The UFC returns to Australia this weekend with a card headlined by two of the promotion’s best up and coming middleweight contenders.
Robert Whittaker has enjoyed nothing but success since moving to 185 pounds, but after five straight wins, the New Zealand native is looking to get into title contention and it starts with a win on Saturday night.
Standing in his way is ultra talented Derek Brunson, who has also put together a five-fight win streak while also earning four of those victories by knockout.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine some of these key fights taking place in Australia to see who has the edge and who might be primed for an upset as UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Brunson unfolds.
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.
Robert Whittaker vs. Derek Brunson
A truly excellent middleweight matchup headlines this card in Australia as noted striker Robert Whittaker faces knockout artist Derek Brunson, with both fighters looking for a sixth win in a row. Whittaker has looked absolutely fantastic since moving to 185 pounds, but he's going to run into a serious roadblock this weekend against Brunson.
During his current win streak, Brunson has torn through several top strikers, scoring first round knockouts over both Sam Alvey and Uriah Hall. Brunson is unrelenting with his pressure and he hits like a truck whenever he connects with his punches or kicks. That forward pressure is also combined with a phenomenal wrestling game that is often forgotten because while Brunson has been focused on knockouts lately, he still possesses some of the best grappling in the division.
Whittaker will counter with blistering volume, where he lands nearly five significant strikes per minute, while he also showcases remarkably better defense than his opponent. Whittaker has also shown incredible takedown defense, blocking over 93 percent of the attempts against him, but to date he hasn't faced anyone with the wrestling ability that Brunson possesses.
Obviously, Whittaker will enjoy the hometown crowd behind him, but he may be facing off with the biggest threat to the top five at middleweight today. Brunson has shown incredible finishing power lately and that's without even using his wrestling, which may still be the best overall weapon in his arsenal. Don’t forget, Brunson also gave top ranked contender Yoel Romero everything he could handle when they met in 2014, and with a win on Saturday, he could be staring at a matchup that could put him one fight away from the title.
Look for Brunson to pressure Whittaker early and try to overwhelm him. If that doesn't work, the North Carolina native could then work for takedowns and apply a brutal ground-and-pound game, which is also another weapon in his growing tool belt.
Prediction: Derek Brunson by TKO, Round 3
Kyle Noke vs. Omari Akhmedov
Aussie favorite Kyle Noke will return to action this weekend against Russian Omari Akhmedov in a bout that could be a show stealer for Fight of the Night.
Akhmedov may be coming into the fight off two straight losses, but he's nothing if not exciting, no matter what happens when he steps into the Octagon. Akhmedov is all about go big or go home, and with a slew of finishes on his record, there's little doubt that he'll be looking for the knockout or submission against Noke.
Meanwhile, Noke has suffered through some ups and downs since making his move down to welterweight, posting a 2-2 record over his last four fights. It bodes well for Noke that he's returning home for this one after his last big victory also took place in Australia when he flattened Peter Sobotta by TKO back at UFC 193. Noke remains a very well rounded fighter with good striking and an underrated grappling game at his disposal.
What helps Noke in this fight is that he will employ a solid four-inch reach advantage over Akhmedov while also landing with more frequency and much better accuracy. Add on to that, Noke's defense is several points higher than Akhmedov, who has struggled to get out of the way of his opponents' offense, which has cost him several times inside the Octagon.
If Noke can stave off any huge shots from Akhmedov on the feet, he should be able to control the distance and land the better strikes. Noke is a fearsome finisher when an opponent makes a mistake, and considering Akhmedov's tendency to get caught sleeping on his feet, he might take a long nap as a result.
Prediction: Kyle Noke by TKO, Round 2
Four-time Olympian Dan Kelly will look for his third straight victory when he fights at home in Australia against noted striker Chris Camozzi. Kelly has enjoyed some very impressive wins lately, picking up victories over Steve Montgomery and Antonio Carlos Junior in consecutive fights. Kelly is a high-level judo practitioner with good submissions and underrated striking on the feet.
As for Camozzi, he will definitely look to keep this fight on the feet to avoid getting out grappled, which has been his biggest downfall in recent losses. Camozzi is a blistering fast striker on the feet with explosive punches, elbows and kicks, but he'll have to keep his distance in this fight or risk being tossed to the ground by Kelly. Knowing Kelly has the advantage on the ground might make Camozzi a little apprehensive about throwing too may kicks, which takes away a primary weapon for him in this fight.
While it's easy to scoff at Kelly's chances of ever making a serious run in the middleweight division as he approaches his 40th birthday next year, it's impossible to ignore the talent that he's shown in recent fights. Kelly has to be careful not to get sloppy on the feet with someone as dangerous as Camozzi, but if he can get this fight to the ground, the Australian has a great opportunity to dominate on the mat once again.
Prediction: Dan Kelly 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.
Jake Matthews vs. Andrew Holbrook
Following a tough outing in his last fight, Jake Matthews will look to bounce back at home when he takes on tough American fighter Andrew Holbrook. Despite the setback against Kevin Lee, Matthews remains one of the top international prospects in the sport and he'll look to showcase that this weekend.
Holbrook is a tough customer who will surely give Matthews a good fight on Saturday night, but he's fighting an uphill battle in this one. Holbrook's best weapon in this fight will probably be his ground control and submission arsenal, but Matthews is no slouch in either one of those areas. Matthews has fought higher-level competition throughout his UFC career and it's hard to imagine Holbrook throwing anything at him that the young Aussie hasn't seen before.
With a raucous crowd behind him and a point to prove after a bad outing in his last fight, expect Matthews to look for a dominant victory as he'll likely want to take Holbrook to the mat and start working for submissions or ground-and-pound on the mat. Either way, it's tough to pick against Matthews in this particular matchup.
Prediction: Jake Matthews by submission, Round 2
Ben Nguyen has consistently been one of the most exciting fighters in the flyweight division and the same could easily be said for his opponent on Saturday, Geane Herrera. This is another sleeper pick for Fight of the Night, as Nguyen and Herrera will look to throw down and put on an exciting matchup for the fans in Australia.
While there are certainly paths to victory for Herrera in this bout, it's Nguyen who has a better overall arsenal to get the job done. Nguyen is a blistering striker with a ton of knockout power for a flyweight, not to mention a very creative arsenal at his disposal that could come in handy against Herrera. Nguyen lands with better volume and better accuracy than his opponent, while also possessing a very slick submission game on the mat.
Herrera's best attribute thus far has been his incredible toughness, but he's a defensive liability at times thanks to his willingness to take a punch to give one back in return. That kind of game plan could backfire in a big way against a heavy-handed opponent like Nguyen. Expect Nguyen to set up his strikes and then wait for an opening as Herrera gets a little too aggressive and then has to pay for it.
Prediction: Ben Nguyen by knockout, Round 2
Seohee Ham will look for some consistency in her fourth UFC fight when she takes on Danielle Taylor in a matchup at 115 pounds. Ham has bounced back and forth between wins and losses since joining the UFC with a couple of hard fought battles against Joanne Calderwood and Bec Rawlings while picking up a win over Cortney Casey.
Despite a couple losses, Ham has been a tough out against everyone she's faced in the UFC. Ham is a volume striker, landing more than four significant strikes per minute, while her biggest defensive liability has been giving up a lot of reach to bigger fighters like Calderwood and Rawlings. That won't be nearly as much of a problem against Taylor, who is one of the shortest fighters in the division, and Ham will actually enjoy a two-inch reach advantage in this bout.
Ham's activity coupled with good accuracy while on the feet should allow her to control the pace against Taylor, who struggled to find her footing in her first UFC appearance. Taylor is tough as nails so she won't go away easy, but Ham's ability to land better strikes should keep her ahead on the judges' scorecards throughout this strawweight battle.
Prediction: Seohee Ham by unanimous decision
Jon Tuck will step into enemy territory this weekend against local favorite Damien Brown, who is looking to build on a huge knockout over Cesar Arzamendia in his last fight. Brown has shown a well-rounded skill set through his first two appearances in the UFC, and with a home crowd behind him, he'll surely look to get a second victory in a row this weekend. Brown possesses powerful hands and a better than average ground game as well, which is why he'll likely be the favorite to pick up the win on Saturday night.
That being said, Tuck has proven to be a tough matchup for anybody in the lightweight division, with a solid striking arsenal and surprising ground work whenever he hits the mat. Tuck's biggest enemy in almost all of his losses has been the mistakes he's made inside the Octagon that have opened up opportunities for his opponents. If Tuck can cut down on those lapses in judgment, he should be able to control the pace on the feet with a more technical striking game while stifling Brown's own offensive output.
It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Brown come out and get another crowd pleasing finish, but Tuck has all the weapons to put together a surprising performance against the Aussie. If Tuck can maintain his composure in the face of a hostile audience while making Brown guess at his varied attacks, it should give him a solid path to victory.
Prediction: Jon Tuck by unanimous decision