What were the most memorable fights turned in by athletes from Australia and New Zealand? Here’s one scribe’s list and how we saw the action on fight night. Let the debates begin.
UFC Australia & New Zealand: Best Moments From The Last Decade
UFC Australia & New Zealand: Best Moments From The Last Decade
Israel Adesanya-Kelvin Gastelum
UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has never had an easy road in the Octagon. Saturday night in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, that road just got tougher, as Israel Adesanya won a five-round war over Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision to win the interim 185-pound belt and set up a showdown with Australia’s “Reaper.”
“I was ready for war,” said Adesanya, who got one out of Gastelum, who brought Adesanya to places he had yet to see in his mixed martial arts career. But “The Last Stylebender” answered any doubts with his performance. “I was willing to leave it all and give it all.”
All three judges saw it 48-46 for Adesanya, now 17-0. Gastelum falls to 16-4 with 1 NC.
Gastelum pressed Adesanya to start the bout, but “The Last Stylebender” scored first with a hard kick to the midsection. With a little under three minutes to go, Gastelum knocked Adesanya into the fence with a right punch to the head, and while the Nigeria native recovered well, it was a key moment early in the bout, and Gastelum continued to keep the shots coming as Adesanya’s offensive output dipped.
Adesanya came out throwing kicks to the body in round two, but Gastelum was undeterred as he shot his 1-2s upstairs. With just over two minutes left, though, a right hand stunned Gastelum and put him on the deck. Gastelum rose quickly, but Adesanya had earned his respect and the New Zealander began upping his work rate. A spinning elbow stunned Gastelum, who knew no direction but forward, and he landed a left hand before seeing a takedown attempt thrown aside.
With two rounds in the books, the fighters had gotten acclimated to each other, resulting in some entertaining striking exchanged early in round three. But if there was an edge to be had, it belonged to Adesanya. Just before the final minute, Gastelum scored a takedown, but Adesanya bounced right up, and as the round ended, he appeared to be the fresher of the two.
Gastelum took the fight to Adesanya to kick off the championship rounds, and that aggression worked well for him for a spell before the pace settled into one more to Adesanya’s liking. As the round progressed, Gastelum kept throwing, and while Adesanya’s defense was solid, he did ultimately emerge with a cut, prompting him to go after Gastelum with more bad intentions. With a minute left, Gastelum stunned Adesanya with a left kick to the head, causing the crowd to erupt.
In addition to the cut, Adesanya’s face was swelling, and momentum was on Gastelum’s side heading into the fifth and final round. Gastelum marched forward and Adesanya fired back, ultimately stunning his foe with a right hand. As Gastelum looked for a takedown, Adesanya tried to lock up a guillotine choke and then a triangle as the two scrambled on the mat. After getting back to their feet, Adesanya drilled Gastelum with a right hand, forcing the Arizonan to lock up his opponent. Adesanya pushed him off, though, and went back to work, determined to finish strong. With a little over a minute left, Gastelum was dropped briefly, and when he got up, Adesanya sent him back to the mat with a right hand. Now bloodied, Gastelum refused to give in, but Adesanya sent him down one more time before the final horn sounded, cementing his victory in a title fight that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Mark Hunt-Antonio Silva I
In a year of classic fights, heavyweights Mark Hunt and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva delivered one of their own in the main event of UFC Fight Night at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, giving fans 25 minutes of blood, guts, skill, and will before the judges rendered a majority draw verdict that was probably the only decision that no one is likely to complain about.
Scores in the heavyweight war were 48-47 Hunt and 47-47 twice.
There wasn’t much action until the second minute of the bout, with Hunt just missing with a wild haymaker and Silva landing a hard right that Hunt didn’t blink at. Midway through the round though, another right from Silva got Hunt’s attention as it scored a flash knockdown. Once standing, Hunt continued to stalk as if nothing happened, with Silva looking to pick his shots carefully while keeping his guard high. With a minute left, Silva sought a takedown, but Hunt defended well, even though the two remained locked up against the fence momentarily.
Hunt got a little busier in the second, but Silva’s defense and offense was solid throughout. With 2:20 left, Hunt cracked Silva with a right hand that buckled the Brazilian’s knees slightly, and he went back to the right moments later with success as well. Yet Silva’s biggest weapon soon proved to be his kicks to the leg, one of which had Hunt limping and changing his stance in response.
With Silva aiming for the leg again, Hunt caught one of the kicks and used it to score a takedown. Silva got back to his feet quickly, but it showed Hunt to have more than a few tricks up his sleeve. As the round progressed, Hunt kept the pressure on, sending Silva to the seat of his pants with a big right hand. Hunt tried to finish with ground strikes as the packed house roared, but Silva was able to make it to the end of the round.
Silva came out swinging in the fourth, and Hunt eagerly fired back before the two locked up against the fence. After breaking, Silva kept throwing his right before looking for a takedown, but it was Hunt who ended up with the takedown and top control. After some ground and pound from Hunt, the two rose and traded flush rights before engaging in some wild exchanges. And just when it looked like Hunt was starting to fade, the “Super Samoan” unleashed his own assault. But when the fight hit the deck, Silva got into the mount and threw punch after punch, bloodying Hunt in the process. Hunt wouldn’t give in though, making it to the bell and setting up a fifth and final round.
Hunt showed that he still had plenty of fight left in him as the final round commenced, ripping off lefts and rights to the head that visibly hurt Silva. And though the Brazilian was bloody and exhausted, he kept marching forward as Hunt tried to potshot his way to victory. With 2:44 left, referee Steve Perceval halted the bout momentarily to have the doctor check Silva’s cuts, and after getting the green light, the war continued. Remarkably, both fighters kept swinging, and soon Silva rallied. Then it was Hunt’s turn to take the edge and you wondered just how the two stayed upright. Finally, the two locked up against the fence in the final minute, but after a very brief respite, they went at it again until the bell intervened, drawing an appreciative and well-deserved ovation.
Robert Whittaker-Yoel Romero II
The rematch between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero wasn’t contested for Whittaker’s UFC middleweight title, but the UFC 225 main event delivered championship level action a second time at United Center, with Whittaker taking a split decision victory over the Cuban in a grueling 25-minute battle.
“Yoel hits like a truck and I just had to try and survive and make the comeback,” said Whittaker. “I could have seen it going any way because it was tight, but I hit him a lot and I thought I did enough to get three of the five rounds.”
Scores were 48-47 twice and 47-48 for Whittaker, 21-4, who decisioned Romero at UFC 213 last July.
Romero, who missed weight for the bout at 185.2 pounds, making him ineligible to win the title, falls to 13-3.
Whittaker went after Romero’s lead leg with his kicks as the fight began, following up with stiff jabs upstairs. Romero stood stoically with his hands high under the attack, but when he did throw back, the punches were designed to end the bout. Luckily for Whittaker, none of those landed, allowing the champion to use his superior work rate to win the round.
Romero got busier in the second round, but it was still Whittaker staying a step ahead with his own punches and kicks. Soon, Romero’s right eye was nearly swollen shut, prompting a sense of urgency from the Cuban, who still wasn’t able to catch up with “The Reaper.”
In the third, Romero came out swinging, and less than 30 seconds in, he landed a right hand that dropped Whittaker. The Aussie scrambled up and looked for a takedown, but Romero wasn’t having it. The two proceeded to trade bombs at close range, with Whittaker scoring with a huge elbow that slowed Romero considerably. With under two minutes left, Romero was fighting with his mouth wide open, but then he began drilling Whittaker with punches to the head. Whittaker responded with a flush head kick, but Romero walked right through it, and the two proceeded to clinch and grab a well-deserved breather until the end of the round.
Whittaker scored with a pair of head kicks to start round four while Romero was conserving his energy as much as possible. After a brief halt to the action following a low kick by Whittaker, the champion continued to fire kicks and left hands, as his right hand was suspected to be injured. In the second half of the round, Romero got busier, and while he wasn’t as busy as Whittaker, “The Soldier of God” did stagger Whittaker with a pair of blows in the final 30 seconds.
With a last burst of energy, Romero went on the attack to start round five, and in the second minute, a left hand dropped Whittaker. In deep trouble, Whittaker did what he could to survive on the mat, and he did, ultimately making it back to his feet. Romero stayed locked on to Whittaker, but the Cuban’s gas tank was closing in on empty. After a stall in the action, referee Dan Miragliotta restarted the bout with less than a minute to go, and the fight made it to its 25-minute conclusion, with both fighters delivering another classic.
Dan Hooker-Paul Felder
Lightweight contenders Dan Hooker and Paul Felder were expected to deliver the goods in the UFC Auckland main event at Spark Arena, and that’s exactly what they did in a memorable five-round war that saw Hooker emerge with a split decision victory that propels him further up the list of elite 155-pounders.
As for Hooker’s rival for five rounds, he may have made his last walk to the Octagon.
“This might be it for me,” said an emotional Felder, who cited being away from his four-year-old daughter for his leaning towards retirement. That’s a final decision for another day, though. For today, fans will celebrate a fight to remember between two of the best in a stacked division.
Scores were 48-47 twice and 47-48 for the No. 7-ranked Hooker, now 21-8. The No. 6-ranked Felder falls to 17-5.
After refusing Felder’s offer to touch gloves, Auckland’s own Hooker got right down to business with a series of kicks to the calf as he used movement and range to keep his foe at bay. With two minutes left, Felder landed a hard left hook, putting him on the board, but Hooker took it well and kept using lateral movement to his advantage. As the round wound down, Hooker locked Felder up against the fence briefly, and then it was back to sticking and moving as Felder marched forward.
Felder was showing damage to his right eye after the opening frame, prompting him to show even more urgency to get inside on Hooker, who calmly stuck to his game plan in response. In the second minute, Felder did well in exchanges, only to have Hooker lock him up for a spell until the two separated. Felder proceeded to work his kicking game in the closing stages of the round, but Hooker upped his work rate, leading to some more heated exchanges.
The already compelling action heated up in the third round, with Felder beginning to land more and more shots to the head and legs while Hooker was now marked up on his face but still throwing and landing as the fight began to approach the championship rounds.
Felder was throwing bombs to start the fourth frame, and he landed several on Hooker, rocking him briefly in the second minute. Hooker responded with a takedown attempt, but when that came up short, he settled for a brief clinch against the fence. The two broke briefly, then locked up again, Hooker in control until they separated. Felder went on to land a pair of hard right hands, but Hooker wasn’t budging. Hooker went back to his clinch game in the final minute, but Felder wouldn’t give him the takedown, sending the fight to a fifth round.
Starting off strong, Felder continued to tag Hooker in the fifth, prompting another grappling sequence from Hooker, but after they broke, “The Hangman” went back to his striking attack, with every blow pivotal for each man. A takedown by Hooker with a minute left caused the crowd to erupt for their fighter, and as the two scrambled for position, there were more roars from the packed house, and they lasted through the final horn, when the two rivals shared a hug that could only be earned by 25 minutes of battle.
Brad Riddell-Jamie Mullarkey
Two of the top lightweight prospects from down under put it all on the line in an exciting three-rounder, with New Zealand’s Brad Riddell outpointing Australia’s Jamie Mullarkey via unanimous decision.
Scores were 29-27 and 30-26 twice for Riddell, now 7-1. Mullarkey falls to 12-3.
Despite two of the three judges’ scores, the fight was competitive throughout, and it got more intense as the minutes passed, with the third round clearly one of the best of the year, as Riddell looked on the verge of a stoppage before Mullarkey hurt his foe and nearly sunk in a choke before “Quake” got up and finished strong, drawing a respectful roar from the crowd for the efforts of both newcomers.
Israel Adesanya-Robert Whittaker
Undisputed. There’s really not much more to say than that after New Zealand-based Nigerian Israel Adesanya unified the middleweight titles in the main event of UFC 243 with a second-round knockout of Robert Whittaker at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.
The victory, which snapped Whittaker’s nine-fight winning streak, was another master class from Adesanya, who soared to the top of the 185-pound weight class in the space of seven fights taking a little over 19 months.
Sydney’s Whittaker was the aggressor as the fight began, throwing kicks to the leg to set up punches upstairs. Auckland’s Adesanya was content to let Whittaker lead while he worked his jab effectively in response. Adesanya got busier as the round progressed, though, and his strikes were more on target than Whittaker’s wilder shots, the most emphatic one being a right hand that put “The Reaper” on the deck at the horn.
Apparently unbothered by the previous round’s knockdown, Whittaker went right back on the attack to start the second stanza, but Adesanya was cool and punishing under pressure, as he bloodied his opponent and also found a home for the right hand again. Whittaker’s kicks were still flying, but the recklessness of his attack cost him big, as a counter left put him on the canvas and a follow-up barrage ended matters, with referee Marc Goddard stepping in at the 3:33 mark of round two.
With the win the 30-year-old Adesanya moves to 18-0. The 28-year-old Whittaker falls to 21-5.
Alexander Volkanovski-Max Holloway I
Alexander Volkanovski’s 18th consecutive win was the most important of his life, as he will be bringing a championship belt back to Australia after winning a five-round unanimous decision over Max Holloway to take the UFC featherweight title in the UFC 245 co-main event.
Scores were 48-47 twice and 50-45 for Volkanovski, who ups his record to 21-1. Holloway, who saw a 14-fight featherweight winning streak snapped, falls to 21-5.
The action was measured in the first round as both fighters got acclimated to each other, but the harder shots were landed by Volkanovski, who battered Holloway’s lead leg with kicks.
Holloway got a little busier in the second, but Volkanovski stayed disciplined and kept pecking away at the left leg, leaving it marked up heading into round three.
The champion began round three in the southpaw stance in order to protect his banged up left wheel, and a fight proceeded to break out, as the exchanges finally heated up. Both fighters got their licks in, but it was Volkanovski’s consistency that was winning him the fight.
Volkanovski broke from his steady attack to attempt a takedown in the fourth, and while Holloway stuffed it, it was the kind of move that forced the Hawaiian to have something else to be concerned about. Holloway’s fighting spirit was not dulled, though, and he landed some of his best punches of the fight in the frame.
Holloway had a solid fifth round, but in a close fight, it was no surprise that Volkanovski landed more than enough hard shots to give the judges something to think about when the final horn sounded.
George Sotiropoulos-Joe Lauzon
Lightweight George Sotiropoulos finished 2010 with a bang, ending a 3-0 run this year with an impressive second round submission win over Joe Lauzon in a bout named Fight of the Night.
The two exchanged punches to begin the bout, with Lauzon the sharper of the two. Sotiropoulos responded moments later with a takedown attempt, but Lauzon fought it off and went back to peppering his foe with strikes. With two minutes left, a mad scramble of a takedown attempt from Sotiropoulos ended up with Lauzon on top and scoring with ground strikes, but the Australian kept moving, and he was able to reverse position and wind up on top. The high-level grappling from both men didn’t stop though, and by the end of the round, it was Lauzon on top and in control.
After some more scrambles to start round two, Sotiropoulos made a concerted effort to attack Lauzon’s body with punches and knees, and after a series of both, he got Lauzon to the mat and went to lock up his arm, but Lauzon pulled loose. The second time Sotiropoulos got his arm though, there would be no escape, as a tight kimura produced a tap out from Lauzon at 2:43 of the second round.
With the win, Sotiropulos, who also defeated Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino this year, improves to 14-2; Lauzon falls to 18-6.
Jake Matthews-Li Jingliang
Victoria’s Jake Matthews delivered his best performance since returning to welterweight, winning a three-round unanimous decision over China’s Li Jingliang.
Matthews (13-3) had a dominant first round, showing off a vastly improved striking game that included a left hand that dropped Li with a little over two minutes left. Matthews looked for the finish on the mat as he fired off strikes and then sought out a rear naked choke, but Li made it out of the round.
Li (14-5) caught Matthews with a hard uppercut to kick off round two, but Matthews responded with a hard shot of his own and a guillotine choke attempt as the two went to the mat. As Matthews tried to finish, Li fouled the Aussie by gouging his eye, allowing him to get out of the choke and back to his feet without a point deduction from referee Mark Simpson. The two proceeded to trade hard shots, Li holding the edge over the bloodied Matthews.
Matthews got Li to the mat briefly in the opening minute of round two, and he landed some hard strikes in the process. Midway through the round, a right hand put Li on the deck again, but the resilient Beijing native found daylight once more. Matthews finished strong down the stretch though, with some solid striking and a late takedown wrapping things up by scores of 29-28 and 30-26 twice.
Elvis Sinosic-Jeremy Horn
“The King of Rock and Rumble,” Australia's Elvis Sinosic, made a huge splash in his UFC debut, submitting highly regarded Jeremy Horn with a triangle armbar at 2:59 of the first round. The one-liner you just read was short and sweet, as was the fight, but the impact was huge for Sinosic and Australian MMA, as the nation now had a legit contender in the biggest promotion in the world. Sinosic would face Tito Ortiz in a title fight a few months later, and while he lost that shot at the belt, his name would always be one of the first mentioned when it came to MMA down under.