James Te Huna has been waiting a long time for the UFC to touch down in New Zealand.
Over the past four years he's spent competing under the UFC banner, the 32-year-old Canterbury native has competed in nearby Australia on several occasions, but Saturday night will mark the first time Te Huna will step into the Octagon on his native soil.
While being able to compete in front of his countryman is a dream he's long waited to see materialize, doing so as the main event on the card will only serve to make the experience that much more surreal for the heavy-handed Kiwi.
"I'm definitely excited about this fight and it's a dream of mine that has come true," Te Huna told Bleacher Report. "It's definitely a surreal experience for me. I knew the UFC was going to have an event in New Zealand, but I was actually quite surprised it happened so fast. I thought the event would take place later in the year when Mark [Hunt] would be ready for it, but his injury kept him off the card. They went ahead with the event and I'm really looking forward to it.
"There is a love for MMA here and a lot of great UFC fans. Kiwis are very passionate about their sports. I've been here in Auckland for the past four weeks preparing for my fight and the support I've received has been amazing. People have been coming up to me on the streets, shaking my hand and wishing me well. I was quite surprised to be honest, but certainly appreciative of their support."
The Sydney transplant will square off with former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt in the headlining bout of Fight Night 43 on Saturday night in Auckland. Being able to sling leather in his own backyard under the bright lights of the sport's biggest stage is undoubtedly a large perk of Te Huna's next assignment, but additional circumstances at play that will add a touch of tension to an otherwise ideal scenario for the Athletic Allstars-trained fighter.
The most prominent of which is the current rough patch Te Huna has fallen into. And it is one he desperately needs to break out of on Saturday night.
While Te Huna's time in the UFC got off to a red-hot start—successful in five of his first six showings, including an impressive run of four consecutive victories—his momentum has come to a grinding halt as of late. His four-fight winning streak was snapped at the hands of Glover Teixeira at UFC 160 in May 2013, and his attempt to rebound back into the win column was snuffed out by former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at Fight Night 33 six months later in Brisbane, Australia.
Suffering back-to-back losses at the highest level of the sport would force any fighter to take a hard look at the state of things in their career, and Te Huna was no exception.
Yet, rather than dwell on the negatives and results he had no power to change, the proud New Zealand representative made the decision to drop down a weight class and look for a fresh start in the middleweight division.
"I've been fighting my entire career at light heavyweight, but those who know me know that I'm not a natural light heavyweight," Te Huna said. "I don't walk around that heavy, but I was getting the job done at that weight and there was no reason for me to drop down to middleweight. But I had two recent losses and things weren't going too well in training, so I needed to make a change. I believe it will make a big difference and I can't wait to get out there and perform."
The bout against Marquardt—whose current three-fight skid has put him in a rocky position of his own—will mark his official debut in the 185-pound ranks and will provide Te Huna a solid opportunity to get things back on track.
That said, he has refused to allow the pressure at hand to rest heavily on his shoulders. Te Huna understands all of the negative things that could potentially accompany a third consecutive loss, but in the same turn, those are elements he's not paying any mind to.
He is coming to Vector Arena on Saturday to put on a show, and everything else will take care of itself once his hand is raised inside the Octagon.
"I'm not worrying about pressure or anything like that," Te Huna said. "My confidence is up and I've moved on from those last two fights. I've been in this position before. I know what I need to do and all I'm concentrating on right now is winning this fight. That's the only thing that matters to me.
"I think this is going to be a great matchup. We both like to get in there, get after it and bring the row. We like to get to it. That's the way I fight and that's the way he fights as well. We both come to bang and it's going to make for an exciting fight. I always come to put on a show. I always bring it."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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