UFC is returning to Auckland only for the second time in company’s history with a Fight Night. Headlined by the hometown hero Mark Hunt, this card is somewhat lacking in name value but is still an exciting card. The main event fight between Derrick Lewis and Mark Hunt promises fireworks and Derek Brunson looks to get back on winning ways against martial arts veteran Dan Kelly. As unpredictable as fighting is, we would try to look into what might happen in these fights. So, let’s go…
Derrick Lewis (18-4 (1)) vs. Mark Hunt (12-11-1 (1))
In the main event of the evening, hard-hitting heavyweights, Derrick Lewis and Mark Hunt, will try to knock each other out for the viewing pleasure of the audience. It promises to be an entertaining fight and has the potential to be the fight of the night.
Derrick Lewis is the fastest rising heavyweight in the UFC. He has won his last six fights, all but one by way of KO/ TKO. His win-streak includes wins over Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga and in his last fight, he viciously knocked out Travis Browne. A win here could get him a top-five opponent next and he needs just that to get a shot at Stipe Miocic.
Mark Hunt, on the other hand, is coming off two back-to-back losses (first of which was later turned to a ‘No Contest’ due to Brock Lesnar testing positive) and was viciously knocked out by Alistair Overeem in his last fight. At 43 years old, Hunt looks like he is in the twilight of his career. Be that as it may, Hunt is probably the hardest puncher in all of combat sports and that always gives him a chance. He would like to score another one of his infamous walk-off KOs in front of his hometown crowd and who wouldn’t want to see that.
The Prediction: Let’s get this straight. Both these guys are sluggers and heavily depend on their power to win fights. I do not expect any wrestling to take place in this fight as both these guys will be looking for that big right hand. Lewis was troubled by Travis Browne in his last fight with body shots. Lewis, however, later said that he broke his rib in that fight. In any case, Hunt would like to go to the body a little with his heavy kicks. Lewis has a definite reach advantage here, so he will look to keep Hunt on the outside and avoid his big right hand. This fight will not go the distance, in my opinion, and will end with another KO victory for the ‘Black Beast’.
The Pick: Derrick Lewis by KO
Derek Brunson (16-5) vs. Dan Kelly (13-1)
In the co-main event, a derailed Derek Brunson will take on four-time Olympian in Judo, Dan Kelly. This is an interesting matchup in the deep Middleweight division and has rankings implications for both guys. Dan Kelly, who is currently ranked 15, will look to break into the top ten with a win over number eight Brunson.
Not too long ago, Derek Brunson was looking unstoppable and was knocking everybody out. He was on a five-fight win-streak with the last four coming by way of first-round KO/ TKOs. That was probably his undoing against Robert Whittaker late last year, as he got knocked out in the first-round while searching for a KO of his own. He returned after that loss to face Anderson Silva at UFC 208 and didn’t have the best of performances. He looked tentative and did not perform to the best of his ability. Maybe he was a little more cautious because of the previous KO, or maybe he was in awe of the GOAT. Regardless, he ended up losing the fight in a highly questionable decision. A win here could put him back on track.
Dan Kelly, at 39 years old, has quietly notched six wins in the UFC and is on a four-fight winning streak. While he beat an older Rashad Evans in his last fight, this is his toughest fight to date. Kelly has proven himself to be a grinder who is tough to put away, just like so many of his Olympian peers. A win here will land him in the top ten and Dan Kelly, at 39 years old, has never looked better.
The Prediction: Daniel Kelly has unorthodox boxing and Olympic level grappling. As he showed in his last fight, his striking can be highly effective and he is equally hard to hit. Derek Brunson will again look to knockout his opponent early, because the longer it goes, the more it favours the guy who can grind out a win. While Brunson has the power to put Kelly away, my money is on the tough Aussie to prevail and get a decision here.
The Pick: Dan Kelly by decision
Dan Hooker (13-7) vs Ross Pearson (19-13 (1))
Long time UFC veteran Ross Pearson will try to snap a three-fight losing streak against Dan Hooker in this Lightweight showdown. Hooker himself is coming off a loss and will look to gain a win over ‘The Real Deal’.
Hooker is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Jason Knight and is overall 2-3 in his last five fights. He hasn’t looked very good in those two victories either. He has the height and reach advantage in this fight and has age on his side and will try to put on a show for his hometown fans.
Ross Pearson is going through the toughest stretch of his career. He is only 1-4 in last five fights and desperately needs a win here. All his losses have, however, come against top competition and have been decisions, including a split one in his last outing. He hasn’t necessarily looked bad in these fights but still ended up short. He would like to get a win here and save his career that is rapidly going downhill.
Despite his reach advantage, Hooker does his best work inside, with short punches and elbows. He, however, is prone to getting hit and this could work to Pearson’s advantage, who is a good boxer. Pearson also has a good kicking game. While wrestling doesn’t look like a big factor here, Hooker is prone to getting taken down. All in all, this is an interesting matchup with probable career implications for both gentlemen.
The Prediction: Ross Pearson is on a three-fight skid so he’ll probably play this one a little safe. He has the boxing to nullify Hooker’s reach advantage and can also take Hooker down and control him on the ground.
The Pick: Ross Pearson by decision
Ion Cutelaba (12-3 (1)) vs. Henrique da Silva (12-2)
In a battle of Light Heavyweights, Ion Cutelaba will take on Henrique da Silva. This is a potential fight of the night contender as these guys share 20 KO victories between them. This fight could get the Auckland crowd excited for the next fights to come. It’s The Hulk taking on Frankenstein, ladies and gentlemen!
Henrique da Silva is a dangerous striker who consistently moves forward looking for the knockout punch. He can take a lot of damage doing so. He is also a slow starter sometimes, but has the cardio to go three rounds at a decent pace and can take over the fights once his opponents start to fade. His striking mostly consists of looping punches and overhand strikes. His biggest weakness is his takedown defence.
Cutelaba had a string of first-round KOs before coming in the UFC. He is a fast starter and just like da Silva, tends to move forward always. He has a background in Greco-Roman wrestling and that can prove to be the difference in this fight.
The Prediction: Both fighters are a lot similar in their approach in striking. Cutelaba, however, is a little more refined. He can also do some good work in the clinch. The biggest difference here is Cutelaba’s wrestling and da Silva’s apparent lack of takedown defence. This could prove to be his undoing here as Cutelaba will probably look to take him down and control him on the ground for some ground and pound. My pick is Cutelaba by TKO.
The Pick: Ion Cutelaba by TKO
Tim Elliot (14-7-1) vs Ben Nguyen (17-6)
This is another potential show stealer on this card. Joseph Benavidez was originally expected to face Ben Nguyen on this card. He had to pull out due to injury and was replaced by another exciting Flyweight in Tim Elliot.
Tim Elliot is coming off two impressive performances. He went the distance against the champion Demetrious Johnson after winning TUF and won many hearts with his gutsy performance. He then rebounded with a win over Louis Smolka.
Ben Nguyen is 10-1 in his last 11 fights and is looking for a win here to get close to a title shot in a division that has mostly been wiped out by the champion. Interestingly, his lone loss during this stretch has been to Smolka, whom Elliot beat. MMA math doesn’t always work out, but this is an interesting wrinkle, to say the least.
Nguyen is a good and aggressive striker with a good clinch game. He also has good kicks and can strike with great power. His takedown defence is decent but he can be taken down. Tim Elliot has shown a great all round game in his last few fights. He is great in transition and scrambles really well to get in a good position. His wrestling is also good as evidenced by the Demetrious Johnson fight.
The Prediction: This fight is a tossup as either of these guys can walk out with a win here. Elliot will look to pressure Nguyen and will also look for takedowns and top position. I believe Elliot will succeed in taking Nguyen down and will control him on the ground
The Pick: Tim Elliot by decision
Alexander Volkanovski (14-1) vs Mizuto Hirota (18-7-2)
In a Featherweight fight to open the main card, Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski will take on Japanese veteran ‘Pugnus’ Mizuto Hirota.
Volkanovski made his UFC debut in November last year with a TKO win over Yusuke Kasuya. He has won 11 in a row 10 of these wins coming by stoppages.
Hirota is coming off a decision win over Cole Miller last December and has won four of his last five.
Volkanovski has a background in wrestling and has a good takedown game. Hs striking can improve though. Hirota is primarily a striker and can do some good work when he gets inside. Volkanovski has a `four-inch advantage here, so Hirota will need to close that distance. His takedown defence is his biggest problem and that can be a major factor here.
The Prediction: Volkanovski will come out looking for a takedown and will probably look to control Hirota on the ground. Volkanovski can be prone to getting taken down himself, as evidenced in his previous fight. So Hirota might also try to take him down. If Hirota doesn’t succeed, Volkanovski will take a decision here.
The Pick: Alexander Volkanovski by decision