The photograph of Robert Whittaker, Tai Tuivasa and Megan Anderson taken by The Daily Telegraph before UFC 225 in Chicago was titled “The Takeover.”
They weren’t kidding.
New Zealand-born Aussie Whittaker, the middleweight champion of the world and the first fighter from Down Under to hold a UFC crown, won an instant classic over Yoel Romero in their highly anticipated main event rematch.
Western Sydney’s Tuivasa, a rising star in the heavyweight division, upped his perfect pro record to 10-0 with a victory over former world champion Andrei Arlovski, and while Anderson lost her UFC debut to featherweight superstar Holly Holm, the former Invicta FC champion from the Gold Coast is expected to do big things at 145 pounds in the future.
In other words, fighters from Australia and New Zealand have come a long way since the days when Elvis Sinosic, Anthony Perosh and James Te Huna were the only natives representing those two nations in the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world.
“I’m a forever optimist, so I was hoping,” said Perosh in 2012 when asked if he saw the day when fighters from Australia would get the chance to be on a level playing field with fighters from around the globe in the Octagon. “Even from the fact that Australia is a big sporting nation and Australia doesn’t want to be left behind in anything. We’re already this big island in the middle of the ocean with nothing surrounding us, and we always try to keep up with everything. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sport or finance or whatever, we always want to be in there, and I think MMA was just a natural progression.”
Two years prior to Perosh’s statement, he appeared on the UFC’s first card Australia, battling Mirko Cro Cop on short notice at UFC 110 in Sydney. Countryman George Sotirpoulos decisioned Joe Stevenson on the card, and New Zealand’s Te Huna opened the card with a stoppage of Igor Pokrajac.
From there, it was a slow and steady rise to UFC prominence for the talented and gritty battlers bringing “Thunder from Down Under,” with fighters like Whittaker and superstar striker Mark Hunt leading the way. At present, there have been 12 UFC events in Australia, and in June 2014, the Octagon visited Auckland for the first of two New Zealand shows.
But the Aussies and Kiwis are just getting started, as the UFC Fight Night card at Singapore Indoor Stadium on June 23 features four of the finest competitors from Australia and New Zealand.
In the co-main event, No. 13-ranked light heavyweight contender Tyson Pedro gets the opportunity to move further up the rankings at 205 pounds when he takes on No. 7-ranked Ovince Saint Preux. Mixing his camp with stays in Australia, Thailand and the United States, Sydney’s Pedro has won seven of his eight pro fights, finishing all seven of his victories in the first round. And the 26-year-old is hoping for more of the same against the respected OSP.
Welterweight phenom Jake Matthews has been a member of the UFC roster since 2014, yet the Victoria product is still only 23 years old. On June 23, he looks to make it three consecutive wins since moving back to the 170-pound weight class last year when he battles Japanese veteran Shinsho Anzai in what promises to be a Fight of the Night candidate.
Now making her home in Las Vegas, the heart of Innisfail’s Jessica-Rose Clark is never far from Australia, and while she came to the UFC in 2017 with a solid reputation, few expected her to blast her way into the flyweight top ten the way she did with back-to-back wins over Bec Rawlings and Paige VanZant. Next up is fellow contender Jessica Eye, and with another victory, Clark could enter the title picture at 125 pounds.
Winner of five of his last six bouts, Auckland featherweight Shane Young will be chasing his first Octagon victory when he meets the Philippines’ Rolando Dy. Last November, Young got his call to the big show on short notice and still went three strong rounds with Australia’s Alex Volkanovski before losing a decision. Now the stablemate of middleweight sensation Israel Adesanya is back with a full training camp and the hunger to get his hand raised in Singapore.
The takeover continues.