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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday paid a visit to Minneapolis with UFC on ESPN 3 at the Target Center. As always, some stocks rose and others fell.
It could be argued that no contender’s stock is higher than Francis Ngannou’s following his technical knockout of former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos a little more than a minute into the UFC on ESPN 3 main event. After another quick win, Ngannou called for a title shot, demanded some respect from his peers and leaned on his third straight first-round finish. Ngannou utilized heavy leg kicks from the outset -- an attack he had not implemented in any of his previous fights. He described it as an attempt to slow down dos Santos’ movement while bringing him into punching range. Ngannou has no preference regarding a rematch with Stipe Miocic or a pairing with Daniel Cormier, as he eagerly awaits the winner of the forthcoming heavyweight title tilt.
Meanwhile, Joseph Benavidez silenced his doubters and proved his September 2013 knockout of Jussier Formiga was no fluke, as he stopped the former Shooto Americas champion with a second-round head kick and follow-up punches in the co-headliner. The win extended Benavidez’s run of consecutive victories to three and set the stage for a potential rematch with reigning UFC flyweight titleholder Henry Cejudo. A split decision win over Cejudo in 2016 only strengthens Benavidez’s claim as the No. 1 contender at 125 pounds, and he made it clear that his sights are set on a title fight in early 2020.
Finally, Dana White’s Contender Series alum Alonzo Menifield continued to emerge as one of the more intriguing prospects in the light heavyweight division. His brutal first-round knockout of Paul Craig kicked off the main card, gave the undefeated Fortis MMA export back-to-back finishes inside the Octagon and put him in position for a jump in competition with his next assignment. Menifield made it known that he was on the hunt for a “top dog” in the not-too-distant future.
Roosevelt Roberts entered his lightweight showcase opposite Vinc Pichel as the favorite, as he sported a perfect 8-0 record and drew praise as one of the more promising fighters spawned by Dana White’s Contender Series. However, a unanimous decision loss to Pichel exposed his youth and the holes that remain in his game. While there were some bright spots for Roberts, especially in the striking exchanges, he failed to adjust to the wrestle-heavy game plan “The Ultimate Fighter 15” semifinalist implemented in the second and third rounds. Even though the setback halts his moment, the 25-year-old Roberts has shown plenty of potential and figures to grow from the experience.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Craig has embraced his all-action reputation, win or lose, throughout his tenure in the UFC. Unfortunately for the former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion, his career trajectory has shifted towards his becoming a steppingstone for the light heavyweight prospects the UFC seeks to push; and with his record inside the Octagon now resting at a mediocre 3-4, Craig could find himself returning to the free-agent pool sooner rather than later. With that said, the 31-year-old’s come-from-behind submission victories over Kennedy Nzechukwu and Magomed Ankalaev cannot be overlooked.
Finally, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 26 graduate Emily Whitmire appeared to be gaining steam inside the women’s strawweight division -- until she ran into the Amanda Ribas buzzsaw on the undercard. The second-round submission loss drops Whitmire’s overall record to 4-3 and sends her back to the drawing board, where she figures to tread lightly in terms of future matchmaking. Testing herself against fellow “Ultimate Fighter” or Dana White’s Contender Series alums could prove to be a wiser path as the Xtreme Couture rep continues to hone her skills.