MARK HUNT VS DERRICK LEWIS
Grappling fans delight! Oh wait, wrong fight. Yes, striking fans, the odds of this one turning into a display of the more subtle parts of MMA are slim and none. Hunt and Lewis are bangers, plain and simple, and while that can be a recipe for an all-out slugfest, more likely it will be a chess match between the “Super Samoan,” who wants to keep it standing so he can deliver another walk-off knockout, and “The Black Beast,” whose main course of attack will be to get his opponent to the mat so he can implement his lethal ground-and-pound game.
DEREK BRUNSON VS DANIEL KELLY
If you look at the odds, Daniel Kelly isn’t supposed to beat Derek Brunson this weekend. Then again, he wasn’t supposed to beat Rashad Evans or Antonio Carlos Junior, and so on and so on. But the 39-year-old Aussie middleweight finds a way to win, and victories in six of seven UFC bouts proves it. And yeah, it is hard to pick him against the dynamic Brunson, but Kelly has made liars out of all of us before.
DAN HOOKER VS ROSS PEARSON
Dan Hooker gets a homecoming bout in Auckland, and he will step into the Octagon for the first time as a lightweight when he meets Ross Pearson. That sets the stage for quite the introduction for “The Hangman,” but Pearson hits hard and he’s hungry after three consecutive losses. So it comes down to a hot prospect fighting in a new part of town against a veteran contender with his back against the wall. I call that a Fight of the Night candidate.
ION CUTELABA VS HENRIQUE DA SILVA
For a guy with a 1-2 UFC record, Ion Cutelaba sure knows how to garner attention on fight night, and the reasons are clear: he’s confident, he’s offense-minded, and he throws every punch like he wants to send an opponent’s head flying. A year ago, this would have been a clash of the top two prospects in the light heavyweight division. Tomorrow, it should still feel the same way, because despite their setbacks, Cutelaba and da Silva are legit talents.
TIM ELLIOTT VS BEN NGUYEN
Ben Nguyen was understandably disappointed when his bout against No. 1-ranked flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez was scrapped, but he’s got just as tough a matchup in replacement foe Tim Elliott. In fact, Elliott might be even more of a puzzle to figure out because when you expect him to go left, he goes right. Luckily, Nguyen has a versatile skill set, and if he doesn’t get overwhelmed by Elliott’s chaos early, this will likely settle into a fun three-rounder between two 125-pound contenders.
ALEX VOLKANOVSKI VS MIZUTO HIROTA
Unbeaten for over three years, Japan’s Mizuto Hirota is one of those guys the fans may not know but that is respected by his peers, many of whom would rather get root canal than face him. Alex Volkanovski is not one of those guys, and he accepted this challenge in his first UFC fight at featherweight and his first since an impressive debut TKO of Yusuke Kasuya. If Alexander “The Great” is ready for his new division, Hirota is the guy who will find out that answer.
DAMIEN BROWN VS VINC PICHEL
While Hirota hasn’t lost in over three years, TUF 15’s Vinc Pichel hasn’t fought since 2014, making this one of the toughest fights to pick on the card. Damien Brown has momentum on his side thanks to back-to-back wins over Cesar Arzamendia and Jon Tuck, and for reference, he’s fought 10 times since Pichel’s last bout. That time won’t come back for Pichel, but he’s a determined banger who is healthy and excited to be back, so those attributes should get him back to speed soon enough.
LUKE JUMEAU VS DOMINIQUE STEELE
The fans demanded a UFC call for New Zealand’s own Luke Jumeau, and the promotion responded by giving him a slot on this card in his home country. That’s the good news for “The Jedi.” The bad news is that Steele is the kind of guy that may not always win, but he’ll always make you know that you’ve been in a fight. Then again, from what I’ve heard, Jumeau embraces the art of the scrap.
JOHN MORAGA VS ASHKAN MOKHTARIAN
Another Octagon newcomer getting a tough test in his debut is Australia’s Ashkan Mokhtarian. At 13-1 as a pro, he’s got the record to compete with flyweight contender John Moraga, but Octagon experience is another thing, and Moraga knows what it takes to win on the highest level. Mokhtarian knows the challenge ahead of him, but at 31, he also knows he has to make his move sooner rather than later.
KIICHI KUNIMOTO VS ZAK OTTOW
Back in action for the first time since 2015 is Japanese veteran Kiichi Kunimoto, and while he went 3-1 in the UFC before his long layoff, 36 isn’t an age when you want to start again, especially against a hungry prospect in Zak Ottow, who has every intention of starting a winning streak at Kunimoto’s expense.
JJ ALDRICH VS CHANMI JEON
Missing weight and losing 20 percent of her purse isn’t the way Chanmi Jeon wanted to start her UFC career, but the 19-year-old comes to the Octagon with plenty of positive notices heading into her bout against JJ Aldrich, and she intends on living up to the hype come fight time.
DONG HYUN KIM VS THIBAULT GOUTI
At first, he was just the “other” Dong Hyun Kim, but in the space of three fights, the “Maestro” has made his own name in the Octagon thanks to an aggressive, action-packed style. It’s a quest that continues against Thibault Gouti, who needs to get in the UFC win column after losing three straight.