The Octagon returns to the South Pacific on Saturday with a 12-fight card headlined by heavyweight knockout artists Derrick Lewis and Mark Hunt and replete with competitors both old and new from around the region.
While fighters like Dan Kelly, Dan Hooker and Ben Nguyen have made several voyages into the UFC cage in recent years, this weekend’s event at Vector Arena also offers an opportunity for fans to familiarize themselves with a handful of fresh faces beginning their time on the UFC roster.
This is On the Rise: Auckland Edition.
After putting together a 10-fight winning streak and generally crushing it on the regional circuit for the last several years, Volkanovski got called to make his Octagon debut on last November’s Fight Night event in Melbourne and he did not disappoint.
The man from Windang, New South Wales ran his winning streak to 11 with a second-round stoppage win over Yusuke Kasuya, picking up the 12th finish of his career in his first UFC victory. Originally tabbed to fight in Halifax earlier in the year, Volkanovski missed out on the opportunity when his opponent was forced out with an injury, delaying his sophomore appearance until now.
Stationed in the opening bout of the main card, Volkanovski faces the toughest test of his career as he takes on Japanese veteran Mizuto Hirota. The 36-year-old Hirota is unbeaten in his last five and has shared the cage with a host of seasoned fighters over the years. If Volkanovski can maintain his winning ways, the crowd in Auckland is sure to erupt.
MATCHUPS: Volkanovski vs Hirota | Jumeau vs Steele | Aldrich vs Jeon
While there is no sure-fire blueprint for getting called up to the UFC, keeping a healthy winning streak intact by earning a stoppage win over an Octagon veteran is never a bad idea and that’s precisely how Jumeau came to find himself on this weekend’s fight card.
The 29-year-old “panel beater” – the term used in some Commonwealth countries to describe those who repair vehicle bodies to their factory state following an accident – made it six straight with a second-round stoppage win over TUF: Nations alum Vik Grujic in January to earn a place opposite Dominique Steele on Saturday. He’s perfect since suffering back-to-back losses to current UFC competitors Li Jingliang and Jake Matthews four years back and has finished everyone he’s faced during his current run of success.
In Steele, Jumeau faces a durable, aggressive veteran who fought tough competition on his way to the Octagon and has continued to show his grit and tenacity in his first four UFC appearances. A victory over Steele will be a step in the right direction for “The Jedi” as he aims to show everyone that he is a force to be reckoned with inside the cage.
An injury to Nadia Kassem has opened the door of the Octagon to the 19-year-old Jeon, who steps in on short notice to square off with TUF alum and Invicta FC veteran JJ Aldrich.
The undefeated South Korean newcomer has collected five consecutive victories since turning pro in June 2015, earning stoppages in four of those outings, including her September 2016 victory over Japanese veteran Megumi Yabushita. Currently the youngest fighter on the roster, Jeon would join Vitor Belfort and Sage Northcutt as the only 19-year-olds to earn a victory in the UFC should she get past Aldrich on Saturday.
Following a lengthy amateur career that included bouts with Raquel Pennington and Kailin Curran, Aldrich turned pro in late 2014, amassing a 4-1 record under the Invicta FC banner before joining the cast on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter. She made her official promotional debut in December, losing to Brazilian veteran Juliana Lima.
While the Colorado-based strawweight has the edge in experience, Jeon has shown solid power and sound finishing instincts through her first five fights and will be out to prove that she belongs on the biggest stage in the sport.