Previewing the action from this Saturday’s Australian event
If anyone needs further proof that mixed martial arts and the sports most successful organization, the UFC, are truly a global phenomenon, look no further than this weekend’s event from Sydney, Australia.
After making their first voyage to the other side of the world last February, the UFC returns for their second sold out show at the Acer Arena. While the event reaches the North American audience at the standard viewing times (10 EST/7 PST), that means more than 17,000 rabid MMA fans from Australia are giving up their Sunday morning (and probably taking it easier on Saturday night) in order to fill the venue.
Though that happens in countless other sports as well – most notably in both American and European football – it speaks to the growing connection the sport is making with audiences around the globe.
So too does the diverse fight card on tap in The Land Down Under.
Tiequan Zhang (12-1-0) vs. Jason Reinhardt (20-1-0)
This contest was originally supposed to take place at WEC 51, but Reinhardt was forced from the bout after failing an eye exam. Instead, Zhang fought Pablo Garza in his North American debut, submitting the TUF 12 hopeful in the opening round.
“The Mongolian Wolf” has since lost some of his momentum and his unbeaten record, thanks to Duke Roufus trainee Danny Downes, but remains an intriguing addition to the lightweight ranks and a fighter with great marketability as the UFC continues their expansion into Asia.
It’s really hard to know what to make of Reinhardt and his shiny 20-1 record. While I’ve said time-and-again that compiling such an impressive record is an accomplishment no matter where you’re fighting, you also need to look beyond the wins and losses to see the bigger picture.
Reinhardt’s lone loss came against the one opponent on his resume that fight fans will actually know, UFC lightweight vet Joe Lauzon, while all of his victories have come against unknowns across a collection of regional shows. He also hasn’t been in the cage in over three years, recording his last victory in January 2008.
That layoff doesn’t necessarily make Reinhardt a lame duck opponent, but in my opinion, it certainly shifts the odds in Zhang’s favor.
Anthony Perosh (10-6-0) vs. Tom Blackledge (10-6-0)
You have to give it up to Australian veteran Anthony Perosh.
The 38-year-old filled in for late scratch Ben Rothwell at the UFC’s debut show in his native land last year, stepping in against Mirko Cro Cop and taking a serious beating in the process. He followed up the loss by undergoing knee surgery, and returns to fight again this time around, welcoming Wolfslair product Blackledge to the UFC.
A training partner of UFC stalwarts Quinton Jackson and Cheick Kongo, amongst others, Blackledge coaches alongside Jackson during Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter. He was signed by the UFC back in early 2010 and was expected to make his debut in October at UFC 120, but pulled out the bout for unknown reasons.
He comes in on a two-fight winning streak, but his last ten fights show an interesting pattern; two wins, two losses, in succession the whole way through, dating back to the fourth of his personal best five-fight winning streak.
While Perosh hasn’t fought since losing to Cro Cop at UFC 120, Blackledge will have some cage rust to shake off as well, having last stepped into the cage in August 2009.
This is the definition of a pick’em fight.
Maciej Jewtuszko (8-0-0) vs. Curt Warburton (6-2-0)
A pair of lightweights who look to be headed in opposite directions meet here as the unbeaten Jewtuszko faces the second of three Wolfslair products on the card.
The undefeated Pole make quite a splash in his Zuffa debut, knocking out knockout artist Anthony Njokuani at WEC 50 last August. He was slated to face Ricardo Lamas at WEC 53, but was forced to withdraw due to a hand injury, and returns here looking to keep his momentum moving forward.
For Warburton, this is a do-or-die outing, having lost his promotional debut at UFC 120 against Spencer Fisher. While he took “The King” to the cards, the depth of the lightweight division demands that the Brit get back in the win column.
Jewtuszko appears to be comfortable wherever the fight takes place; he’s split his eight wins down the middle, half by way of stoppage, the others by submission. Warburton is more keen on keeping the fight standing and working his boxing, so it will be interesting to see if his opponent will indulge or bring the fight to the floor where he has the edge.
Mark Hunt (5-7-0) vs. Chris Tuchscherer (21-3-0)
“The Super Samoan” is on his last legs as a fighter, having dropped six straight over the last four-plus years, including a 63-second defeat at the hands of Sean McCorkle at UFC 119 last September.
The truth of the matter is that the wildly popular New Zealander was still contractually owed fights when the UFC purchased the assets of Pride several years ago, and this bout could serve as a great going away party for Hunt.
This should also be Tuchscherer’s final opportunity to impress inside the Octagon as well, as the former YAMMA Pit Fighting finalist has gone 1-2 in three fights. His lone win was a controversial majority decision over thrice-released Tim Hague, a decision Joe Rogan classified as one of the worst decisions he’s ever seen.
Both guys have shown power in the past, but Tuchscherer has yet to showcase it under the UFC banner and it’s been so long since Hunt was effective in any combat sports competition that you really can’t predict what you’re going to get from him. Fighting front of a partisan crowd should give him a boost, but his UFC 119 performance was so uninspired that there is really no way to be sure.
Nick Ring (10-0-0) vs. Riki Fukuda (17-4-0)
This is a fight I really like and hope to see on the broadcast and features the first of two former HeavyMMA.com guest bloggers in action.
After a breakout performance on Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, Ring finally makes his debut in the Octagon after recovering from another operation on his knee. The unbeaten Canadian is a charismatic and amiable addition to the middleweight roster, but hasn’t fought since October 2009 and has never faced anyone as dangerous as Fukuda.
The former DEEP middleweight champion, Fukuda is making his Octagon debut as well, and brings a seven-fight winning streak of his own into the cage. He holds notable wins over DEEP welterweight champ Yuya Shirai and Murilo “Ninja” Rua, as well as loses to Jackson’s product Joey Villasenor and UFC vet Joe Doerksen.
With both making their debuts, the first fight jitters cancel out and this becomes a battle to see who dictates the terms of the fight. Fukuda is a shoot wrestler who will look to get inside, dominate the clinch and keep Ring close, while the Canadian’s aim will be to maintain space and use his kickboxing and Muay Thai.
James Te-Huna (12-4-0) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (10-1-0)
Former Heavy.com guest blogger Te-Huna makes his second appearance in the Octagon, returning to fight in front of the home fans after scoring a victory in the opening bout of the evening last year against Igor Pokrajac.
While he was slated to return to the cage in October, Te-Huna was forced to withdraw from that bout with Tom Blackledge due to injury, meaning he’s been out of action since defeating Pokrajac at UFC 120 last February. The 29-year-old New Zealander has put together a six-fight winning streak since losing to current Bellator middleweight champ Hector Lombard, but faces his toughest test of late this time around.
Swedish prospect Gustafsson has been beaten just once in 11 bouts, that defeat coming to rising light heavyweight prospect Phil Davis at UFC 112. He bounced back from that setback to submit Cyrille Diabate at UFC 120 in October, and has outstanding power to compliment his developing submission game.
While Gustafsson will have a three-inch height advantage, it is Te-Huna who sports the longer reach, and should be the heavier of the two when the cage door closes. Standing with the Swede has proven to be dangerous, so expect to see the crowd favorite try to get inside and utilize his wrestling.
Ross Pearson (11-4-0) vs. Spencer Fisher (24-6-0)
Easily the most compelling matchup on the undercard, this lightweight affair could mean the end of the line for one of these well-liked, highly-skilled competitors.
Fisher comes into this bout following a unanimous decision victory over Curt Warburton at UFC 120 in Germany, a win that staved off a three-fight losing streak. The former Miletich Fighting Systems product is extremely hard to put away and has a vast offensive tool box at his disposal; of his 24 wins, Fisher has 10 knockouts and nine submissions to go along with five decisions.
Despite winning the lightweight competition on Season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter, England’s Pearson could be fighting for a job in this one.
He was dominated in his last outing, tapping to a Cole Miller rear-naked choke at Fight Night 22 in Austin last September. Working in his favor are a pair of impressive wins over Aaron Riley and Dennis Siver, but as with everyone competing at 155-pounds in the UFC, a two-fight losing streak in the incredibly deep division is playing with fire.
With jobs potentially on the line and a pair of well-rounded competitors stepping into the cage, this should turn out to be one of the more entertaining bouts of the evening.