For the first time in history, the UFC will visit New Zealand, with a UFC Fight Night card featuring a middleweight main event between local favorite James Te Huna and former 185-pound title contender Nate Marquardt.
Also on the card, Australian behemoth Soa “The Hulk” Palelei looks to keep his recent unbeaten streak alive when he takes on American wrestler Jared Rosholt, while former Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes winner Robert Whittaker tries to get back on track following a recent loss when he faces Mike “Biggie” Rhodes.
As we look ahead towards New Zealand, today's fantasy preview will break down the four-fight main card, including a look at the odds and which potential upsets could be brewing Down Under.
JAMES TE HUNA (-220 FAVORITE) VS. NATE MARQUARDT (+180 UNDERDOG)
There's an unknown factor at work in the main event in New Zealand because both fighters are moving weight classes heading into this fight. For the first time since coming to the UFC, Te Huna will drop down to the middleweight division, while Marquardt will move back up to 185 pounds after spending his last four fights in the welterweight division.
Now simple logic would say Marquardt will have the advantage because he was a middleweight for most of his career, and a top 10-ranked fighter at that. He was consistently ranked while competing in the UFC and had battles with several top names, including Anderson Silva, Demian Maia, Rousimar Palhares and Chael Sonnen. That said, there's no denying Marquardt has fallen on tough times as of late, dropping his last three fights in a row, with two of them ending by way of first round knockout.
Te Huna, on the other hand, is also coming off a devastating knockout loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in his last fight, but he had gone 4-1 in his last five fights prior to that defeat as he was making a solid run in the UFC light heavyweight division. Te Huna is a power puncher who connects with just under 52 percent accuracy and throws with volume as well, landing 4.31 strikes per minute.
Where Te Huna has to be careful in this fight is with Marquardt's wrestling game, because he puts opponents on their backs at almost 60 percent accuracy, which is a great statistic in the UFC. The problem is that Marquardt has largely abandoned his wrestling over the course of the last few years, and that could come back to haunt him here as well.
Te Huna will have the home crowd on his side, and after suffering an embarrassing defeat in his last trip to the Octagon, there's no doubt he has something to prove as well. Assuming Te Huna's power translates down to middleweight, he's going to be a formidable opponent for anyone at 185 pounds and the fact is that Marquardt's chin has taken a ton of punishment lately. If this fight was three years ago, Marquardt would be the decided favorite but off three losses in a row and questions surrounding his longevity at 35 years of age with 50 professional fights on his record, maybe he's gone to the well once too many times.
If Te Huna puts the pressure on Marquardt early, it could be another first or maybe second round stoppage, giving the Kiwi the win in New Zealand.
JARED ROSHOLT (-150 FAVORITE) VS. SOA PALELEI (+130 UNDERDOG)
An upset could be brewing in the heavyweight co-main event when Jared Rosholt takes on Australian Soa Palelei. While Rosholt does have the ability to out wrestle and smother his opponents, Palelei won't be an easy fighter to take down, much less hold down, with his size and immense power.
Through two fights in the UFC, Rosholt has shown his wrestling to be the best offensive weapon in his disposal. He's averaging over 57 percent accuracy with his takedowns while also blocking every single attempt made against him by an opponent. His striking is much less refined, which is where he could run into problems with a powerhouse like Palelei.
The Australian packs a serious punch, as he's displayed in each of his last two fights where he knocked out Pat Barry and Ruan Potts in back-to-back matchups. Palelei has incredible accuracy with nearly 63 percent of his strikes landing, and at three significant strikes per minute, he's got an above average work rate for a heavyweight. Where Palelei will have to put in work is getting the fight to the ground, where he does the most damage. He averages over three takedowns per 15 minutes, but, as previously stated, Rosholt won't go down so easily.
Still, with 90 percent accuracy and a mountain of muscle at his disposal, one takedown is all Palelei might need to hammer Rosholt with those canned hams he calls fists. Palelei may not be the most polished heavyweight and he may not be a threat to the top 10 fighters in the world, but if he gets on top of anyone in this division and starts blasting away with punches, it's lights out, goodnight Irene.
The longer this fight goes the more it favors Rosholt, but Palelei fighting in his backyard with the crowd on his side should fuel an early rally, and if he bum rushes the American, this could be another first round finish in the books.
CHARLES OLIVEIRA (-190 FAVORITE) VS. HATSU HIOKI (+165 UNDERDOG)
Quite possibly the most difficult fight to predict on the entire main card comes in this featherweight contest between Hatsu Hioki and Charles Oliveira. Both fighters are submission and ground specialists, although Oliveira would appear to hold a distinct advantage when it comes to striking and the kickboxing skills he possesses on the feet.
Hioki can be a difficult matchup for anybody in the 145-pound division, and despite the three losses he had in a row before beating Ivan Menjivar in his last fight, the Japanese featherweight is still one of the toughest outs in the business. His stifling ground attack, where he boasts 57 percent accuracy in putting an opponent on the mat is hard to stop, and from the top position Hioki is a brick wall, nearly impossible to move.
On the other hand, Oliveira is one of the most creative and dangerous ground fighters in the division. While his wrestling isn't anything to scream about, it's Oliveira's guard game that makes him ultra effective, and, as the case may be fighting someone like Hioki, that's probably where he'll end up during this fight.
Hioki's advantage is that he's also well-versed in the submission game, and he's never been forced to tap out in over 35 professional fights. It bodes well for Hioki if he can take Oliveira down and wear him out over the course of three rounds. It's well known that Oliveira usually has a rough weight cut getting down to 145 pounds, and while he's still one of the most talented fighters in the division, this is an impossibly tough test facing a veteran like Hioki who knows how to avoid danger on the feet and suffocate an opponent on the ground.
By the time the third round is over, Hioki should be far enough ahead to go back to Japan with a unanimous decision win.
ROBERT WHITTAKER (-300 FAVORITE) VS. MIKE RHODES (+250 UNDERDOG)
The welterweight matchup between former TUF: The Smashes winner Robert Whittaker and second-time UFC veteran Mike Rhodes has the biggest separation when it comes to the odds, and it happens for good reason.
Whittaker is a power puncher with the ability to knock out an opponent with either hand, and he'll be throwing hard and heavy all night in this contest. With a 4.57 strikes-per-minute average coupled with nearly 90 percent takedown defense, Whittaker is an imposing striker who keeps the fight where he wants it, and chances are he'll ask for a stand-up fight in this one.
Rhodes is no joke on his feet either, training under coach Duke Roufus and alongside UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, but his best weapons come in combinations over the course of a fight and all it takes from Whittaker is one punch to take the judges completely out of this decision.
Both fighters have shown good defense during their careers, but Whittaker - like several other fighters on this card - will enjoy a little hometown cheer from the local crowd, and without the travel woes and a fire inside to get this main card started right, Whittaker should be able to land the necessary shots to put Rhodes away before the final bell. Rhodes has to know he's stepping into enemy territory, and that can help or hurt a fighter depending on their psyche, but with only eight fights to his record, this might be a rough wake-up call facing Whittaker in New Zealand.
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