Mixed martial arts is a thriving passion for the fighting faithful in Australia.
The fanbase has grown to become one of the most lively collectives across the globe, and on Friday night (Saturday for them), the UFC returned for UFC Fight Night 33. It was the promotion's first visit to Brisbane and the first time the Octagon had rolled through Australia in a year.
With a market hungry for action-packed combat, what better way to mark a return than with two of the game's heaviest hitters in Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and Mark Hunt? Despite both fighters coming off recent losses, the matchup featured two men who were eager to get back into the title hunt in the heavyweight division.
Silva came into the bout one fight removed from a title opportunity, where he was drubbed by champion Cain Velasquez at UFC 160 in May. Silva was looking to get things back on track against the former K-1 champion.
The "Super Samoan" was in a similar position as he was knocked out by former champion Junior dos Santos in his most recent showing. That bout served as the co-main event on the same card where Silva and Velasquez battled for the heavyweight strap. On Friday night, they met Down Under to handle business, and it turned into one of the best heavyweight battles of all time.
Both fighters put everything on the line in an epic 25-minute dustup. Silva dropped Hunt in the opening round, but the brick-handed Hunt fired back and turned the tide by sitting the American Top Team fighter down with a straight right hand in the third.
When the final bell sounded, the Octagon and the fighters involved were a bloody mess, and the feeling that the fight had no real loser hovered over the bout. That turned out to be the case officially, as the decision was a majority draw.
While the heavyweights were the biggest draw on the card, the co-main event featured MMA legend Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who looked to return to the win column against James Te Huna. The former light heavyweight champion had dropped three of his last four bouts and desperately needed a victory in Brisbane to stop the backslide.
It took him just over a minute to get what he needed as Rua knocked out Te Huna with a left hand in the opening stages of the fight. The highlight-reel finish gave Shogun his first victory in more than a year, and it will keep him relevant in the competitive waters of the light heavyweight division.
In addition to the big names on the card, there was plenty of action to be had in Queensland as fighters from every corner of the UFC roster brought the heat on Friday night. From a crushing knockout in the opening bout to a heavyweight crushing in the main event, the leather flew at a furious pace in Brisbane.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night 33.
The opening spot in this category is typically reserved for the winner of the biggest fight on the card, but all the praise I can muster has to go to Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva. While the majority of fans and critics thought there was no way this fight could go the distance, both fighters gave everything they had and battled it out until the very end.
Over the course of 25 minutes, Hunt put his signature power on display as he pummeled the Brazilian with big shots. In turn, Silva showed an iron chin as he absorbed what Hunt had to offer and dished out some punishment of his own.
While the fight ended in a majority draw, both men will see their stocks go up in the aftermath. Their main event insanity at UFC Fight Night 33 is already being heralded as an "instant classic" and easily one of the best heavyweight fights of all time.
While technical fights are always nice to see, sometimes it takes two heavyweights digging down into their reserves and fighting off instinct to make a memorable affair. Hunt vs. Silva was certainly that, and it would come as no surprise if the UFC books a rematch in 2014.
Putting the main event frenzy on hold for a minute, let's move on to the rest of the card.
Anytime Mauricio "Shogun" Rua's name is on a fight card, there is the potential for beautiful, nasty violence. While the MMA legend hasn't looked the same in recent outings after suffering back-to-back losses, his track record for settling the opposition left hope that the MMA legend still had something left in the tank.
It took the former light heavyweight champion just north of one minute to prove he still has put-away power as he put Te Huna to sleep with a sharp left hook at the 1:03 mark in the opening frame. The Australian is known for his aggressive style, and he paid for it in a big way on Friday as a crisp counter left hand left him staring blankly at the ceiling lights.
There was a lot of pressure on Rua coming into this fight, and it was speculated a loss could have pushed him into retirement. But with such an impressive victory, his career will be re-energized in the coming year.
While the victory over Te Huna will keep him relevant in the 205-pound fold, the former Pride champion has hinted on a possible drop to middleweight in the near future. His highlight-reel knockout over Te Huna on Friday will guarantee that whichever direction he chooses to travel, a passionate MMA fanbase will be watching.
Another fighter who needed a win in a big way was Ryan Bader. The former Arizona State University wrestling standout was coming off a knockout at the hands of current No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira in his last outing at UFC Fight Night 30 back in September, and he really needed to turn it around against Anthony Perosh on Friday night.
That's precisely what he accomplished as the former The Ultimate Fighter winner battered the 41-year-old Australian into a bloody mess over the course of the 15-minute affair. That said, Perosh showed tremendous grit in surviving the beating, but he had zero answers for anything Bader threw at him.
With the victory, Bader has now won two of his last three outings and will remain in the heated mix of the upper tier in the light heavyweight division.
Staying in the realm of fighters who needed to win at UFC Fight Night 33, Soa Palelei needed a strong showing against Pat Barry on Friday night. His performance against Nikita Krylov in his return bout at UFC 164 was highly criticized, and fortunately for "The Hulk," a solid effort is precisely what he delivered by brutally pounding out the former kickboxer in the first round of their heavyweight tilt.
It took the 36-year-old a bit to get Barry to the canvas, but once the action hit the mat, it was all Palelei. He was patient as he worked toward the full mount, and once he achieved it, he exploded and overwhelmed Barry.
The victory is his second since returning to the UFC after being away for six years, and it gives him an impressive 10-fight winning streak. While the heavyweight division is enjoying more depth than it has in a decade, there is still room to make big strides up the ladder, and Palelei put himself in a great position to do so with his victory over Barry at Fight Night 33.
Bethe Correia made an impressive debut as she defeated veteran Julie Kedzie via split decision in their tilt. With the Brazilian having only six professional fights coming into the bout, Kedzie had the experience advantage, but "Pitbull" pulled out the victory on the strength of her striking. Picking up a win over a fighter like Kedzie in her first showing inside the Octagon is exactly the impression that Correia needed to make on Friday night.
Takeya Mizugaki has been one of the gamest fighters in the lighter weight classes for the past several years. The Japanese bantamweight has faced a who's who of top competition and has given every opponent all he can handle. He was true to form when he welcomed Nam Phan to the 135-pound fold on Friday night, defeating the TUF alum via unanimous decision. The victory was Mizugaki's fourth consecutive successful showing and should earn him a big name in his next outing.
One fighter who made the most of his UFC debut was Justin Scoggins. The 21-year-old American Top Team fighter steamrolled Australian Richie Vaculik on the preliminary portion of the card.
From the opening bell, "Tank" lived up to his nickname, as he took the fight to Vaculik at a nonstop pace, and eventually stopped the The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes alum via strikes in the opening round. With the victory, he keeps his undefeated record intact. He earned additional points by making the most of his post-fight interview by asking matchmaker Sean Shelby to book him on the Atlanta card on Jan. 15.
While he is a beloved personality on the UFC roster, Pat Barry has been fighting with his back up against the wall for some time. "Hype or Die" has been unable to establish any real traction since joining the organization in 2008, with the past two years being a rocky road for the Louisiana native.
He absolutely needed a victory on Friday night when he squared off with Soa Palelei, but unfortunately that wasn't the result that transpired.
After stuffing the Australian's first attempt at a takedown, Barry threw an ill-advised knee that landed him on his back with the huge heavyweight on top of him. Once in that position, Barry attempted a kimura, but Palelei shrugged off the submission and moved to full mount. Once "The Hulk" took the mount, he unleashed a flurry that left Barry dazed and motionless on the canvas.
With the loss, Barry has now suffered setbacks in back-to-back outings and has only found success in two of his last seven showings. While he is popular with the UFC fanbase, he might have lost his place on the roster as the result of this defeat.
Nam Phan was looking to get a fresh start by dropping down to the bantamweight division, but Takeya Mizugaki dashed those hopes at UFC Fight Night 33. While the Californian put on a scrappy performance, it wasn't enough to derail the Japanese veteran, and Phan picked up his second consecutive defeat.
The loss to Mizugaki puts The Ultimate Fighter alum on the losing end of things in five of his last seven outings and will put him in an unenviable position with the UFC. Granted, he's only lost in back-to-back showings, but his overall track record since his stint on TUF hasn't been good. The biggest asset in his corner is his ability to always bring the fight out, which the promotion has historically catered to. That said, picking up losses at the rate that Phan has been notching them could cost him his job with the UFC.
I'm of the mindset that if a fighter is going to make a spectacle of himself during the walkout, then he better bring the ruckus when the cage door closes. It's a topic we've revisited time and time again in this series, and on Friday night, debuting welterweight Ben Wall became the most recent offender.
While he took the fight against Alex Garcia on short notice, it didn't affect his walkout game as he strutted to the Octagon with a gigantic bear head on his shoulders. That is about where anything noteworthy from Wall stopped as he was starched by the Tristar product via vicious uppercut in the opening minute of the fight.
It was undoubtedly a bad look for Wall, and it will be interesting to see if he gets another chance in the UFC. If so, I doubt we see the bear head again.
Two fighters slinging leather inside the cage will create an unpredictable environment, and every once in a while, a freak injury will pull the emergency brake on an exciting fight. That was the case in the dustup between Clint Hester and Dylan Andrews, as a shoulder separation suffered by the Australian brought what was an action-packed fight to an end.
Up until the point of the injury, both fighters had found success, with Hester getting the edge on the feet and Andrews scoring when the fight hit the canvas. Unfortunately for Andrews, the injury left him unable to continue, and Hester was awarded the victory.
Making a UFC debut is a huge moment in any fighter's career, but Krzysztof Jotko left a curious impression with his first go inside the Octagon. Despite picking up a unanimous-decision victory over Bruno Santos on the preliminary portion of the card, the tilt was lackluster for the most part. That said, when his name was announced and his hand was raised, Jotko broke into a full-blown breakdancing routine, which prompted commentator Jon Anik to say, "He must have been saving his energy for after the fight."
While the Polish fighter's dancing skills were top notch, the important part of this game is to be remembered for what you did in the fight and not after it, and I'm not sure Jotko was successful in that particular department on Friday night.
On a final note: Somehow, Hunt vs. Silva made the full 25 minutes.
That's 25 awesome, heavyweight zombie-face-punching minutes, and the MMA world is better for it.
Duane Finley is a featured writer for Bleacher Report.
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