The UFC returns to Australia this weekend with a stacked card featuring some of the top fighters on the roster and a ton of local talent as well.
In the main event, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir is back in action to face Mark Hunt, as both men look to climb back up the top 10 rankings. Mir is coming off a close, controversial decision loss to Andrei Arlovski but if he hopes to avoid back-to-back defeats, he's going to have to go through Hunt on his home turf.
Also on the card, Neil Magny looks to secure another marquee win in the welterweight division, as he faces heavy-hitter Hector Lombard, who wants to remind everybody at 170 pounds that there's a new contender to watch in 2016.
With a slew of great fights between the main card and prelims, there are plenty of tough matchups to pick from, but today's fantasy preview will take a look at a few of those key bouts to see who has the advantage going into the latest show in Australia.
More on Fight Night Brisbane: Full fight card | Reasons to watch | Hunt ready for another day’s work | Te Huna going back to his roots | Fighter inside has brought Bosse back to the UFC | WATCH: Under the radar fights to watch | 10 best UFC fights in Australia | Watch: Mir previews matchup with Hunt | Watch free fights: Hunt vs. Bigfoot Silva, Mir vs. Duffee, Magny vs Kunimoto, Lombard vs. Marquardt
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Mark Hunt (-165 favorite) vs. Frank Mir (+145 underdog)
The main event in Brisbane this weekend pits one of the best knockout punchers in the history of the sport against arguably the top grappler to ever compete in the division.
There's no secret to Mark Hunt's style inside the Octagon - he has a granite chin and sledgehammers for fists. Hunt isn't exactly light on his feet, but he's more than capable of walking down an opponent and bludgeoning them with punches until they fall over or simply can't take any more punishment. Hunt is a methodical striker who doesn't do flashy, but what he lands is always effective. Add to that the fact that Hunt seemingly has the ability to absorb an innate amount of offense courtesy of his durable head and body, and he makes for an impossibly tough fighter to put away.
Obviously, Mir is a little more well-rounded, with proven knockout power in his hands and a world class ground game. Mir showed in recent fights against Todd Duffee and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva that he's got plenty of pop left in his punches, but his real bread and butter is still a nasty, dominant ground game. Mir can certainly test the waters with Hunt on the feet and he may very well survive, but if he drags this one to the ground, it's a complete mismatch.
Mir will enjoy a long reach and height advantage, so his best bet would probably be to establish a jab early and then put Hunt on the ground as soon as opportunity knocks. The problem he'll face is getting close enough to land a takedown, and if Mir is going to get inside Hunt's striking range, that's extremely dangerous. All Hunt needs is one punch to land - not even flush but a glancing blow - and he'll put a stop to this fight. That kind of power is enough to believe Hunt can find a way to get the job done before Mir can pull him to the mat.
Prediction: Mark Hunt by TKO, Round 3
Neil Magny (-145 favorite) vs. Hector Lombard (+125 underdog)
The welterweight matchup between Neil Magny and Hector Lombard could end up being the toughest fight to pick on the entire card.
On one side stands Magny, who is criminally underrated when it comes to the top fighters at 170 pounds. He's a balanced fighter with good striking and solid ground skills, and Magny doesn't have one particular skill set that stands out above all the others, but that's also what makes him so good, as it's hard to predict where Magny will attack, and he's getting better with each fight.
As for Lombard, he's a knockout striker with world class judo, as well as a heavy chip on his shoulder after a lackluster performance in his last trip to the Octagon. Lombard was ranked No. 5 in the world before a recent suspension landed him out of action for the last year, so he's got a lot to prove in this bout. If Lombard is in shape and fighting to the best of his ability, it's hard to imagine he can't go hard with anybody in the welterweight division, and that includes champion Robbie Lawler. On an off night, Lombard slows down, and he has shown cardio issues in the past.
The gamble here is that Lombard will be at his best, considering the time off and fighting in front of friends and family from Australia. Lombard takes a lot of pride fighting close to home, and he doesn't want to disappoint the local crowd, so chances are he's going to give everything he's got to come away with a win. Magny won't go away easy, so Lombard will definitely need the conditioning to go all three rounds, but he should still find a way to eke out a win with superior striking and a solid takedown game over 15 minutes.
Prediction: Hector Lombard by unanimous decision
Seohee Ham (-125 favorite) vs. Bec Rawlings (+105 underdog)
Bec Rawlings will look for her second UFC win as she faces tough as nails South Korean strawweight Seohee Ham in the kick off bout on the main card Saturday night (Sunday in Australia).
Ham has proven to be a very game competitor through her first two fights in the UFC, most recently picking up her first win over Cortney Casey. Ham has no problem engaging in a real battle with her opponents, which often puts her in exciting affairs, but can also cost her in the form of taking a lot of damage during her fights.
The same could be said for Rawlings, who actually has a significant size advantage in this fight, but she rarely fights long, so chances are this one will end up with these two women stepping into the pocket and winging punches until somebody falls over. Rawlings is a very solid boxer in close, with good power and great durability over several rounds. Rawlings isn't a small strawweight though, so Ham would do well to push the pace early and try to tire her out late.
This is a real toss up, but look for Rawlings to put the pressure on Ham, especially if she can bully the smaller fighter against the cage. Considering neither one has bothered to look for a takedown through four combined bouts in the Octagon, it's not like Rawlings or Ham will try for one here either. So it's a stand-up battle, and based on size and power, Rawlings should have a very slight advantage.
Prediction: Bec Rawlings by split decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Antonio Carlos Junior (-550 favorite) vs. Daniel Kelly (+425 underdog)
Antonio Carlos Junior will look to notch another win this weekend after a disappointing outing in his last fight, where an accidental eye poke brought an end to his bout with Kevin Casey last December. He meets four-time judo Olympian Dan Kelly, who put on a great performance in his last bout against Steve Montgomery this past November at UFC 193.
Where Carlos Junior has such an overwhelming advantage is with his incredible ground game, and that's probably part of the reason why he's such a heavy favorite in this matchup. Carlos Junior is not only a force of nature on the ground, but he's also shown great takedown accuracy, landing more than 62-percent of his attempts in the UFC. Carlos Junior will never be mistaken for a world class striker, but with a five-inch reach advantage over Kelly, he can certainly exploit that during the fight as well.
Considering Kelly isn't exactly known for his knockout power, and with a judo background that plays right into Carlos Junior's greatest strength, it's hard to find a way that he wins this matchup. Kelly is strong enough to avoid Carlos Junior's submissions, but fighting them off for three rounds won’t do anything more than stave off a finish versus losing a decision.
Prediction: Antonio Carlos Junior by unanimous decision
James Te Huna (-255 favorite) vs. Steve Bosse (+215 underdog)
Any time you get two heavy-handed strikers like James Te Huna and Steve Bosse together, guarantees go out the window.
On paper, Te Huna's volume, with more than four significant strikes landed per minute at an over 51-percent accuracy clip, should get the job done. Te Huna is a versatile fighter as well, often mixing in a couple takedowns per fight to keep his opponents off balance.
Bosse is certainly no stranger to throwing caution to the wind and just engaging in a brawl, which is one reason the former hockey enforcer can't be counted out. Bosse doesn't exactly do things that are technically sound, but he's still got the kind of fight-changing power that erases the mistakes he might make when throwing punches. Then again, Bosse's tendency to engage in firefights has come back to bite him as much as it helps him.
Te Huna has been knocked out before, so don't discount the fact that Bosse could uncork a haymaker that finds a home. Te Huna has also been out of action for nearly two years, so that time off, plus three losses in a row, is a concern that must be addressed. That being said, Te Huna is still the better fighter overall, and as long as he doesn't just bite down on his mouthpiece and start swinging like a windmill, he should find an opening to either slip a fight-finishing punch through or possibly pull off a slick, well-timed submission.
Prediction: James Te Huna by TKO, Round 2
Alan Jouban (-485 favorite) vs. Brendan O'Reilly (+385 underdog)
Brendan O'Reilly certainly wasn't gifted any favors with this matchup against American Alan Jouban as he looks to get a win on home soil this weekend. O'Reilly is a solid prospect, but with less than 10 fights on his pro record while also sitting out for the better part of the last year, he's got a tall tree to climb if he hopes to win this weekend.
Jouban might not be a top 15 welterweight just yet, but he has the ability to go with anybody ranked in the 170-pound division. He's got very heavy hands and the ability to land with a lot of volume over three rounds. Jouban has also faced much stiffer competition throughout his UFC career, and coming off a loss to Albert Tumenov in his last bout will only fuel his desire to win that much more.
Jouban does get into slugfests more than he probably should, so that could bode well for O'Reilly if he can plant a few hard punches on the American's chin. O'Reilly would also be smart to toss in a couple of takedowns to keep Jouban guessing while also strategically making the part-time male model think twice before throwing a kick.
If Jouban is on the top of his game, however, O'Reilly will probably struggle to do much in this fight outside of hoping he doesn't get knocked out in front of his home country fans. Given Jouban's finishing power, that's going to be a stretch for O'Reilly on Saturday night.
Prediction: Alan Jouban by TKO, Round 2
Johnny Case (-105 underdog) vs. Jake Matthews (-115 favorite)
Admittedly, Johnny Case isn't much of an underdog against Jake Matthews, but it still qualifies, although this matchup of two top lightweight prospects really could go either way.
Matthews has shown very well rounded skills through his first few fights in the UFC and he's got a lot of room to grow after debuting in the Octagon as a teenager. Matthews has solid submission skills and a developing striking game to compliment his overall skill set.
Case is similar in many ways, but possibly just slightly ahead of Matthews in terms of striking power and wrestling, which is why he's favored to pull off the upset on Saturday night. Case has no problem throwing hands with anybody, but he's also proven that when the going gets tough, he's more than capable of planting an opponent on the mat and keeping them there. Obviously, he has to be careful with Matthews’s formidable ground game, but if Case can go three rounds with a world class submission specialist like Yan Cabral, he should be good on the ground in this fight as well.
Look for Case to land strikes at distance, and if Matthews tries for a takedown, the American's counter wrestling should keep the young Australian at bay enough for him to work his way to a victory over three hard fought rounds.
Prediction: Johnny Case by unanimous decision