The UFC’s international expansion plans have led to much success overall, blazing into different markets and capitalizing on the popularity of local talent. While some international cards have gone from great to lackluster — to just plain atrocious, in some cases — they continue to do what they were intended to do: separate the wheat from the chaff and establish some order in each division.
This card had the added benefit of giving some lesser-known fighters some shine in front of their home crowd. This was of great benefit to the overall mood, since the event didn’t have much momentum at first but then had some excellent finishes and lovely performances as the card went on. The biggest bonus was the main event ending on a good note for the local audience, as a legend of the sport notched a very important win. So let’s start with him.
Mark Hunt - The Super Samoan was in something of a do or die scenario, and ended up on top. At 43 years of age, a record close to .500 and a lawsuit against the UFC, he took on one of the most fearsome forces of the heavyweight division. Hunt ate some shots, but managed to fight smart enough and keep his defense active. He was able to avoid some major damage by backing out just slightly from some of the punches and either getting grazed or having Lewis miss completely. Hunt’s lead hand traps, parries and defensive movement off the break were on point as the fight went on, nailing Lewis with shots in short bursts, eventually wearing him down. After Lewis was hobbling and clearly not in any condition to continue, the fight was sagely called off. We weren’t going to get anything more out of that fight than what we saw, and it wasn’t pretty. This was a great win by a #7 heavyweight beating a #6 fighter, but it didn’t let either fighter look to the best of their ability. Now Hunt will face a higher ranked fighter that might ruin him, if he continues to fight at all. Even with the win, there’s not much upward mobility when you look at the fighters ranked ahead of him. In the meantime, a potential contender ends up with a major setback. The KFC King lives to fight another day, that’s really the biggest takeaway from all of this.
Derek Brunson - Brunson really needed this win. Not as much as Hunt did his, but after two consecutive losses, a guy’s got to make a statement. Brunson went out and did exactly that, demolishing a resurgent Kelly in the very first round and getting back in the win column after being brutalized by Robert Whittaker (a.k.a. Bobby Knuckles) and a controversial decision loss to Anderson Silva. Despite those losses, Brunson came into this fight at #8, and middleweight is still hazy with the recent will-they-or-won’t-they shenanigans with GSP maybe fighting Bisping by the time we send a manned mission to Saturn and an interim title looming. Maybe a fight against Jacare, Weidman or Mousasi would be in order, but at least he’s gotten a great performance out there to show any idea of him sliding off is untrue.
Daniel Hooker - While he continues to alternate wins and losses in the UFC, he’s finished all of the opponents he’s beaten, and quite violently. A perfectly timed knee put grizzled veteran Ross Pearson to sleep, and Hooker makes a major statement in his division. Not enough to get ranked yet, but another performance like this can easily net him a top 15 opponent, maybe top 10. With his experience, Hooker continues to improve and might be able to find a rhythm here.
Ben Nguyen - This had to be the biggest upset of the night. It wasn’t even that he won, it’s how Nguyen made countering Elliot’s wrestling look easy. From there to outworking him on the scrambles to take the back and finish a man that’s been unstoppable since his run on The Ultimate Fighter? That’s magnificent. Ben now has a two-fight win streak with his last win being against Geane Herrera. Nguyen was ranked #12, and Elliott at #8. Expect a step up just as big for Nguyen as he undoubtedly gets moved up to the top ten.
Ion Cutelaba - I was a bit worried when Cutelaba did all that posturing at the weigh-ins. da Silva no-sold his antics and didn’t seem fazed when the fight started, either. Well, that’s a thing that happened. Cutelaba is back at .500 in the UFC with a 2-2 UFC record thus far. He’s only 23, and in a division that needs someone to break the mold, he’s going to have to continue evolving and improving.
JJ Aldrich - Had she stayed in Invicta, she’d probably be fighting for a title very soon. Instead Aldrich got the call up to the UFC and now evens out at 1-1 under that banner. She took on a game opponent, another very game and very young fighter that was ready for war. Aldrich fought smart, used her timing and kept landing that left hand while using superior footwork and ability to take as much as she could give. Let’s see how the UFC decides to handle her from here on out.
John Moraga - It’s not really his fault, but Moraga really doesn’t get the attention he deserves. Here’s a guy a lot of people thought was going to be fodder for Ulysses Gomez in his UFC debut. Moraga knocked out Gomez and then choked out Chris Cariaso to get at title shot against Mighty Mouse himself, Demetrious Johnson. Moraga gets submitted by armbar in the fifth and final round after being a step behind for most of the fight but holding his own. The fact that the first two fights were on Facebook was pretty bad for him, but the loss to Johnson and subsequent loss to John Dodson also dulled a lot of his shine. Then he had two consecutive wins followed by three straight losses. This win snaps that streak, and Moraga looked great. He kept control, outworked Mokhtarian at every turn. Winning this big on free TV could be a pretty big boon for him right now.
Vinc Pinchel - After losing in his UFC debut against Rustam Khabilov, Pinchel notched wins against Garrett Whitely and Anthony Njokuani. Then he was out for just over three years and nails a brutal KO win in his return. Great way to come back after all that time away.
Zak Ottow gets a very good win against a very durable Kiichi Kunimoto. The win elevates him to 2-1 in the UFC. Luke Jumeau was still a bit rough around the edges in his win, but he nailed Dominique Steele with some great shots and delivered on a gutsy, hard-fought win. Not sure if the plan is to have Alex Volkanovski fight and beat Japanese fighters for as long as he can, but he managed to get a convincing win to get back to back wins in his second UFC outing.
Derrick Lewis - Can’t help but feel bad for the guy. After making this much progress and racking up an impressive win streak in such an unpredictable division, he lost to an older fighter that looked spry and fought smart. A six fight win streak comprised mostly of violent finishes goes up in smoke, and so does the potential for a fight against a top five fighter. Perhaps the UFC was banking on Lewis eliminating Hunt to avoid a premature bout between Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou. Either way, Lewis can bounce back from this. Heavyweight is the most hilariously random division overall, so another win or two and he’s probably likely to be in an even better spot than he was coming into this fight - probably fighting a top 5 guy. That’s not to say that this loss undoes a big portion of what he built recently, but it’s salvageable. It’s just going to be very difficult. Of course, all of that depends on whether or not he’s really retired after this fight. If this really is the end, he’s given us more than a few memorable moments.
Dan Kelly - It’s hard to watch a guy go out like that. Not just because he’s an older fighter that’s taken serious damage in the past, but because he’s just an affable fighter that had some fun performances. His striking is clunky, his movement is stilted, but his Judo was always unquestionably beautiful. He adapted it well for MMA, better than what anyone’s given him credit for. So when you see a guy that finally has things click together get obliterated like that, well. Yeah. That’s sad. He’s still 13-2, and he’s also 38 years old. On the other hand, he’s a hard 38 due to all of the injuries and wear and tear his body’s withstood. Maybe this won’t be his last fight, but if you were wondering how far he could go, I’m sorry to say this may be the answer.
Ross Pearson - After three straight decision losses, Pearson suffers what was perhaps the most violent knockout of the night. If he doesn’t call it quits, the UFC might make that decision for him. At least when it comes to his days under them. He’s 19-14 and has been fighting since 2004, with a respectable list of wins on his record. It may be for the best that he either retire or take an extended break to reevaluate all of this for his own good.
Tim Elliott - Elliott blazed through The Ultimate Fighter against some of the best flyweights not in the UFC, only to lose to a legend in Demetrious Johnson. That itself is not a bad loss. It is what it is when you fight one of the greatest of all time. He went on to defeat Louis Smolka by decision and now got submitted by a very dangerous Ben Nguyen. Perhaps Elliott and UFC management can dismiss this as a fluke or a random event, and it doesn’t set him back too far. It’s still bad enough to hurt his stock for now. Another impressive win, and any damage this loss could have done is pretty much gone.
Luis Henrique da Silva - da Silva started off at 2-0 under the UFC banner, and is now on a three-fight losing skid. If your third loss looks like that, you’re probably getting cut. Even if you’re a 27-year-old talent in a division that needs new up-and-comers.
Kiichi Kunimoto - Kunimoto is a savvy and clever fighter that can’t seem to find a way to consistently win rounds. He started off his UFC run at 3-0, then got choked out by Neil Magny. After almost two and a half years, he came back and seemed like he was able to make some headway after being controlled on the ground for periods of time, but didn’t have the counterstriking in order to do damage standing like he seemed to have wanted to. So while he’s now at 3-2 and had a long layoff, he almost made it to the “neither“ category, but he’s getting up there at age 36 and doesn’t seem to be improving.
Dominique Steele put forth a hell of an effort, but he’s getting cut after this. He lost his UFC debut to Zak Cummings and bounced back with a massive KO win over Dong Hyun Kim (not Stun Gun, the other guy). He now has three decision losses in a row. Damien Brown may be 2-2 in the organization, but that KO was pretty brutal. He’s going to need to show some new wrinkles next time as well.
Ashkan Mokhtarian - This was a tough one. One the one hand, I tend to be more lenient with fighters losing in their debut, because it’s not always the best representation of how some fighters actually perform. Mokhtarian barely makes it here, because he got absolutely dominated for so much of that fight. His stock takes a pretty big hit, but he can redeem himself. So with that in mind, we’ll put him here. Just hope he realizes how deep a deficit he’s dug into, because the pressure to perform is going to be massive next time out.
Chan Mi Jeon - At age 19 and coming into the fight with a 5-0 record, a loss does nothing here. Why is that the case for her and not Mokhtarian above? Because she was in the fight from beginning to end and got the better of her opponent in some of the exchanges. It’s clear Aldrich won, but Jeon showed a lot of tenacity and skill. She’s still capable of picking up the pieces and moving on.
Mizuto Hirota - Hirota is 1-1 with a draw in his UFC run right now, and he’s in a special kind of limbo. Featherweight’s a tough division to be competitive in, and Hirota’s head is technically above water here. He didn’t look terrible, but he seemed content to box and try to get off his back for most of the fight.