Oh boy. Man. This card is not good.
Last weekend, fight fans were treated to major fireworks at UFC 212. In that main event, Max Holloway found his footing, knocked out Jose Aldo and captured the undisputed featherweight title. That card was fairly lackluster on paper, too, at least for a pay-per-view, but it ended up being plenty of fun.
Let's hope that trend continues Saturday in Auckland, New Zealand. The main event, featuring heavyweights Derrick Lewis and Mark Hunt, could be equally as pyrotechnic as its immediate predecessor, even if the stakes are markedly lower. The rest of the card? Ugh, who knows. You never know in the fight game, but knowing what we know now...yeah, it's not promising.
But we can still root around in there and find a few potential gems. Here are three fights you shouldn't miss on Saturday.
The UFC Fight Pass prelims begin Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, the Fox Sports 1 prelims start at 8 p.m. and the Fox Sports 1 main card kicks off at 10 p.m.
Derrick Lewis (18-4-1) vs. Mark Hunt (12-11-1-1)
Yes, this is your no-brainer right here. And it's possible one of these guys will be a no-brainer at the end of this fight (insert crying emoji).
The heavyweight division is pretty thin these days, and while it's unlikely that a win here would get either man closer a shot, it land them in shouting distance.
But there's more at stake here. A knockout here definitely confers the title of hardest hitter in MMA. That is not nothing.
Lewis is a modest -138 favorite in the bout, according to OddsShark, meaning a successful $138 wager would net a $100 profit. The 32-year-old Houstonian has won six straight, five of them by knockout. His most recent win was also arguably his biggest-name victim: in February he earned a Fight of the Night bonus for his second-round drubbing of Travis Browne. Afterward, Lewis—who has large followings on his profane but often hilarious social media accounts—famously rubbed salt in the wound with lewd humor toward
Afterward, Lewis—who has large followings on his profane but often hilarious social media accounts—famously rubbed salt in the wound with lewd humor toward Browne main squeeze Ronda Rousey. That pretty neatly sums up the two Lewis components that make him popular with fans and, these days, UFC matchmakers.
On the other side, the popularity of Hunt takes a back seat to no man. The king of the walk-off KO, the 43-year-old Hunt has fallen on hard times of late. He hasn't won in more than a year, losing to Brock Lesnar last summer and then to Alistair Overeem in March (though the Lesnar loss was later changed to a no-contest after Lesnar failed a drug test).
Fighting in front of a friendly crowd, the New Zealander may benefit from some home cooking.
These two each have one primary weapon: those tree trunks growing from the right sides of their bodies. Lewis and Hunt have 16 and nine knockout wins, respectively, meaning 52 percent of their combined fights ended with a knockout victory.
Someone's going to sleep here, too. The younger, fresher Lewis is also bigger, standing 6'3" to Hunt's 5'10" and sporting a 79" reach compared with Hunt's 74" reach.
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Lewis is also pretty solid in the clinch. Both of these men tend to wear down, and Lewis could see to it that Hunt gets tired. And when Hunt is at his slowest point, he could very well be easy pickings for Lewis.
Then again, as long as Hunt's right is still working, and that ever-efficient stalking is in effect, you can never count the Super Samoan out.
Tim Elliott (14-7-1) vs. Ben Nguyen (17-6)
Outside the main event, this contest has to hold the inside track for Fight of the Night honors.
Replacing the injured Joseph Benavidez in this matchup, Elliott is a veteran of the sport, with wins over Louis Gaudinot and, most recently, Louis Smolka. He's lost nearly as much he's won in the UFC by a 6-5 margin, but his unorthodox style—inspired by ex-bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz—gives opponents plenty of fits.
Elliott is a slight -150 favorite over the young gun Nguyen, but he might still be there to see if the American-Australian can get himself over in front of the hometown faithful. Although he's well-rounded everywhere, the 28-year-old works kickboxing first.
This will be a high-octane battle no matter where it goes. On the feet, Nguyen has sharp punches and kicks and a boundless gas tank. Elliott will switch stances and feint and brawl and generally try to make things look ugly. Both these men are comfortable on the ground and particularly in the scramble.
Nguyen is a straight arrow in his approach to fighting. If he doesn't let Elliott dirty it up too much, he should have the athleticism and skill to pull the upset and get the Melbournians cheering.
JJ Aldrich (4-2) vs. Chan-Mi Jeon (5-0)
Yes, I could have gone with Dan Hooker vs. Ross Pearson or something like that, but instead I'm bringing you a deep cut. The Fight Pass headliner has some interesting intrigue.
Both these young ladies—and I mean young, with Jeon being a scant 19 years of age and Aldrich just 24—can get a lot of work done in the cage. All Jeon did on the Korean circuits was earn four of her five wins by knockout. That's why she got the call to be a short-notice replacement in this bout. She's not polished, but lordy, does she hit hard and with very bad intentions. Think Korean Super Boy Doo Ho Choi without any... what's the word...skills.
You may remember Aldrich from The Ultimate Fighter 23. Or you may not; she lost in the elimination round. But that was against season winner Tatiana Suarez, so that's good for Aldrich, in a way. The American dropped her UFC debut against Julianna Pena, but that was on short notice and she has another shot here.
If Jeon can make her debut a brawl, Aldrich can be beaten. If Aldrich can get this to the mat and work her jiu-jitsu (just watch those hellacious strikes from Jeon), she should be able to wrap up her first submission win—and first win of any kind inside the UFC.