UFC on ESPN 3–informally known as UFC Minneapolis–has wrapped up. Out of the twelve fights on this card, eight of them ended via finish. Among these outcomes, we saw two new number one contenders emerge. Join us as we delve into each fight on the main card of this action-packed event.
UFC on ESPN 3 Main Card Recap
Francis Ngannou vs Junior Dos Santos
There was a time when Junior Dos Santos (JDS) was the most dangerous heavyweight to stand and trade with in the UFC. Exchanging punches with ‘Cigano’ used to be the fastest way to find yourself asleep on the canvas. To wit, JDS holds KO/TKO victories over Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro-Cop, Gilbert Yvel, Frank Mir, Mark Hunt, Tai Tuivasa, and Derrick Lewis.
Francis Ngannou is widely recognized as the newly crowned most-dangerous puncher in the UFC heavyweight division. He’s not an accomplished striker, but he has undeniable power that will nuke any opponent he can get his fists on. This frightful offense was on full display at UFC on ESPN 3. Both men exchanged leg kicks in the early going, but shortly into the first round, Ngannou was able to land an atomic bomb on Dos Santos’ head. The Brazilian hit the ground almost immediately and once that happened, a stoppage seemed inevitable. Ngannou followed him down and landed hammer fists as Dos Santos sat on his knees face down in the octagon. The fight was over shortly thereafter. Referee Herb Dean mercifully stopped the fight at 1:11 of the very first round.
After this impressive display, Ngannou spoke to Jon Anik: “I deserve the winner of DC and Stipe. I want the title shot.” He went on, “I need some respect now. I deserve it.” You’d be hard pressed to find anybody who doesn’t at least respect what Francis Ngannou is capable of in the cage. Dana White showed his own respect by awarding Ngannou with a fifty-thousand-dollar performance bonus. Upon learning of this, Ngannou spoke about what he intended to do with the extra money. “I will spend it all in Africa. I will spend it with my family. That’s why I’m here. To earn and bring it back to them.”
Jussier Formiga vs Joseph Benavidez
With their division in turmoil, Jussier Formiga and Joseph Benavidez were both fighting for an opportunity at flyweight supremacy at UFC on ESPN 3. Though both Formiga and Benavidez have a history with the current champion, Henry Cejudo, it would be hard to argue that Benavidez doesn’t have the most-compelling case for a rematch against the UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion. Benavidez and Cejudo had a televised rivalry during their time coaching against one another on TUF Season 24. On the show, Team Benavidez won the champions tournament. Joseph Benavidez also defeated Henry Cejudo via split-decision at the finale. Though Formiga experienced a split-decision loss when he faced Cejudo, he had also come into UFC on ESPN 3 riding an impressive four-fight winning streak. This included a win over Sergio Pettis and recently becoming the first man to defeat Deiveson Figueiredo.
The fight between Formiga and Benavidez would also be a rematch over five years in the making. In the original contest, Benavidez had an emphatic first round TKO victory over Formiga. In the rematch all these years later, Benavidez was able to repeat this performance with another TKO stoppage, this time in the second round. Coming into this fight, he was ranked #2 in the division, while Formiga was ranked #1. They undoubtedly switched rankings after this fight. Joseph Benavidez looked sharp in winning and he didn’t mince words when given his moment on the mic. “They call me ‘Joey two times’. I beat Ortiz two times, I beat Formiga two times, and I’m gonna beat Cejudo two times.” Joseph Benavidez has provided Henry Cejudo with irrefutable reasoning to defend his flyweight belt next. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
Demian Maia vs Rocco Martin
Number-twelve-ranked Demian Maia came into this fight on the mend. After a seven-fight winning streak earned him a short-notice title shot against then champ, Tyron Woodley, Maia would be on the wrong side of a lopsided decision loss. Having trouble with taking the experienced wrestler into his world of jui-jitsu, Maia was forced to stand with the heavy-handed Woodley for five rounds. After his failed attempt at welterweight gold, Maia found himself facing two more talented wrestlers. The first of which was eventual, and now former interim title holder, Colby Covington. The second would be against eventual and now current reigning welterweight kingpin, Kamaru Usman. He lost to both men via unanimous decision.
Maia would finally break this losing streak by defeating former Bellator welterweight champion, Lyman Good via first round rear-naked-choke. Looking for back-to-back victories, he had Anthony Rocco Martin standing in his way at UFC on ESPN 3. Although Martin had his moments in the fight, Maia was able to earn a majority decision victory. Two judges scored the fight 29-28 for Maia, while the other judge scored the bout as a 28-28 draw. Demian Maia now holds the second place position for the most wins in the UFC at 21. Donald Cerrone holds the current record with 23 UFC wins.
Roosevelt Roberts vs Vinc Pichel
Undefeated in his professional MMA career, Roosevelt Roberts had a significant challenge in the form of Vinc Pichel at UFC on ESPN 3. Coming into this fight, Pichel was 4-2 in the UFC and 11-2 overall. His only losses came against the always problematic, Rustam Khabilov in 2012, and a submission loss to the overwhelming grappling ace, Gregor Gillespsie.
Roberts looked to have won the first round. But after getting some firsthand experience against his opponent, Pichel told his corner that he had a found a way to win. It turned out he was right. He went on to out-strike Roberts in the second and third rounds and would ultimately take the decision victory. After handing Roosevelt his first professional loss, an excited Vinc Pichel took to the mic. “I’m 36-years-old but I’m a bad son b! I ain’t stopping until somebody puts me out!” Pichel improves to 5-2 in the UFC and 12-2 overall.
Drew Dober vs Marco Polo Reyes
TUF Latin America alum, Marco Polo Reyes had lost two of his last three bouts via TKO. This came after starting his UFC career at an impressive 3-0 run. Meanwhile, Drew Dober had amassed a 6-6-1 NC UFC record over the course of six years. He had won three of his last four, including victories over the likes of Josh Burkman and Frank Camacho.
Drew Dober made quick work of Reyes at UFC on ESPN 3 when he dropped him with a barrage of heavy punches in the first round. Referee Jason Herzog waved off the action as Dober followed Reyes to the canvas with punches. In the aftermath of the 67 second victory over Reyes, Drew Dober has improved to 21-9-1 NC. Speaking with Jon Anik afterwards, he made it clear that he wants to fight as much as he can. “There’s definitely a shelf life to this sport so I’m looking to get in as many as possible.”
Paul Craig vs Alonzo Menifield
Coming into this fight, thirty-one-year-old Scotsman Paul Craig had competed in the UFC a total of six times. He had a 50% win/loss record with all fights ending via finish. Every victory he had was via submission. Alonzo Menifield came into this fight still relatively new to the UFC. After failing to get into the top MMA promotion with a 2017 victory on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Menifield would return to the show with an eight second TKO victory over Dashawn Boatwright. The swift finish was enough to finally earn the undefeated Menifield a fight in the big leagues earlier this year. In his UFC debut, he would get a first-round stoppage victory over Vinicius Moreira.
Not only did Menifield aim to keep his unbeaten streak intact at UFC on ESPN 3, he aimed to maintain his 100% finishing rate. He did not disappoint. Alonzo Menifield defeated Paul Craig via knockout in the first round. Paul Craig went for multiple spinning back kicks, and eventually lost his footing in the process. Once Craig fell to the ground, Menifield capitalized with powerful ground-and-pound that would end Craig’s night. This marks Menifield’s eighth career knockout and pushes his undefeated record to 9-0. “The right hand did it. Thank you, right hand.” Menifield jokingly stated in his post-fight octagon interview. After the win, Jon Anik openly speculated that Menifield could be a ranked light-heavyweight as early as next week.