On Sunday night, the Octagon finally took center stage on the largest sports platform in the world, as the UFC debuted on ESPN.
Whether it was the return of Cain Velasquez or the first Gracie to earn a victory inside the Octagon in 25 years, UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, Arizona definitely had its moments.
Let’s take a look at what fighters helped themselves the most over the weekend.
After a brief setback that saw “The Predator” drop two straight fights, it’s safe to say Francis Ngannou is back.
Ngannou only needed 45 seconds to beat Curtis Blaydes back in November. “The Predator” bested his personal record on Sunday night with a 26-second knockout of the former heavyweight champ Velasquez.
With the win, the number-three ranked heavyweight could well have cemented himself as the next man in line for a title shot.
“The Funk Master” Aljamain Sterling picked up the biggest win of his career as he dominated and flustered the fifth-ranked Jimmie Rivera for 15 minutes in the top fight of the UFC on ESPN 1 prelims.
Sterling has rebounded from his loss to Marlon Moraes by rattling off three straight wins against top-notch competition. Although Moraes is likely the next man up for a title shot, “The Funk Master” didn’t do anything to hurt his case this weekend.
It took 25 years but finally, a member of the renowned Gracie family got their hand raised inside the UFC’s Octagon again.
The 30-year-old Kron Gracie improved to 5-0 with his first round rear naked choke submission victory over Alex Caceres on Sunday evening. Kron is very much a specialist like Demian Maia or Rani Yahya. However, Kron does have a solid stand up game as well.
The featherweight division just got a little bit more interesting.
Vicente Luque and Bryan Barberena went to war in the desert and earned Fight Of The Night honors for their efforts.
If the elite in the welterweight division weren’t paying attention to Luque before, they should be after that performance. The win makes it four straight for “The Silent Assassin” and eight of his last nine.
After the fight, Luque called for a fight with a top-10 welterweight. Matchmakers should be able to oblige the Brazilian.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 2/18/2019.