The UFC are heading Down Under for UFC Fight Night in Adelaide, with a mouth-watering heavyweight clash at the top of a fun-looking fight card.
Let’s take a look at the key matchups to follow on fight night:
The top of the card features a heavyweight clash between a power-punching former UFC world champion and a former Australian rugby player with car batteries for hands.
In short, Junior dos Santos versus Tai Tuivasa is all set to be what legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross would call “a slobberknocker”.
Both men have serious punch power, but despite pre-fight promos sure to show plenty of dos Santos finishes, it’s worth sharing a little fact to take you into the weekend that you won’t necessarily hear in the pre-fight hype.
For all of his undoubted finishing ability (see above), JDS hasn’t actually stopped anyone in FIVE YEARS. That might come as a surprise to some fans (it did to me, too), but I’ve double-checked and it’s true.
The always-smiling former UFC heavyweight champ hasn’t actually finished a fight inside the distance since he knocked out iron-chinned Mark Hunt (more of whom later) with a spectacular spinning hook kick at UFC 160 in May 2013.
His three wins since then – against Stipe Miocic, Ben Rothwell and Blagoy Igvanov – have all been by unanimous decision. And unless “Cigano” can rediscover his fight-ending punch power against Tuivasa, we could see this fight turning into an epic five-round war.
Tuivasa is a heavy hitter himself, and loves nothing more than getting in the trenches and throwing leather.
“Bam Bam” finished all seven of his opponents by first-round KO before he faced Andrei Arlovski at UFC 225, but the wily former UFC heavyweight champ took Tuivasa out of the first round and into deeper waters, where he had to show that he was much more than simply a one-punch knockout artist as he claimed a hard-earned decision victory before celebrating with his now-customary “shoey”, downing a beer from someone’s shoe.
Tuivasa had to battle hard to get past Arlovski, and dos Santos is an even tougher proposition, and that’s what makes this main event so interesting. Tuivasa is improving with every fight, while dos Santos still has a burning desire to blast his way back into world title contention once again.
Both men hit like a truck, so don’t rule out a first-round knockout, but given both men’s durability, it would come as no surprise to see this fight go into the later rounds, and that outcome is where the value selections lie.
Former world champ dos Santos is the 4/7 favourite to win the fight, but a JDS win on the scorecards can be had for 11/4. Tuivasa is a live underdog, however, at 5/4, and the Aussie is a 15/2 shot to win on points.
To win: 5/4
To win by KO/TKO: 15/8
To win by decision: 15/2
To win by submission: 25/1
Junior dos Santos
To win: 4/7
To win by KO/TKO: 21/10
To win by decision: 11/4
To win by submission: 12/1
Warming up the crowd for the main event is another heavyweight fight, as legendary Kiwi striker Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt takes on Justin “Big Pretty” Willis.
For Willis, this is the biggest opportunity of his career. He’s 7-1 overall and 3-0 under the UFC banner, with his most recent win coming on the scorecards against Chase Sherman in April.
But Willis isn’t a point-fighter. He likes to stand and trade, and if he sticks to that approach things could get ugly for the American known as “Big Pretty”.
That’s because Hunt is one of the hardest hitters in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The K-1 kickboxer-turned-MMA fighter has a highlight reel packed with stunning one-hitter quitter finishes, marked with his trademark walk-off after his victims crumple to the mat.
Hunt also has an iron chin. In a career spanning 28 MMA contests and 43 kickboxing bouts, Hunt has lost by KO or TKO just seven times. For a man campaigning at heavyweight against the names he’s faced over the years, that’s a remarkable record.
Willis can bang, but his power isn’t in the same league as Hunt, and with the Kiwi potentially looking to bow out of the UFC after Saturday night’s fight, expect the “Super Samoan” to put on a knockout performance one more time.
The traders at Paddy Power Towers are torn over the outcome of this one, with Willis the narrowest of favourites at 4/5 compared to Hunt’s 10/11.
Neither offers value at those prices, but if you can get odds against on a Hunt win by KO, that’s the bet to make.
Vote for Pedro
Sure, I’m writing for a bookie, but there comes a time when common sense has to apply, and that’s certainly the case with the light-heavyweight clash between Aussie fan favourite Tyson Pedro and Brazilian legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
People have written “Shogun” off for years, yet he’s still here, and still looking competitive. His most recent outing saw him knocked out by title contender Anthony “Lionheart” Smith, but that defeat came after a run of three consecutive wins against very solid opposition – Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Corey Anderson and Gian Villante.
Pedro is an exciting character and the sort of fighter you’d love to support. He’s larger than life and he’s exciting to watch. But he’s not known as a knockout artist, and that’s how “Shogun” has been dispatched in his last three defeats.
Pedro’s best weapon is his submissions, and if he can stun Shogun and lock up something on the dazed veteran, a submission win looks his best bet.
But priced at 1/6 to win the fight outright, punters should wait for the Method of Victory market to open up. Vote for Pedro. By submission.
Look out for…
Aussie welterweight Jake Matthews is maturing into an excellent young prospect, and the 24-year-old tank from Melbourne faces one of the toughest tests of his UFC career against gritty grappler Tony Martin.
Martin has won five of his last six, and scored the first KO finish of his career with a head-kick finish of Ryan LaFlare in his most recent appearance. But with eight submission victories from his 14 wins, it’s on the mat where Martin thrives, and “The Celtic Kid” will have to be at his best to get past the Minnesota native.
Matthews is one of the shining stars of Australian mixed martial arts. He also boasts 14 career victories, with seven submissions to his name and he has looked like a different animal since leaving the lightweight division behind to return to his more natural weight class of welterweight, where he’s won three in a row.
The intrigue here lies in how he approaches the fight. Will he look to beat Martin on the mat using his own submission skills, or will he turn to his improving striking skills?
It’s tougher to pick than a broken nose, but I’m giving Matthews the edge – just. Paddy Power’s oddsmakers tend to agree, with the Aussie a 8/11 favourite. Martin is set as an even money chance.
* All odds correct at time of posting.