Fight Night 43 in New Zealand may have passed slightly under the radar on an international level but it sent a clear message to the UFC executive team—this corner of the world gives you bang for your buck. With only 3 fights out of 10 going the distance, the emergence of new talent, and possibly the best ring entry in UFC history, the show was what Aussies and Kiwis alike would call a “cracker!” It was, however, not all cheers from the NZ crowd as they were forced to witness some of their local heroes miss out on some sorely needed wins.
The prelims started the show on the right foot with the introduction of some new talent and the rebirth of some scrappy older veterans. After a lackluster beginning between two American combatants, New Zealand native Daniel Hooker kicked it up a notch by making short work of his English opponent. A resident of the famous Strikeforce gym, he used some superb elbow strikes to gain his first victory in the UFC. In the next bout, Rodrigo Lima dominated a game Neil Magny with some high level jiu jitsu for the first round. The veteran Magny weathered the storm and came back in the second to claim a strong TKO victory.
The next fight, Grujic v. Indich, was one that had Australian fans extra excited as both were TUF Nations household members but had suffered losses in their first UFC bouts. Both fighters knew they had something to prove and Aussies got the brawl they were expecting. Grujic was making his first foray into the welterweight division and initially there was some concern it may affect his explosive advantage he showed on the TUF season. The concerns were soon answered when he finished Indich with a devastating one-two combination and cemented himself as one to watch in his new division.
Aussie fighter Vik Grujic
Aussie fans were particularly excited for the next bout which brought back local Sydney hero Richard Vaculik. TUF Smashes fighter and star of the TV show The Crew. His opponent, Roldan Sangcha-an, although inexperienced on paper, hails from the famous Lakay MMA gym in the Phillipines. Sangcha-an had previously stopped all of his opponents by either TKO or submission, so Vaculik was wise not to take him lightly. Although Vaculik won a well deserved decision, his opponent demonstrated well-rounded skills and the contest was in no way a walkover.
At only 19 years of age, Jake Matthews continued the Aussie landslide. His performance went some way to proving that the TUF feeder system is an effective manner of incubating local talent. His opponent, Dashan Johnson, hails from a pro boxing background and although he showed brief moments of brilliance in the fight, the show was all Matthews. His first foray into this new weight division seems to be a smart decision. He dominated every range and showed a ferocity that had fans asking for more. Johnson may also find himself in some post-fight trouble as Matthews accused him of biting his arm during the fight.
Robert Whittaker of New Zealand fights Mike Rhodes of USA
The main card showed Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker, returning to good form and breaking his 2-loss streak. The Sydney fighter displayed some of his early promise against Roufusport athlete Mike Rhodes, the kind that had local fans wondering if he may be our best contender for a belt one day. After spending his last two camps overseas, he returned to his home in Sydney, and resumed his training under his original mentor, Henry Perez. It showed in his performance as his unpredictable style returned, confusing his American opponent and earned him a comfortable victory. There have been heated discussions in the local scene as to whether or not our fighters will become institutionalized by spending too much time overseas rather than trying to form a unique identity. Although there are no conclusive answers as of yet, the fight results are beginning to slant towards the later.
Charles Oliveira celebrates his victory
Although not a local fighter, Charles Oliveira had the crowd on their feet when he did the unthinkable and submitted Hatsu Hioki for the first time in his 37-fight career. Always exciting in both victory and defeat, Oliveira will hopefully use this momentum to return to the excitement he displayed in his early career.
Soa "The Hulk" Palelei
The next fight caused the first look of disappointment on the local fans faces. Soa Palelei, making his second run at the UFC, has been gaining some serious momentum in his last few fights. Unfortunately his opponent, 3-time All American wrestler, Jarod Rosholt, had a game plan that ended in boos from the audience. From start to finish he stamped his rhythm on the fight and never let the Aussie fighter get started. It was an unfortunate display of one of the country’s biggest weaknesses—the lack of wrestling pedigree. Soa showed some unique reversals and tried at times to rally, but the American fighter was simply too savvy and won a unanimous decision.
The final fight of the night, the devastating James Te Huna versus Nate “The Great” Marquardt promised fireworks. One aspect that made this fight particularly interesting was that both fighters were moving to middleweight for the matchup. Nate, after not finding success in the welterweight division, decided to come up a weight class and James was coming down from his battles at lightheavy. Both looked fit and healthy and fans were on the edge of their seats. Te Huna entered the Octagon after a traditional Haka dance and was accompanied by blood-spattered warriors. Although Dana White may not be a big fan entrance theatrics, it would be surprising if he wasn’t impressed by this fierce performance.
James Te Huna enters with traditional dancers
The first round started off as expected, with both fighters eager to make their mark. After the initial trade, Nate surprised James by reversing his takedown and landing on top. After a series of devastating elbows they returned to their feet where James showed his trademark ferocity, hurting Nate with his hands. After a brief period of clinching, James attempted an inside trip which Nate again reversed, ending up on top. Nate’s experience was beginning to show but James exploded to his knees and began shaking Marquardt off. In a turn of brilliance, Nate turned the near reversal into a slick Kimura-Armlock combination and snatched the victory with a tap-out. The crowd went silent and Te Huna looked like his soul had been shattered. Although it was his third loss in a row, Te Huna looked incredibly dangerous at this weight and like his opponent, he appeared completely reinvigorated. People may forget that Nate has almost double the fights of his younger opponent. Hopefully we will see much more of both in the near future.
Marquardt sets up an armbar
After a fantastic card, the emergence of new talent and the return to form of past greats, the UFC brass should be asking themselves what’s next for New Zealand and Australia. If the card was anything to go by, there are exciting things in store for fans all over the world.
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