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UFC Auckland: Felder vs. Hooker - Winners and Losers

Here are the real winners and losers from a night of violence from UFC Auckland.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

UFC Auckland will only be remembered for one thing: the awesome – and controversial – main event between Dan Hooker and Paul Felder. The two top lightweights engaged in a razor thin contest for five vicious rounds. Many believe the New Zealand crowd influenced the judges in awarding the decision to Dan Hooker, though no one can call the decision a robbery. Rather than go into details of the match and try to split hairs – people have already made up their minds on who won and lost — just take my word for it.

After the decision was read, Felder announced he was considering retirement, potentially leaving the MMA world in shock.

There were some other nice moments. Angela Hill securing her third consecutive victory, while Yan Xiaonan upped that by securing her fifth consecutive victory over former title contender Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Many were also proclaiming a breakout performance from Brad Riddell, though I’m prone to call that premature. Regardless, there were quite a few finishes for an overall fun evening, even if time erodes much of our memories of it.

Winners

Dan Hooker: It doesn’t matter whether you agreed with the judges or not, Hooker deserves praise for his performance. He stood toe-to-toe with one of the top lightweights in the world and had about half of the viewing audience convinced he was the better man. That’s a pretty strong endorsement that Hooker belongs with best in the world. I’m not saying he’d be the favorite against the likes of Khabib, McGregor, or Justin Gaethje, but I wouldn’t roll my eyes at the suggestion of these fights. Well, maybe I’d be opposed to him facing Khabib… for now. Regardless, Hooker has come a long way from an unheralded debutant at featherweight against Ian Entwistle in 2014.

Paul Felder: I know it wasn’t his intention, but Felder’s announcement of his possible retirement stole a bit of Hooker’s thunder. Then again, many would say Felder should have been declared the winner in the first place. Regardless, Felder’s performance was just as impressive as Hooker’s, proving he’s still at the top of his game and could very well continue to perform at a high level for several more years. However, citing a daughter amongst his reasons to walk away, no one can say Felder is crazy to walk away. After all, how much money would it take for you to continue to step into a cage and get the crap beat out of you? Felder has had injuries such as a collapsed lung and a broken arm coming out of contests. You know damn well he suffered some debilitating injuries in this contest with Hooker. If it’s the last we’ve seen of Felder – in the cage at least – a big debt of gratitude is owed to him. Actually, even if it isn’t the last of him in the cage, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Jimmy Crute: One of the biggest criticisms of Crute coming into this contest was his willingness to go where his opponent wanted the fight to go. None of that was on display against Michel Oleksiejczuk. Crute took him down immediately and continued to do so after the Pole continued to climb back to his feet. Eventually, Crute found the smaller Oleksiejczuk‘s arm and damn near wrenched it off with a brutal kimura. It wasn’t a breakthrough performance, but it could be an indication of a turning point. Depending on your perspective, that’s even better.

Yan Xiaonan: Lost amidst the rapid decline of Kowalkiewicz was the impressive performance of the second best fighter out of China in the division. Xiaonan overwhelmed Kowalkiewicz on the feet and even outworked the Pole in the clinch, an area that’s supposed to be her wheelhouse. Had Kowalkiewicz not looked so poor in her previous contests – and this one – we wouldn’t be shutting up about how awesome Xiaonan looked. That isn’t the case. Instead, it’s been “Eh, she was supposed to win. Have you seen how bad Kowalkiewicz has looked?” Maybe Xiaonan will get her proper due following her next fight….

Marcos Rogerio de Lima: Given how much weight de Lima has put on, anyone else surprised he ever made it to 205? Regardless of how much wider the Brazilian has grown, he looked awesome in picking apart the durable Ben Sosoli. De Lima made excellent use of his length and kicks to lay the punishment on thick, becoming the first to stop Sosoli. De Lima did so by sticking to his strength and fighting a smart fight, something he doesn’t always do. He could make some noise if he continues to do that, but the MMA community has been saying that about de Lima for years.

Brad Riddell: Some may point to Riddell’s inability to stop the takedowns of Magomed Mustafaev, but those same people would be missing Riddell constantly climbing back to his feet and continuing to take the fight to the better wrestler was encouraging. Still, I wouldn’t discount the critics who believe Mustafaev won. I’m not saying it was the ground-shaking performance by Riddell many seem to be crediting to Riddell. Sure, he’s charismatic, but saying he’s a star based on squeaking out a narrow victory in a fight defined by takedowns? I’m also not saying it was terrible. I’m saying it was about what I expected and it could have easily gone the other way. There’s a lot to like about Riddell. There’s also reason not to throw him too deep into the water.

Zubaira Tukhugov: It sounds weird to say, but Tukhugov picked up his first win since 2015. Yeah… it’s been a while. That’s what happens when you suffer consecutive suspensions. Regardless, Tukhugov displayed exactly why everyone was once calling him one of the top featherweight prospects in the world. Spending the first little bit getting the timing of Kevin Aguilar down, Tukhugov blasted the American with a hard left hand that dropped him. Aguilar popped up in a hurry, but Tukhugov continued to pour on the punishment. After several “meh” performances, Tukhugov absolutely needed an impressive performance to get critics off his back. There’s no one crawling on his back at the moment.

Jalin Turner: I’ll be the first to say Turner has looked like a million bucks in his two UFC wins, including his demolition of Josh Culibao. I’ll also be the first to say Culibao and Callan Potter don’t exactly represent quality wins. Turner is such an impressive combination of length and athleticism that it’s hard not to get excited about his future, especially with this performance. But while he certainly deserves praise for his victory, let’s not get too excited.

Jake Matthews: There are things to nitpick with Matthews’ performance, but securing a clear decision victory over an always game Emil Meek is overall a big victory. I worried Matthews might get cute and try to outbox the Norwegian, but Matthews wisely took him to the mat over the first two rounds before gassing out in the third. In fact, Matthews was winning the fight on the feet those first two rounds too. Regardless, I don’t want to get too high on the 25-year old as there have been multiple starts to his career only for the wheels to fall off before he truly breaks out. Matthews next fight might be a real make-or-break moment.

Song Kenan: When the UFC signed Kenan, I didn’t think he’d get a single win. Just over two years later, not only does he have FOUR wins, three of them have come via KO, including his brutal finish of Callan Potter. Potter was outworking him, but Kenan was smart enough to know his time would come. When it did, he made the scrapper pay. I’m still waiting for Kenan to pick up a quality win – the men he has beaten have a total of one UFC win between them – but I can’t crap on him for having an 80% win percentage in the UFC.

Kai Kara-France: About the only way the night could have gone better for the Kiwi would have been if he could have scored a finish over the durable Tyson Nam, but an impressive decision works too. Nam landed some heavy shots in the first round, but Kara-France adjusted to minimize the damage the rest of the way and take every round on the judges’ scorecard. He’s still a longshot to be a title contender, but given the shallow nature of the division, he looks like an ideal gatekeeper to the top five… for now.

Angela Hill: Less than a month after picking up her second win in a row, Hill extended her streak to three. Establishing herself as the busiest fighter in the UFC – not women’s fighter, just fighter – Hill did so with yet another short notice call up, going the distance with a game Loma Lookboonmee. Many are saying Hill should be knocking on the door of a top ten opponent, but what is her best win? Maryna Moroz? Ariane Carnelossi? It may even be Lookboonmee. Regardless of the quality of her wins, Hill deserves respect for being one of the few to honor the anytime, anywhere mantra. Plus, I’d be lying if I said she doesn’t look improved. Did you see her submissions off her back? I never would have predicted that from her.

Priscila Cachoeira: Cachoeira has been a punchline since entering the UFC, largely thanks to being on the losing end of one of the most lopsided contests in UFC history against Valentina Shevchenko. Despite that, no one has ever questioned her heart as she comes to fight EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. She gave Dobson no breathing room, attacking out of the gate before finishing off a tentative Shana Dobson and picking up a win. Make no mistake, that first UFC win means more to Cachoeira than it does for most.

Losers

Michel Oleksiejczuk: The Pole had been able to fight off the takedowns of his previous opponents with few problems. Who knew it would be an Australian of all things that effectively grounded him? I don’t see the UFC releasing him quite yet, but it’s been quite a turn from a year ago when many saw him as one of the top 205 prospects in the world. Given his slight frame at 205, is a move to middleweight possible? I’m not advocating for it, but I think it may be a possibility.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz: There aren’t many who’ve suffered a more precipitous fall than Kowalkiewicz. Renan Barao comes to mind. So does David Louiseau. Ronda Rousey would, but she turned to pro wrestling before the fall could be complete. Sure, Kowalkiewicz never held a title, but she gave Joanna Jedrzejczyk a hell of a fight. Now, she can’t give a properly competitive contest to Yan Xiaonan. Kowalkiewicz has talked in the past about retiring early enough to start a family. Given she is on a 2-6 skid at the age of 34, I’d expect her friends and family to be reminding her of that statement. If this is the end of the line, I’d rather people remember the Kowalkiewicz who upended Rose Namajunas than the one we’ve seen these last few years.

Ben Sosoli: Heavyweight is about more than just hitting hard. You need to be big in order to cover ground. If you’re not going to be massive, you need to be quick. If you’re not either – like Sosoli — you need to be clever and use technique. Charging headfirst at your opponent isn’t the type of technique I’m talking about. Sosoli, as tough as he is, doesn’t look like he has the physical tools o do much of anything in the UFC.

Kevin Aguilar: If Aguilar wanted to be seen as anything beyond a gatekeeper, he NEEDED to secure a win over Tukhugov. Given Tukhugov’s tendency for low output, it was a very winnable fight. Alas, Tukhugov found his way through Aguilar’s defenses and now the gatekeeper label has permanently been attached. Sure, Aguilar hasn’t been in the UFC very long, but he is 31 and has been in the fight game since 2008 if you stretch back to his amateur career. Aguilar has likely peaked. There’s time to prove me wrong, but I feel comfortable saying that with him coming off back-to-back losses.

Josh Culibao: Though I think Culibao has some skills to work with, I’m not crazy about the likelihood of him becoming a player in the UFC. His performance against Turner only emphasized that. I get that Culibao was fighting a weight class up. I get he was taking the contest on short notice. Nonetheless, I expected him to show something. Nope. I can’t think of a bright moment for him. Ouch.

Emil Meek: I had heard the reports of Meek working on his wrestling. I didn’t put much stock in them – wisely it turned out – but I expected his durability and constant pressure to eventually break Matthews. It almost worked, but Matthews survived and Meek’s inability to stuff a takedown against a fresh opponent resulted in a hole too deep for him to dig himself out of. With three losses in a row, I’d expect Meek to be cut.

Callan Potter: Potter performed the way you’d expect someone who channels Dan Kelly to perform: either outscrap your opponent or get overwhelmed early. Potter was overwhelmed by a hard-hitting Kenan. Lacking the athletic background of Kelly, it’s hard to see Potter carving out a run similar to his mentor. Thus, this outcome surprised exactly no one.

Tyson Nam: There was a lot to like about Nam’s performance against Kara-France. He landed some heavy leather in the first round, enough that I narrowly gave him the opening frame. However, as feared, his lack of volume cost him the rest of the way. At heavyweight, Nam’s patient style of waiting for the KO blow would work out brilliantly. Hell, it works at flyweight on the regional scene. But against the best in the world? Nope. Nam can win in the UFC, but he needs to make some adjustments to up his volume.

Loma Lookboonmee: I really want to see Lookboonmee have success. However, she’s running into the same problem Seo Hee Ham suffered from: she’s incredibly undersized, even for strawweight. Despite that, the takedown defense looked better and she even found a trip takedown of her own. But the size came into play and very well may have been the difference. Lookboonmee isn’t going anywhere yet, but she faces an uphill battle.

Shana Dobson: There isn’t much to excuse for Dobson here. Everyone knows Cachoira is aggressive and Dobson appeared unprepared for Cachoeira’s initial swarm. Maybe a takedown to slow her down. How about clinching up? Dobson backed up and threw a front kick, allowing Cachoeira to continue moving forward. Now with three losses in a row, I’d be shocked to see Dobson back in the Octagon.

Neither

Magomed Mustafaev: Aside from getting knocked down in the opening round, Mustafaev executed the perfect strategy against Riddell. He kept the former kickboxer from releasing his arsenal and spent most of the contest controlling him. Unfortunately, that knockdown seemed to make all the difference in the world as it swung two of the three judges in favor of Riddell. Given Mustafaev wasn’t utilizing his biggest strength – explosive striking – in an effort to render Riddell’s striking moot, it wasn’t a terrible outcome. Mustafaev should still develop into one of the division’s better action fighters.