The UFC’s loaded Summer schedule makes its third stop in three weeks, this time settling in southeast Asia, more specifically Auckland, New Zealand. Headlined by a titanic Heavyweight clash between hometown hero Mark Hunt and Texas’ Derrick, it’s a card with a pretty interesting and wild main card.
That said, while the prelim card isn’t big on names, there is potential for some pretty fun bouts and wild moments. Here’s my predictions for all six of the scheduled prelim bouts on slate for tomorrow evening.
Fight Pass Prelims (7/6c, UFC Fight Pass)
Thibault Gouti (11-3) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (14-8-3)
If you’re wondering why a man who fought the likes of Tyron Woodley, Carlos Condit, Nate Diaz, Tarec Saffiedine, Erick Silva and TJ Grant is opening the Fight Night prelims of an Australian Fight Night card, well, you’ve got your Dong Hyun Kims confused. That DHK is “Stun Gun,” while the one opening this card is nicknamed “Maestro.” It’s fine, it happens to everyone. This Dong Hyun Kim isn’t as high level as the other one, but he is more explosive and fun to watch for the most part. He’s finished 11 of his 14 career wins, and desperately needs a win. He’s 1-2 in the UFC with both of his losses in the company coming via third round knockout. His decision win over Brendan O’Reilly in his last outing saved him from being cut, but a loss in this fight will undoubtedly lead to his release.
As for Gouti, the French submission specialist came into the UFC last year with a spotless 11-0 record. Since entering the promotion, he’s gone 0-3, losing all three bouts via finish, including two losses within the opening two minutes. In fact, the combined length of those tow fights was exactly two minutes!
This fight should be fairly fun while it lasts. Two desperate men who are finishers, need a win desperately, and will get cut if they lose? It’s a coin flip, and I’ll pick Kim to get a takedown and win via ground and pound if he’s smart, but I can’t guarantee anything. Watch out for this one folks. Prediction: Kim via tko, round 2.
Chan-Mi Jeon (5-0) vs. JJ Aldrich (4-2)
The headlining prelim was originally supposed to be JJ Aldrich welcoming one of my favorite young prospects to the UFC, Nadia Kassem. Sadly, Kassem got hurt, and had to bow out. Taking Kassem’s place on the card is the equally dangerous Chan-Mi Jeon. Just 19 years old and two years into her pro career, the young Jeon is unbeaten with four finishes, all via first round knockout, and three in the opening minute. As amazing as that feat is, it’s one that shouldn’t be overstated. The three women she knocked out in the opening minute? They were all making their pro debuts against her, and haven’t fought since. The same can be said against the fourth woman she defeated, with that bout being the only one in which she went the distance. Granted, her last fight came against a veteran of 41 prior fights in Megumi Yabushita, but Yabushita entered the bout with a 19-22 record, had lost six straight prior to that bout, is 45 years-old, and hadn’t fought in three and a half years. While Jeon’s power is to be noted and feared, it shouldn’t be overstated.
As for Aldrich, the Denver, Colorado native is looking for her first UFC win, after losing her debut via decision against Juliana Lima last December. The third-degree Taekwondo black belt owns a pair of first round knockout wins, including against veteran Kathina Catron, and her only finish loss came against fellow UFC fighter Jamie Moyle in early 2015 in Invicta. Speaking of Invicta, Aldrich fought three times for the promotion, going 2-1 with them.
As much as I’d love to see Jeon get another knockout win, this time in the octagon, I don’t see it happening. She’s very young and very raw, and it’s way too early by all accounts for her to be in the UFC. Her potential is very high, but this might be too much too soon for her. Add in the fact that this was a short notice bout for her, and she missed weight? I just don’t see her winning this fight, even if I’d love for her to do so. The most likely scenario is that she’ll attack with all she’s got, and if she can’t get the quick finish, she’ll gas out and Aldrich will finish her. It’s sad, but that’s the most likely scenario. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is what it is. Prediction: Aldrich via tko, round 1 or 2.
Televised prelims (8/7c, FS1)
Zak Ottow (14-4) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (18-6-2, 1 NC)
Zak Ottow has finished 12 of his 14 wins, including 10 via submission, has eight first round finishes, and I first saw him in an RFA bout in early 2013. If you saw his UFC bouts though, you’d probably think watching paint dry might be more fun than watching Ottow fight. It doesn’t help that his two UFC opponents to date, Josh Burkman and Sergio Moraes, aren’t exactly a recipe for fun. Both fights ended via split decision, with the Burkman bout being considered a win for Ottow, while the Moraes bout wound up being ruled a loss. Ottow took the bout on short notice, but still, many are picking him to win.
As for Kunimoto, he should be thankful that his initial opponent, former TUF: Brazil winner Warlley Alves, had to bow out of this bout. Kunimoto hasn’t fought since February 2015, a bout in which he got submitted by Neil Magny in the third round. He’d won his first three UFC bouts before losing that one, and the fact that he has been out ever since doesn’t make anyone feel hopeful for him. Granted, he’s a grinder with nine submission wins, and the last time he got finished prior to the Magny loss was back in 2008. However, I see Ottow being stronger than Kunimoto, and as a result, Kunimoto’s best chance of winning goes out the drain. If Ottow doesn’t get the submission, he should at least win yet another decision. This could be an intriguing grapplefest, but it’ll most likely be a snoozer instead. Prediction: Ottow via decision or late submission.
Luke Jumeau (11-3) vs. Dominique Steele (14-8)
Luke Jumeau is nothing if not fun. The 29-year-old New Zealander has finished nine of his 11 wins, including four in the first round, and six straight in order to get to the UFC. He hasn’t lost since May 2013, and while he has been submitted twice, that only adds to the fact that he is wonky and fun to watch, win or lose.
As for Steele, I’m sorry, but I just don’t look forward to his fights. I know he’s got an emphatic slam knockout win over “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim in the UFC. However, the four fights I saw of him prior to the UFC (losses to David Branch and Brian Rogers in Bellator in 2012, a decision win over Dan Hornbuckle in 2014, and a decision win over Chuck O’Neil in CES in 2015) were so dispiriting that I cannot care to watch him unless I care for his opponent. He’s 1-3 in the UFC, with the losses coming against Zak Cummings via 43-second tko, and a pair of decision losses against Danny Roberts and Court McGee last year. If he loses this fight, he should and likely will get cut. That said, he’ll likely get a win unless he gets knocked out. I don’t think he’ll get knocked out, and while this could be a fun fight thanks to Jumeau, I see Steele likely winning a decision. I hope I’m wrong, I really, really do. Heart pick: Jumeau via tko. Head pick: Steele via decision.
(11) John Moraga (16-6) vs. Ashkan Mokhtarian (13-1)
Of the four televised prelim bouts, this is the only one I can confidently say I’m looking forward to. Mokhtarian has finished 12 of his 13 wins, six apiece via knockout and submission, including seven in the opening round. He’s won three regional MMA championships, and his finishing ability is very rare for the Flyweight division. he’s never faced someone the likes of Moraga, but he is very dangerous, no doubt about it.
As for Moraga, the 33-year-old former UFC title challenger has fallen on hard times inside the octagon. After winning his first two UFC bouts, both on the Facebook portion of 2012 cards, Moraga was given a title shot against Demetrious Johnson. As expected, he was dominated from pillar to post, before succumbing to a submission in the final minutes of the bout in July 2013. While he rebounded with three wins in his following four contests including two straight submission wins, Moraga has lost three straight since then. Granted, there’s no shame in losing decisions against Joseph Benavidez (arguably the second best Flyweight ever) and Sergio Pettis, and the loss to Matheus Nicolau was a controversial split decision. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Moraga has lost three straight, and a loss tomorrow night could spell the end of his UFC career.
This one is honestly tough to pick. Moraga is the better wrestler, and Mokhtarian has had trouble avoiding the takedown in the past. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Moraga will take him down and potentially submit Mokhtarian. However, I really believe Mokhtarian is good enough to potentially contend in the UFC. In order for him to do that, Mokhtarian needs to win this bout. Even if I think Moraga has a great chance to win if he fights smart and to his potential, I’m picking Mokhtarian, even if I’m not as confident as I was in him winning about a week ago. Prediction: Mokhtarian via tko, round 2 or 3.
Damien Brown (17-9) vs. Vinc Pichel (9-1)
The headlining prelim bouts of UFC cards are supposed to be notable deals. Headlining prelim bouts for PPVs tend to involve ranked fighters, and even Fight Night prelim headliners are usually notable. Hell, even next week’s Fight Pass Singapore card’s headlining prelim bout is notable, since it features Jon Tuck facing the legendary Takanori Gomi!
So why are Damien Brown and Vinc Pichel headlining the prelims on this card? Well, Brown is Australian, is the former BRACE and XFC Lightweight champion and has a 2-1 UFC record, so he’s a bigger deal there than people in the States may like to believe. His record isn’t sexy, and the fact that eight of his nine losses came during a pair of terrible losing skids isn’t very appealing either. However, the fact that he’s 7-1 since the start of 2015 is quite appealing, as is his winning UFC record, and the fact that he’s finished 11 of his 17 wins.
As for Pichel, it’s hard to expect much. Due to injuries and other things, the Californian has been robbed of a huge chunk of his prime years. He’s 2-1 in the UFC, but he made his UFC debut in 2012, and hasn’t fought since May 2014. That’s right, he’s fought just three times in five years, and hasn’t fought in over three years. He’s finished seven of his nine fights via knockout, and has a solid gas tank. Had he been more active, I think he’d have a solid chance against Brown. Hell, he might still have a decent chance due to his power and footwork advantage. However, I’m extremely concerned that ring rust will hinder him. I’ll pick Brown, in what will hopefully be a fun fight. Prediction: Brown via decision or late submission.