In less than 24 hours, Mark Hunt and Derrick Lewis will engage in a gigantic striking battle between two massive behemoths. It’ll be the capper to the third UFC event in as many weeks, in Auckland, New Zealand.
As notable as that bout is, the rest of the main card is also pretty intriguing, at least by foreign Fight Night standards. Four of the six main card bouts all feature fighters from Australia or New Zealand, including Auckland’s own Dan Hooker and Mark Hunt.
It’s a pretty fun main card slate, and should be a fun and memorable one. Want proof? Well, here are my predictions for the entire six-fight main card slate.
UFC Fight Night 110 main card (10/9c, FS1)
Alexander Volkanovski (14-1) vs. Mizuto Hirota (18-7-2)
The main card opener is a Featherweight bout featuring what might be the best Australian fighter in the UFC today. That man is none other than Alexander Volkanovski. A former championship-level Rugby player, Volkanovski turned pro in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. Training as a wrestler from a very young age, Volkanovski is a great offensive wrestler with terrific ground strikes, very good counter-striking and an overhand right that can rock anyone in his division. The former Roshambo Lightweight champ and former AFC and PXC Featherweight champion has finished 12 of his 14 career wins, including nine via knockout. He’s gone the distance just once since his pro debut over five years ago, his lone loss came in May 2013, and he’s won 11 straight since. Simply put, the sky is his limit.
That’s not to say that Mizuto Hirota can’t beat Volkanovski though. Hirota has knocked out ten of his own opponents, and the only time he got finished in 27 career bouts was via submission against one of the greatest Lightweights in MMA history in Shinya Aoki back in 2009. As forgettable as the two UFC bouts from his initial 2013 stint were, Hirota has gone 1-0-1 since returning, and a win over the vaunted Volkanovski would do wonders for his extremely underrated stock. That said, I’ll still pick Volkanovski. For Hirota’s sake, I hope it’s more competitive than people are expecting it to be. Prediction: Volkanovski via tko, round 2.
(8) Tim Elliott (14-7-1) vs. (12) Ben Nguyen (17-6)
Flyweights take the stage next. Initially, Nguyen was supposed to face arguably the second best Flyweight ever in Joseph Benavidez. Sadly for Benavidez, a torn ACL will sideline him for at least the rest of 2017. Taking his place will be the latest TUF winner, Tim Elliott. Having gone just 2-4 in his initial UFC run, Elliott followed up that stint with three straight championship bouts at Titan FC-winning the title against fellow UFC veteran Iliarde Santos in his promotional debut, then successfully defending the title against Felipe Efrain and another former UFC fighter in Pedro Nobre.
Elliott’s success with Titan FC earned him a spot in TUF: 23, Tournament of Champions, which he won. While he lost his UFC return against UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson in his guaranteed UFC title bout last December, he did win the first round in the eyes of many, and impressed the masses. He then won a wildly entertaining ground battle against Louis Smolka in April, and is hoping to get one fight closer to evening up his overall UFC record.
As for Nguyen, the third-degree Taekwondo black belt is 3-1 in the UFC, with his first two promotional wins coming via first round finish. In all, 14 of his 17 wins have come via finish, including ten via knockout, and nine in the opening round. Since late 2010, Nguyen has gone 10-1, and a win over a veteran like Elliott could put him near contender status.
While Nguyen is the bigger threat to finish the fight, all signs point to an Elliott win. Nguyen has pretty good wrestling defense, but if his opponent can overcome his athleticism and movement on defense, as Louis Smolka did when he finished Nguyen via second round tko last July, then Nguyen is in trouble. Go figure, Elliott is a very big Flyweight, has terrific grappling, and a good gas tank to boot. Nguyen cannot be counted out of any fight due to his knockout ability, but Elliott via decision makes too much sense for me to pick otherwise. Prediction: Elliott via decision.
Ion Cutelaba (12-3, 1 NC) vs. Henrique da Silva (12-2)
Up next is a Light Heavyweight bout between two flamed out former prospects. Both men entered the UFC with a bevy of finishes and high expectations. Each has fought three times in the UFC, both have lost twice with the promotion, and the fighter who loses this bout will likely get cut.
Cutelaba came to the UFC with 11 wins and only one loss, having gone to the second round just twice, and finishing ten fights in the opening 75 seconds. In the UFC, all three of his bouts have gone to the third round, with his lone win coming via decision. It’s basically been the exact opposite of his pre-UFC run.
As for da Silva, the Brazilian knockout artist entered the UFC with a 10-0 record, with all ten fights ending via knockout, including seven in the first round. This included a win over former UFC fighter Ildemar Alcantara, and expectations were high for da Silva. At first, he lived up to the lofty expectations, winning his first two UFC bouts via second round finish, including a shocking submission against equally hyped up prospect Joachim Christensen last October. Since then, he’s been dominated en route to a second round submission loss to Paul Craig, before getting smothered in a decision loss to Jordan Johnson this past January.
Regardless of who wins and loses, this is a must win for both men. The loser likely gets cut, especially if it’s Cutelaba. Cutelaba has better grappling, a much better and very powerful clinch game, better boxing and a better chin, albeit not by much. I guess I’ll pick him, but if nothing else, this should be a fun Light Heavyweight bout between two guys who desperately need the win. Prediction: Cutelaba via tko, round 2.
Ross Pearson (19-13, 1 NC) vs. Dan Hooker (13-7)
It seems like every year, there’s an Australian or English Fight Night card in which Ross Pearson is fighting. It’s shocking that this is the first time he’s fighting in 2017, after fighting five times last year! Then again, he went just 1-4 last year, hasn’t won consecutive bouts since early 2013, and has more losses (ten) than wins (eight) since starting his UFC career with three straight wins. The TUF 9 winner is 8-10 with a no contest in the UFC, and even though he’s struggled quite a bit of late, he’s a fun fighter who always brings the action and ensures that his fight is an enjoyable and memorable one. In fairness to him, he’s only been knocked out twice in his UFC career, with the latest occasion coming in 2014, so while he has struggled, it’s not like he’s getting embarrassed in any of his fights.
That said, Pearson needs the win, and needs to do so in Dan Hooker’s hometown. An Auckland native, Hooker has finished 12 of his 13 career wins, six apiece via knockout and submission. You know, just like Ashkan Mokhtarian, who’s fighting in the prelims. That said, Hooker has failed to win consecutive bouts since entering the UFC in June 2014, and is just 1-5 in bouts that go the distance. All three of his UFC wins came via finish, while all three of his losses, including against Maximo Blanco, came via decision.
In other words, either Hooker will finish a guy who’s only been finished three times in 19 UFC bouts, or will lose a decision for the fourth time in seven UFC fights. Or maybe, just maybe, he can win a decision in the UFC for once? I’m leaning that way, and the possibility that Hooker finishes Pearson is definitely there. However, I’m just not ready to say goodbye to Pearson just yet. He’s a fan favorite, he’s really fun to watch, very easy to root for, and a loss will pretty much guarantee his release. Even though Hooker should win and likely will win, I can’t definitively pick him. Head pick: Hooker via decision or late tko. Heart pick: Pearson via decision.
(8) Derek Brunson(16-5) vs. (15) Dan Kelly (13-1)
The co-main event is, well, something. On one side, there’s Derek Brunson. Having been in the UFC since December 2012, Brunson went 7-1 in his first eight UFC bouts, including five via first round knockout. As a result, he earned himself a co-main slot against Robert Whitaker last November, before the originally scheduled main event between Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza was scrapped, and Brunson’s bout got promoted to the headlining slot. Brunson got off to a hot start, dominating for the majority of the opening round. Then, the tide suddenly turned, and Whitaker knocked him out with 53 seconds to go in the very same round. In his follow-up bout, Brunson lost a very controversial decision against the legendary Anderson Silva at UFC 208 this past February. Now, he’s lost two straight, and badly needs the win.
Dan Kelly is no joke though. A fourth-degree Judo black belt, as well as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, Kelly competed in four straight Olympics from 2000 to 2012, before making his MMA return in December 2012. It was just his second pro fight, and first since July 2006. In four years since, Kelly has fought 12 times. He’s shockingly 6-1 in the UFC, including four straight wins. He stunned former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Rashad Evans in his last fight at UFC 209 in March, and now, the Australian has earned a co-main slot on a New Zealand card.
If this fight stays standing, Brunson will likely knock Kelly out. Brunson has eight knockout wins, with many of them coming in the first round. However, Kelly clearly has the ground advantage, and has win five times via submission. If this fight goes the distance, it’s a potential tossup. Everyone seems to think Brunson will blitz Kelly and get the quick KO. As likely as that may seem, Kelly has a knack for surprising people. Oh who am I kidding? Kelly likely gets blasted and this dreamy run of his likely gets burned down in his region. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems destined that he’ll get knocked out here. Head pick: Brunson via knockout, round 1. Heart pick: Kelly via decision or late finish.
(6) Derrick Lewis (18-4, 1 NC) vs. (7) Mark Hunt (12-11-1, 1 NC)
In the main event of the evening, somebody’s getting knocked out. Derrick Lewis has had 18 of his 23 career fights end via knockout. While 11 of Hunt’s 25 career fights have not ended via knockout, nine of his 12 wins have, and so have five of his losses.
Lewis is 8-2 in the UFC, with five straight wins, and all but one of those fights ending via knockout. He’s also been rocked in most of his fights, and got knocked out by both Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan inside the octagon. Against a striker as precise and powerful as Hunt, one shot could put out his lights.
As for Hunt, despite having such a “meh” record and being 43-years-old, he’s still a very big deal. The former K-1 Grand Prix champion is a combat sports legend. He’s defeated the likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva, Frank Mir, Ben Rothwell, Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva, Stefan Struve and Cheick Kongo. He’s wildly popular for his “walk away” knockouts in which he lands with a shot or two, and instead of trying to inflict further damage, just walks away having known that his opponent is done for.
This is a tough fight to pick. Lewis has insane power, but gets rocked all the time and isn’t very disciplined or technical with his strikes. Against someone as technical and accurate as Hunt, he could be in major trouble. Then again, Hunt is quite old and just got knocked out via knees against Alistair Overeem in March. It’s a tossup, and anything can happen. I hate to pick against my fellow Texan, even if I think he’ll win, but I’m picking Hunt. Prediction: Hunt via tko, round 2.