Two of the hardest-hitting heavyweights in the world will meet this weekend, as Derrick Lewis travels to enemy territory to face off with Mark Hunt in the UFC Fight Night main event in Auckland, New Zealand.
Lewis is currently riding an impressive six-fight win streak, with five of those victories coming by way of knockout. As for Hunt, he comes into the fight with aspirations to add a loss to Lewis' record while doing it in front of his home country fans.
In the co-main event, Derek Brunson will look to get back on track following a heartbreaking loss to Anderson Silva in February when he faces surging middleweight contender Dan Kelly, who is fresh off a win over former champion Rashad Evans in his most recent fight.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more as we look at who has the advantage going into the card, as well as who might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Hunt.
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.
Derrick Lewis vs. Mark Hunt
In a matchup between two certified knockout artists, the result may come down to who lands the best shot first.
Derrick Lewis has been on an incredible run lately, but it hasn't been without facing some adversity in his past few fights. Lewis had to battle with Roy Nelson for three rounds to earn his only decision win during that stretch and he had to endure a few rounds being out wrestled by Shamil Abdurakhimov before coming back to get a TKO victory. If there's one weakness that's shown through during Lewis' recent run, it's been his grappling, but that's not likely going to be an avenue he has to worry about with Hunt. Instead, Lewis might want to turn to his own wrestling to get this fight to the mat, where he can apply devastating power on the ground. Lewis has some of the most ferocious punching power the heavyweight division has ever seen, but he's even more dangerous when unleashing those shots on the mat. Lewis only hits about 33 percent of his takedown attempts, but where he succeeds is by landing on top of his opponents in a scramble before he unleashes that fight-stopping power.
Of course, Hunt has shown solid takedown defense, blocking nearly 68 percent of those attempts against him. On the feet, Hunt is a crushing puncher with knockout power in both hands. He works best when he closes the distance on his opponents and that's likely the game plan in this fight as well with Hunt giving up five inches of reach to Lewis. Hunt typically has a concrete chin as well, but he has been rattled or knocked out in several recent fights, so he may not be able to depend on his durability as much in this matchup.
Still, Hunt hits like a truck and fighting at home will be an advantage for him. Hunt typically has to travel halfway around the world for his fights, but this time he was able to train at home and won't deal with any jetlag or time differences for this fight. Lewis is certainly no slouch and he'll throw everything at him when these two bulls finally lock horns, but there's a slight advantage to Hunt based on his punching power, ability to take a shot and the motivation to win at home in front of his friends and family.
Prediction: Mark Hunt by knockout, Round 2
Derek Brunson vs. Daniel Kelly
Much like Derrick Lewis, Derek Brunson will walk into his opponent's backyard when he meets with Dan Kelly from neighboring Australia in a clash of two top 15-ranked middleweights.
Kelly made his way into the rankings after an unprecedented string of victories where he's been the underdog in nearly every matchup he's had inside the Octagon. The former four-time Olympian has shown no fear in the face of adversity while showcasing world class grappling skills, rapidly improving striking and an immeasurable amount of heart and toughness that can never be questioned. Chances are Kelly will need all that and more to get past Brunson this weekend.
Brunson is a hard-hitting middleweight with knockout power, not to mention a background in wrestling from his days in college. Brunson is a very well rounded fighter, but he has primarily focused on his boxing in his most recent fights. Brunson does average over three takedowns per fight, so he's absolutely not scared to put his opponents on the mat if that's where he wants to take the action. Couple that with Brunson's aggressive punching power on the feet and he's going to be a tough out for anyone at 185 pounds.
Kelly is no stranger to these situations where he's not exactly the odds-on favorite to win, but he somehow keeps finding a way to surprise the world. Kelly has not only shown solid striking in recent fights but he's also worked to improve his defense while standing as well. Kelly is also world-class with his judo, so he's dangerous in the clinch and is able to take advantage of a position whenever he's in a scramble with an opponent.
All that said, Brunson remains the pick to win this fight based on pure athleticism and more finishing power. Now Brunson has struggled with his conditioning in the past, so Kelly would probably do well to extend this fight out as long as possible because the deeper this matchup goes into the second or third round, the better chance he has to win. If Brunson is able to connect early, however, he may send Kelly packing back to Australia with a loss on his record.
Prediction: Derek Brunson by TKO, Round 1
Dan Hooker will look to get a win in front of his home country crowd as he faces former Ultimate Fighter winner Ross Pearson, who looks to get back on track following three losses in a row.
Hooker has experienced a few ups and downs inside the Octagon, but his most recent losses have only come to two of the best prospects in the featherweight division in Yair Rodriguez and Jason Knight. Now, Hooker will move up to the lightweight division, where he tries to pick up a win against one of the most seasoned veterans on the roster.
Pearson has been a part of the UFC for many years, while facing a laundry list of top competitors. Pearson is best known for his boxing, where he typically likes to out strike his opponents on the feet while using counter wrestling to stave off any kind of ground attack. Pearson is technically proficient while landing with solid volume and accuracy, and he's also showcased good defense on the feet absorbing more than a strike less per minute than his opponent.
As for Hooker, he will enjoy a slight reach advantage in this fight, but he's going to be facing a new kind of power at 155 pounds versus his previous home at featherweight. While Hooker will likely be the faster fighter, Pearson will pack a serious punch in this matchup and that could deter the New Zealand native from committing to his punches if he gets tagged with a few hard shots early. Hooker is also well versed on the ground, but Pearson's takedown defense could nullify that kind of attack.
In the end this is a very even matchup in all areas of the fight, but Pearson's experience and boxing prowess should allow him to edge out the victory against Hooker over three rounds.
Prediction: Ross Pearson by unanimous decision
Alexander Volkanovski made quite an impressive debut in the UFC last November when he handed out a second-round TKO to Yusuke Kasuya. Now he faces a real veteran in Mizuto Hirota, who will be looking for a second straight win following a victory over Cole Miller in his last fight.
Volkanovski showed in his last fight that he's a very aggressive striker, as he landed over seven significant shots per minute with an incredible 65 percent accuracy. He also showed off his wrestling skills in that fight, although he may struggle to apply his grappling against a more experienced fighter like Hirota.
Hirota has fought a ton of top names over the years, and while his record is decorated by a mix of wins and losses, that experience is huge when stepping into an evenly matched fight such as this one. Hirota is a powerful striker in his own right, but with his own takedowns landing with over 68 percent accuracy, he might be able to mix things up by putting Vokanovski on the mat a few times during this fight. Add to that, Hirota will enjoy a two-inch reach advantage on the feet so he could use his straight punches to set up takedowns while forcing Volkanovski to back up. Of course, Hirota has to be careful because Volkanovski could counter him with a huge shot in return, but if the Japanese veteran applies pressure and stays consistent with his attacks, he should get the job done.
Prediction: Mizuto Hirota by unanimous 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.
Tim Elliott may have accepted this fight with Ben Nguyen on short notice, but he still remains a heavy favorite to get the win in New Zealand.
Elliott has been reborn since returning to the UFC by way of The Ultimate Fighter, and his confidence only seems to grow with each performance. Elliott is a non-stop action fighter who goes after his opponents from the opening bell until the fight is stopped. Elliott has no fear of striking with anybody, but it's his wrestling that should ultimately get the job done in this matchup.
Nguyen can be a terrifying striker, especially in the flyweight division, where he's landing nearly five significant strikes per minute on the feet. Nguyen certainly has the knockout power to surprise Elliott, but it's more likely he'll be fending off takedowns throughout all 15 minutes in the Octagon. Elliott is tenacious and unrelenting with his wrestling and he's absolutely deadly in the scrambles.
Nguyen only has to make one error on the mat and Elliott will pounce with a submission. Elliott seems like he’s working his way towards the top five at 125 pounds and this will be another chance for him to showcase why he will be back in title contention one day soon.
Prediction: Tim Elliott by submission, Round 2
Newcomer Ashkan Mokhtarian will get a very tough welcome to the Octagon when he faces former title challenger John Moraga this weekend.
Mokhtarian seems like a solid prospect, and he’s entering his first UFC bout on a six-fight win streak with three knockouts and two submissions during his recent run. Mohktarian actually started out as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner before transitioning into kickboxing, but it's wrestling that may be his Achilles heel in this fight.
Moraga is an experienced collegiate wrestler out of Arizona State and he could certainly use that grappling pedigree to ground Mokhtarian in this fight. Of course, Moraga is no slouch on the feet either, so he may be able to pick his poison while testing the UFC rookie early to see how he's dealing with those infamous Octagon jitters. Moraga is coming into this fight after three straight losses, so he may look to play it safe with his wrestling to ground Mokhtarian for all 15 minutes.
Either way, Moraga's experience and overall skill set should be enough to get him past Mokhtarian no matter where this fight takes place. Moraga may not get a finish, but he should be able to cruise to victory when it's over.
Prediction: John Moraga by unanimous decision
Australia’s Damien Brown has made quite an impressive showing over his past two fights, including wins over Cesar Arzamendia and Jon Tuck, as he now competes close to home. Brown is a very well rounded fighter with solid striking and a good ground game while also staying active, with four fights in 2016 alone.
Activity is where former Ultimate Fighter competitor Vinc Pichel falls far behind in this matchup after being on the shelf for the past three years. That long layoff would hurt anybody and it's undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons why Pichel will be fighting an uphill battle when he takes on Brown this weekend.
That being said, Pichel was on a solid run when he was knocked out of action back in 2014. Pichel had defeated Garrett Whiteley and Anthony Njokunai in consecutive fights, and he looks to resume his career when he fights this weekend. Before his exit, Pichel looked like the kind of fighter who would put on an exciting bout every time he stepped into the Octagon thanks to an aggressive, heavy-handed style whenever he competed. Pichel will certainly need to knock off the ring rust early to ensure he has a chance to win this fight, but the intangibles are there for him to get the job done.
Pichel is tough as nails while also packing a serious punch when he's striking. With an average of just over three significant strikes landed per minute with over 50 percent accuracy, Pichel knows how to hit with volume while staying on target. It also helps that Brown has only showcased 47 percent striking defense on the feet, which means Pichel will get plenty of chances to hit him.
Assuming Pichel can come firing out of the gates without the long layoff hampering his performance, he could be a great pick to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Vinc Pichel by unanimous decision