The Real Winners and Losers from UFC Fight Night 168
New Zealand is a long, long way from the UFC's Las Vegas headquarters, but the promotion has now made the journey to the country three times. Its latest trip to this far-flung corner of the globe, which aired on ESPN+ on Saturday, might have been the best yet.
In the UFC Fight Night 168 main event, top-10 lightweight contenders Paul Felder and Dan Hooker delivered a five-round war, with the latter, the hometown hero, picking up a hard-fought split-decision win. After the fact, Felder suggested the bout might have been the last of his career, which added an extra layer of emotion to a riveting fight.
Elsewhere on the card, we saw big wins from two other fighters from New Zealand, as well as visiting competitors from Australia, China and even further afield.
When all was said and done, there were 12 winners and 12 losers. But who benefited most from this card? And who, if anyone, took the biggest L?
We'll unpack that and more in the slides to come.
Winner: Fans in the Western Hemisphere
While it's doubtful any fans enjoyed this card as much as the fans packed into Auckland's Spark Arena, it was a uniquely appealing card for viewers in the Western Hemisphere.
This fight card started at 4 p.m. ET and was over by 10. That's early enough that viewers in the Americas could do whatever they wanted after the fact: go to bed early, go out for drinks, stay up for a few hours of boxing.
It was a nice break from the late nights many UFC fight cards force on us, and it will likely leave many fans with an appetite for more daytime action.
Winner: Kiwi MMA
Sometimes the UFC touches down on foreign soil and the hometown heroes get stomped. Who could forget the promotion's 2015 visit to Stockholm, when Swedish fighters went a brutal 0-3 against visiting opposition?
This was not the case for the UFC's stop in Auckland. Instead, the Kiwi fighters on the card went a perfect 3-0.
In the main event, Dan Hooker swiped a narrow, split decision win from Paul Felder. In the main card opener, Brad Riddell picked up a split-decision win of his own, defeating Dagestan's Magomed Mustafaev. And on the undercard, Kai Kara-France defeated Tyson Nam via unanimous decision.
It was a flawless night for New Zealand, a country that is enjoying unprecedented MMA success thanks to the aforementioned fighters and, of course, UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. It was also a great night for fight fans in the country, who have only had three opportunities to enjoy live UFC shows over the years.
Winner: Chinese MMA
Just like New Zealand, China had a massively successful night in Auckland, as both of the Chinese fighters on the bill picked up big wins.
First up, on the undercard, welterweight Kenan Song produced a destructive knockout win over Australia's Callan Potter, moving to a solid 4-1 in the Octagon in the process. Then, in the middle fight of the main card, strawweight prospect Yan Xiaonan picked up the biggest win over her career, bludgeoning former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz to a lopsided unanimous-decision victory, instantly asserting herself as a legitimate contender in the division.
Throw in the fact that both of these fighters were forced to relocate their training camps to Thailand because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, and their victories are that much more impressive.
Winner: Jimmy Crute
Legitimate light heavyweight prospects are rare. Really rare. Yet in the co-main event of this Auckland card, 23-year-old Australian Jimmy Crute reaffirmed that he is just that, submitting Poland's Michal Oleksiejczuk with a kimura in the first round.
This was the eighth first-round finish on the Aussie's 12-fight record and the perfect way to rebound from his recent setback against Misha Cirkunov—the lone loss on his record. It also earned him a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus.
While he is still quite a distance from the light heavyweight top five and may well never make it that far, he looks like he has a bright future. At worst, he represents a fresh face in a division that has long been hurting for top talent.
Winner: Staying Busy
Some fighters just seem to perform better when they maintain busy schedules. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone is a prime example of this phenomenon—even if he's endured some tough losses of late. Angela Hill is proving herself to be another great example.
On the UFC Fight Night 168 undercard, Hill stepped into the Octagon with Thailand's Loma Lookboonmee. She accepted the fight on short notice, replacing the injured Hannah Goldy. It was her sixth fight in less than a year—a massive amount of action compared to a fighter's typical schedule.
Though Lookboonmee put up a good fight, Hill made the most of this short-notice opportunity, capturing a unanimous-decision win. Now on a three-fight win-streak in the strawweight division, it's clear she's found her groove. Given that she didn't seem to take much damage in the fight, we can probably expect her to keep the momentum going with another trip to the Octagon in the near future. We can also expect more fighters to start following in her footsteps by maintaining busy fight schedules.
Winner: Priscila Cachoeira
Priscila Cachoeira's UFC career began about as poorly as possible.
In her promotional debut, she was defeated by future UFC flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko in one of the most lopsided beatdowns in UFC history. What she needed after that devastating loss was a big win, but instead, she followed it up with a pair of decision losses to Molly McCann and Luana Carolina.
It would not have been surprising if Cachoeira were cut from the UFC after those three losses, but in a fortuitous turn, the promotion gave her another chance: an Auckland scrap with Shana Dobson.
To say she made the most of the opportunity would be an understatement.
Just 40 seconds into the fight's first round, Cachoeira blasted her foe with a rocket-fuelled uppercut to the chin. It was the fastest finish in the history of the UFC women's flyweight division, and it undeniably saved her from the chopping block.
She will fight in the Octagon again, but had things gone any differently, that might not be the case. Oh, and she also received a cool, $50,000 post-fight bonus for her handiwork. That's typically life-altering money for an undercard fighter.
Plenty of fighters on the UFC Auckland bill came up short. Half of them, to be exact. Go figure.
Yet none of them lost controversially—there were no disqualifications or grievous judging blunders. And none of them lost inexcusably—nobody got cocky and paid for it, and nobody made any foolish errors. All of the losers on the card were simply outfought, which is the nature of this sport. Furthermore, just about every fight was enjoyable, which means the fans that tuned in didn’t lose either.
The UFC’s 2020 stop in Auckland isn’t likely to go down as Card of the Year, but after controversy-ridden cards like UFC 247 and the promotion’s recent stop in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, it was just what the doctor ordered: a nice night of fun, drama-free fighting.