in-the-pan who peaked two years into his UFC career. I'm going to wager UFC was correct about his potential, but just a little too eager to push him to the top. Now is his time to shine.

    Ngannou, TKO, Rd. 2

Jussier Formiga vs. Joseph Benavidez

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    Henry Cejudo apparently "saved" the flyweight division by winning the bantamweight title and doing weird stuff. But what did he really save? What is left? Thirteen fighters, according to UFC rankings, and I'm not sure that number is remotely correct.

    Cejudo is out for a long time, and there's no guarantee he'll ever cut to 125 when he returns, which leaves the only real contenders for his flyweight title in the same limbo they've spent the past 16 months in.

    That's especially awful for Benavidez, who not only knocked Formiga out the first time they fought six years ago, but he also already beat Cejudo once.

    In a just world, Benavidez would be rematching Cejudo for the belt. Instead, he'll beat Formiga again, but even a dominant, dramatic win won't guarantee him the title fight he's waited years for. Flyweight may be Benavidez's perfect weight class, but if he wants Cejudo and another crack at the championship, he may have to move back up to the division he abandoned in 2011.

    Benavidez, unanimous decision



    Formiga has been a good fighter for a long time, but he can never seem to beat a great one. Benavidez has a size and all-around skill advantage.

    Benavidez, unanimous decision



    Benavidez won this fight years ago, and since then Formiga has regressed a bit as Father Time creeps in. So, I can't say I'm expecting anything different to happen this time around.

    Seeing as they are two of the only credible flyweights the UFC has left, I guess nobody should complain. At least they are being placed in the co-main event.

    Benavidez, TKO, Rd. 1



    These are the top two flyweights in the world not named Demetrious Johnson or Henry Cejudo. Heck, Benavidez actually beat the current UFC champ and Formiga pushed him into deep waters in a split-decision loss. The winner here, if life is fair, should fight for gold in his next bout.

    P.S. Life isn't fair.

    Benavidez, unanimous decision

Demian Maia vs. Anthony Rocco Martin

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    UFC matchmakers like to match aging, declining fighters against rising talent. It's a great trick when it works, but this is one of the instances where it won't. At all.

    Martin's four-fight winning streak means he deserves an opponent with name value, and Maia is 1-3 in recent bouts. But his record is deceiving. The three losses came at the hands of Tyron Woodley, Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington.

    Outside of those three decision losses, Maia hasn't lost to anyone in five years. He beat Jorge Masvidal, Carlos Condit, Matt Brown and Gunnar Nelson during that run.

    Sure, he's 41, but he's not your usual 41-year-old fighter. He takes little damage because, outside of a weird spell a few years back when he fancied himself a kickboxer, he's never in situations where he can get knocked out. He's in his opponent's face, and then he has a clinch, and then he's on their back and that's the end of things. Which is what you'll see here.

    Maia, submission, Rd. 1



    Rocco Martin has been spoiling for a top opponent, and here it is. He'll try to go 5-0 since his return to welterweight and that momentous name change.

    Maia is a legend and, if he gets your back, an irresistible force. But a torch might get passed here to a younger, more well-rounded competitor. Sound the upset alarms.

    Martin, unanimous decision



    Martin has been in the UFC since 2013, and he is 7-1 in his last eight fights. That's good. The problem? If you asked me who he was it would have taken me a good 10 minutes and a trip to Google to recall.

    It's bizarre to have this long of a UFC tenure and be completely unknown. I'll take Maia. If Martin had elite skills, he'd have left an impression by now.

    Maia, submission, Rd. 1



    Demian Maia is one the kindest, smartest, most interesting fighters I've ever interviewed. A legendary figure on the mat, he presents a clear and present danger to everyone who steps into the cage with him.

    He's also 41 years old.

    Martin, split decision

Roosevelt Roberts vs. Vinc Pichel

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    Vinc Pichel is being used as a warm body here for Roosevelt Roberts, a Contender Series graduate whom Dana White is enamored with.

    White was also enamored with Sage Northcutt and, well, you saw how that went, but Roosevelt has shown flashes of real potential. This should be a gimme for him.

    Roberts, KO, Rd. 1



    White loves the guys with the raw finishing power and physical charisma. He wants to flash that big grin and say "this kid" this and "this kid" that.

    Another of his reality show projects, Roberts is on the launching pad against a willing but outgunned brawling partner in Pichel. Gotta make the boss happy.

    Roberts, TKO, Rd. 2



    Roberts is one of the few Contender Series alums who has flashed true potential. This matchup is to help him shine. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Roberts, TKO, Rd. 1



    White's handpicked prospects haven't exactly lit the sport on fire. I'm going to guess his latest wunderkind gets dropped in the surprise of the night.

    Pichel, KO, Rd. 1

Drew Dober vs. Marco Polo Reyes

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    Drew Dober is durable and violent in spurts, but Marco Polo Reyes is a game opponent and won't be easy to put away. This one is going to the scorecards, and once they're announced you'll instantly forget it ever happened.

    Dober, unanimous decision



    Dober is a tough kid who's sort of good everywhere and amazing nowhere. That should be enough to handle the inconsistent Reyes.

    Dober, unanimous decision



    Dober is as high as a -360 favorite per BestFightOdds. What? Just on general principle, I'll take Reyes.

    This is a pick 'em fight. Reyes has credible results on his record the caliber of Dober. It's an even, fun lightweight tilt designed to add a little spark before getting to the heavy hitters. Should be a fun scrap that heads to the scorecards where anything can happen.

    Reyes, unanimous decision



    Marco! Polo! Marco! Polo!

    It's not just a bit, it's a prediction. Reyes has won "performance of the night" three times in his career. He's here to provide an action bout early on the main card and this one will deliver. It could go either way, but Reyes' activity level will be the difference.

    Reyes, unanimous decision

Alonzo Menifield vs. Paul Craig

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    Menifield is another Contender Series graduate, which means he's getting paired with great stylistic opponents for the foreseeable future. Gotta keep the boss happy, you know?

    Craig is an underdog here, but he has surprised people in that role in the past. I wouldn't count on a repeat here, though; he's susceptible to takedowns and his defensive grappling is not great, and that makes him a good showcase fight for Menifield.

    Menifield, submission, Rd. 2


    Another Dana White reality show winner, Menifield is scary and favored, but the Scot is a wily veteran. Menifield better protect his neck, because Paul Craig's coming to play spoiler. Sound the upset alarms.

    Craig, submission, Rd. 1


    Craig is a definite spoiler in this role. He's played it before. But I'm sticking with the favorite. Menifield should keep his undefeated streak going here, and ESPN and White can use the performance to market the Contender Series show some more. That's what this bout it designed for. Advertising.

    Menifield, TKO, Rd. 2


    I liked Craig as James Bond and I like him here. Seriously, the Scot is a finisher. If he can force the fight to the ground, he has the ability to finish just about anyone. If he can't, he's going to get pieced up. That's the story of this fight. An oldie but a goodie.

    Craig, submission, Rd. 2