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The UFC travels to a land down under this weekend for a heavyweight main event between Stipe Miocic and Mark Hunt, which highlights a 12-fight card headed for Australia this Saturday (Sunday Australia time).
Miocic is coming off a five-round war with former UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos while Hunt fell recently in his bid to win the interim heavyweight title in a fight he took on short notice against Fabricio Werdum.
Also on the card, former Ultimate Fighter winner Robert Whittaker looks to make another big impression in his second fight at 185 pounds when he takes on Brad Taraves in a crowd-pleasing bout in the middleweight division.
As we look ahead to this weekend's card in Australia, today's fantasy preview will break down some of those key matchups and see if there might even be an upset or two worth keeping an eye out for as we prepare for UFC Fight Night: Miocic vs. Hunt.
These are the fights on the card where the odds are so close it could go either way, but knowing a few differences between the two competitors might give you the edge when it comes time to make your fantasy selections.
Stipe Miocic (-225 favorite) vs. Mark Hunt (+185 underdog)
Two of the UFC's top five heavyweights square off this weekend in a bout that could push one fighter back into title contention while the other may be teetering towards another shot at the belt or never fighting for the gold again.
Miocic has proven to be a valuable asset in the UFC's heavyweight division with a boxing-first style that makes him dangerous on the feet, while also possessing legit wrestling skills that he honed while attending Cleveland State University. Miocic is a very busy striker for a heavyweight, landing 4.78 strikes per minute, the fourth highest in UFC heavyweight history. He's also got great defense, as he avoids his opponent's offense 62.5-percent of the time, which is again fourth in heavyweight history.
It's defense where Miocic might edge ahead of Hunt in this fight because the New Zealander might be one of the heaviest punchers in the history of MMA, but he also struggles to get out of the way when someone is trying to hit him back. Hunt is a punishing fighter on the feet, but his tendency to get into exchanges with opponents who are both faster and longer than him has cost him in a couple of recent fights. Most notably, his defeat to Junior Dos Santos and his recent loss to Werdum. In both of those fights, Hunt stood toe-to-toe and directly in front of taller and rangier fighters - and in the case with Dos Santos, he played that game with a deceptively fast and powerful heavyweight who has a lot of the same tendencies as Miocic.
Hunt can take a punch like nobody else in MMA, but he's been knocked out twice since coming to the UFC and with each fight, as his defensive numbers continue to plummet, you start to wonder if maybe age and damage have finally caught up to him. Miocic showed in his fight with Dos Santos that he can pack a serious punch and push the pace for five hard rounds. If Hunt can't get the job done early - which he's capable of doing - he might fade as rounds three and four start progressing.
If the fight ends early, it's likely Hunt who will land one of his infamous 'one and done' punches that typically leave opponents staring up at the lights. But as each second ticks away, turning into minutes and minutes turning into rounds, the favor starts to fall all in Miocic's corner.
Prediction: Stipe Miocic by TKO, round 3
Brad Tavares (-160 favorite) vs. Robert Whittaker (+140 underdog)
This middleweight matchup between Brad Tavares and Robert Whittaker has a real chance to steal the show as a potential Fight of the Night between two guys who love to stand and trade.
Following a couple tough losses in recent fights, Tavares came back in a big way in his last bout as he took out former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt in one of his most complete performances inside the Octagon. Tavares is a well-rounded fighter with good fundamental kickboxing skills, although he doesn't seem to have much in the way of real knockout power. He's also struggled defensively, which cost him in his bout against Tim Boetsch, as he won the early part of the fight but then got caught by the Maine native and finished in the second round.
As for Whittaker, he's still a bit of an experiment at 185 pounds after originally fighting in the UFC as a welterweight. He made quite an impressive debut as he dispatched Clint Hester by TKO in his last fight and that's no small task considering the sheer size of the former Ultimate Fighter competitor who once trained under Jon Jones. Whittaker lands strikes in volume, but does a great job of defending himself as well and rarely leaves himself open for big counters.
For Tavares to win this fight he has to stay controlled and tactical in his attacks. He can't get into big exchanges with Whittaker because he can't match his power, punch for punch. Tavares can absolutely outpoint him over three rounds, but standing in the pocket and throwing down would be disastrous for the Hawaiian.
Whittaker needs to try and draw Tavares into his kind of slugfest and if he can get him to stand still long enough to throw a few punches, it could be a short night's work for the local favorite. Whittaker usually comes out the victor when he can put his opponent away, but he hasn't figured out the subtle art of winning a close decision, so he has to try for the finish to guarantee he walks out of Australia a happy man.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker by TKO, Round 2
Jake Matthews (-165 favorite) vs. James Vick (+145 underdog)
A name on the rise to watch on this card is former Ultimate Fighter Nations competitor Jake Matthews, who has looked outstanding since his time spent on the reality show. Matthews is a young, hungry fighter who only seems to get better each time he walks into the Octagon, but he's definitely getting a step up in competition for this fight, taking on tall striker James Vick.
Vick is a long fighter for the lightweight division and he'll tower over Matthews with about six inches in height over his opponent. Vick is definitely more likely to try and keep this fight standing as he attacks from the outside with good volume and explodes forward from time to time with flying knees and other flashy attacks.
Matthews is the more well rounded fighter in this one, but his biggest advantage will be on the ground, where he is becoming a real submission artist. He tapped out Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Vagner Rocha in his last fight and that kind of confidence boost can only do wonders for this young Australian.
Matthews could certainly roll the dice in this fight and try for a stand-up affair with Vick, but he's averaging nearly four takedowns per fight since debuting in the UFC, so chances are he'll look for a ground fight in this one. Matthews is very offensive with his wrestling and he will fish for submissions the moment he gets Vick to the ground. If he starts attacking the legs early, Matthews might try to wrap this one up.
Vick has shown solid takedown defense, but if he can't stop Matthews from getting this to the mat, it's going to be a long night for him.
Prediction: Jake Matthews by submission, Round 2
These are the fights that appear to be safer when it comes to selecting one fighter or the other, but remember, this is MMA and anything can happen, no matter the odds.
Hatsu Hioki (-280 favorite over Daniel Hooker)
It wasn't that long ago that Hatsu Hioki was standing on the precipice of a title shot, but my, how times have changed. Hioki walks into his latest bout with a 1-4 record in his last five fights as he desperately clings on to his standing in the featherweight division. A favorable matchup this weekend against Daniel Hooker should cure what ails him unless Hioki really has started to slip into his 'retirement' years.
Hioki is an ultra aggressive ground fighter with a nasty array of submissions. His scrambles, attacks and escapes are still some of the best in the UFC's 145-pound division, and when he's on his game, Hioki can roll with anyone in the world.
Hooker will definitely try to keep this fight on the feet, where he has a much better chance of landing a knockout blow, but considering Hioki has never been finished with strikes, that's going to be an awfully tall endeavor to tackle. Hooker has shown tremendous toughness in his fights and he'll need that, especially if Hioki gets him on the ground.
Chances are Hooker will be so concerned with Hioki dragging him to the mat that his own offense will suffer. Once Hioki gets this one on the ground, it shouldn't be long until the crafty veteran gets back on track and in the win column.
Prediction: Hatsu Hioki by submission, round 1
Sam Alvey (-400 favorite over Daniel Kelly)
Sam Alvey asked for a fight against Daniel Kelly following his last win like he already knew this was a very winnable matchup for him and guess what?
He's probably correct.
Alvey is a one-punch knockout striker with deceptive power in both hands. He's not going to wow anybody with his volume, although he's not bad while landing 4.42 strikes per minute. Where Alvey is so dangerous is with his 50-percent accuracy combined with a laser focus to land the exact perfect punch at the right moment. He aims and fires, and if he lands, Alvey will be celebrating a few seconds later.
Kelly had a rather abysmal outing in his last fight, although part of the blame also belongs to his opponent, Patrick Walsh. Kelly is a former Judo Olympian with a good ground game and solid submission skills. The worrisome part of Kelly's approach was his last fight with Walsh, where he was willing to stand and trade for the entire fight. Maybe it was because he was facing a former Division I college wrestler, but if he makes that mistake in this fight, Kelly is going to sleep.
Prediction: Sam Alvey by knockout, round 2
Bec Rawlings (-155 favorite over Lisa Ellis)
This fight doesn't appear to be as much of a sure thing as the two previous bouts, but Bec Rawlings should be able to get the job done standing against Lisa Ellis in this strawweight matchup on the prelim card.
Rawlings is a very tall and long fighter for a 115 pounds, with good boxing and solid scrambling skills on the mat. Where she suffered in her last trip to the Octagon with Heather Jo Clark was in facing another big fighter for the strawweight division and it clearly took her out of her game, where she's normally the taller and rangier person in the fight. She won't have that problem with Ellis, who is giving up a couple inches of height and will enter this fight with hopes of taking the fight to the ground, where she has a wrestling advantage.
Rawlings has good enough punching power to keep Ellis away from her while standing and as long as she doesn't get sucked into a clinch battle on the cage, which gives her former Ultimate Fighter roommate a chance to pull this fight to the ground, she should land the more effective strikes round after round to get the victory.
Prediction: Bec Rawlings by unanimous decision
Dylan Andrews (-105 underdog to Brad Scott)
New Zealand fighter Dylan Andrews is an underdog in his upcoming fight against Brad Scott by the narrowest of margins, but he's definitely being undervalued as a great pick on this card.
Andrews hits like a truck and he's impossibly tough. He was the victim of misfortune in his last bout when he was doing well against Sam Alvey and then got knocked out by accident on a takedown and suffered a loss. Andrews should come back strong in this fight against Scott, especially given his power advantage on the feet.
Andrews is also fighting at home, which always amps up the intensity, but he's still a prospect worth watching and he should be able to get the job done with a heavy barrage of punches on the feet as Scott tries to weather the storm and get out of Australia without being finished. It's a Herculean task to avoid Andrews' punishment for three rounds, but if Scott can make it to the final bell, he's still likely looking at a defeat when this one is over.
Prediction: Dylan Andrews by TKO, round 3