It has been four months since the UFC last took a trip to Australia, where Ronda Rousey dropped her women’s bantamweight title to Holly Holm in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Now, the world’s biggest MMA promotion heads back Down Under to bring UFC Fight Night 85 to the Australian faithful.
The main event features former heavyweight title challenger Mark Hunt, one of the biggest fighters from Oceania. Hunt takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Both fighters will be looking to make an upward move in the heavyweight division. Hunt is coming off a victory over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 193 in November. Mir is coming off a loss to Andrei Arlovski in September that halted a two-fight winning streak.
In the co-headliner, Hector Lombard returns to Australia for the first time since his knockout victory over Rousimar Palhares in 2012. Neil Magny will be Lombard’s opponent this time around. Magny looks to add a big name to his growing list of victories and continue his climb to the top of the welterweight mountain.
In addition to the two top billings, there will be four other fights on the main card. Two fights take place in the middleweight division, where Dan Kelly meets Antonio Carlos Jr. and James Te Huna takes on Steve Bosse. At lightweight, up-and-coming prospect Jake Matthews clashes with Johnny Case. The card also heads over to the women’s side, where strawweights Seo Hee Ham and Bec Rawlings battle in an effort to break into the top 15 of the division.
UFC Fight Night 85 kicks things off over on the UFC’s exclusive streaming service, UFC Fight Pass, with two fights beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. The card then heads over to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for the rest of the preliminary action. The main card will stay on FS1 starting at 10 p.m. ET. This edition of Toe-to-Toe is brought to you by Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Sal DeRose.
Heavyweight Mark Hunt had a nice resurgence after joining the UFC, but he’s had trouble getting past the best of the best. Meanwhile, his opponent, Frank Mir, a former UFC champion, has done enough in his two recent wins to climb back into relevance before losing to Andrei Arlovski. Does their headlining battle here have any title implications, or is this one of those legends division battles?
Huntemann: The UFC is doing its best Bellator impression with this fight, except for the added bonus that neither Hunt nor Mir should suffer a heart attack or renal failure after their appearance in the Octagon. Both men should pass their post-fight drug tests, too.
The winner of this fight doesn’t get any closer to a title shot, even in a thin and top-heavy (no pun intended) division like heavyweight. Mir was on the cusp of a title shot before his lackluster unanimous decision loss to Arlovski last year. Even if Mir seems to have nine lives — every time you think he’s booked his trip to Gatekeepersville, he rattles off an improbable run of victories that puts him back in title contention — he finally used up the last of those lives in his most recent run, which was derailed by the aforementioned loss to Arlovski.
Everyone rooted for Hunt in 2013 and 2014 when he resurrected his career from the ashes and fought for the interim heavyweight title against Fabricio Werdum. Unfortunately, Hunt’s career seems to be in limbo since his loss to Werdum. He was pummeled by Stipe Miocic, but then knocked out Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the first round.
It’s no secret what Hunt and Mir will want to do in their fight this weekend. Hunt will want to keep the fight standing and look to knock Mir’s head off. Mir, despite his move toward boxing in recent years, will want to take Hunt to the ground, where Hunt’s shortcomings are rather evident, and seek to take one of Hunt’s arms home with him. So, who is going to be successful in completing their mission?
Hunt. Even if Mir has made improvements in his striking, Hunt is still one of the most dangerous strikers in all of MMA. He can knock out opponents cold with one punch. Mir has struggled in the past against elite strikers like Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and Shane Carwin. Hunt is in the mix with those guys and will use his striking to keep Mir at bay and prevent him from using his elite jiu-jitsu.
Eventually, Mir is going to make a mistake and go for a shot when he shouldn’t. That’s when Hunt drives his fist through Mir’s jaw to get a TKO victory.
DeRose: Since this is the heavyweight division, every fight could have possible title fight implications riding on it. Both fighters have their own reasons why even a win will leave them hard pressed to really jump the line. The good news for these two combatants? The division is extremely shallow and both men stand at the very bottom of the top-10 rankings.
My colleague has the correct assumption about Mir. The man is simply a cat with nine lives. When you think he’s out, he somehow breaks himself back in. However, I don’t think Mir has used up all of his chances. Age is a really peculiar thing in the heavyweight division. Fighters near the top of the division tend to be older. If this were any other division, most of these guys would be considered too old to be in the title picture. Instead, they’d be considered to be on the verge of retirement. Heavyweights tend to age quite well.
Indeed, Mir has shown improved boxing skills in his most recent fights. This may grant him at least one more chance to make a run in the heavyweight division. You can’t just simply overlook this factor. If you do, you might as well overlook Hunt, too, because his ground game isn’t up to snuff to make him a top heavyweight contender.
There is enough room at the top of the heavyweight division, and it may only take one or two wins for one of these men to break into the title picture again. Hunt is a fan-favorite, which bodes extremely well for his future if he can beat Mir and maybe one more fighter afterwards. Mir is a former heavyweight champion with numerous big victories on his resume, which always makes him a possible future candidate in the division.
Hector Lombard is just 3-2 in the UFC. His last win over Josh Burkman was changed to a no-contest after Lombard failed a drug test. Now, the former Olympian is back from his one-year suspension and set to meet Neil Magny. Can Lombard ever reemerge as a top fighter and title contender? If Magny defeats Lombard, does he instantly become a part of the welterweight division’s top tier?
DeRose: Having watched Lombard compete since he was tearing up Bellator, I’ve learned that it’s very hard to count him out. The 38-year-old is on a different level with sheer power that seems to overwhelm his opponents. Lombard may sit at just 3-2 in the UFC, but those two losses came at middleweight. Since moving to welterweight, he has gone 2-0, plus the no-contest (originally a Lombard win) against Burkman.
Magny, the ninth-ranked welterweight, is a good step to allow Lombard to break back into the top 10 and the title mix. There are a couple of concerns, however, when looking at Lombard. First, how much did being on performance-enhancing drugs help him in his fight against Burkman — or possibly in any fight before that? If Lombard is totally clean now, that could mean some changes that make him a relatively weaker fighter than he once was. But, how heavily he relied on it could be an issue. Second, taking a year off is dangerous for a lot of fighters. Training doesn’t compare to actually competing inside the Octagon. The Burkman fight was almost a year after Lombard’s last fight and he performed very well, albeit the performance came with a failed drug test attached.
This is not to discount Magny. He is going to be a tough opponent, and if he were to take the win over Lombard, it would do wonders for his career. The 28-year-old has really started to build a nice, budding resume in his last couple of fights. Magny defeated Kelvin Gastelum, who sits just above Lombard, in his most recent outing. If Magny was to add another top-15 name to his win column, it certainly would help any potential run to the top. If Magny gets a big finish, it would only make this a more meteoric rise. Magny has achieved some great feats so far, whether it be the five wins he notched in the span of one calendar year in 2014 or his latest split decision victory over Gastelum. A victory over Lombard only helps his rise.
Huntemann: Even if Lombard tore it up in Bellator and has power that most middleweights don’t, he’s been completely and totally underwhelming so far in his UFC run. I still remember the giddiness in UFC President Dana White’s voice when he announced the UFC had whisked Lombard away from Bellator. The former Bellator champ’s first fight in the Octagon was against Tim Boetsch, and it was considered little more than a formality that Lombard was going to demolish Boetsch and finally set his sights on then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva, in what was considered a dream match-up at the time.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans of men. Lombard looked skittish, tentative and unsure against Boetsch in an utterly disappointing performance on the utterly disappointing card that was UFC 149. To his credit, Lombard has rebounded nicely from his listless UFC debut, with his only loss since then coming three years ago to Yushin Okami. Maybe dropping down to welterweight was the cure for what ailed Lombard?
Magny is an interesting fighter. He’s incredibly active — he fought five times last year alone, on top of five fights in 2014 and three fights in 2013, which was his debut year in the UFC — so no one can say Magny turns down a challenge. Magny has only lost once since 2013. It was a submission loss to Demian Maia, after which Magny sought out his former foe for guidance on how to improve his jiu-jitsu, a sign of a true mixed martial artist. Magny will not be a walk in the park for Lombard. If Lombard underestimates Magny and suffers another loss, then the Bellator veteran will never realize his massive potential.
I’m picking Lombard to win — his power, which my colleague mentioned, could be the deciding factor — but a Magny victory would not surprise me in the slightest. Magny is actually a slight favorite over Lombard according to the Vegas oddsmakers. Could it be that they see Magny’s resume and his willingness to fight any and all comers? Perhaps.
No matter whose hand is raised, the victor in this fight goes a long way toward putting themselves in contention in a fairly crowded welterweight division.
Despite this being a “free” card, the UFC stacked the prelims. This is most apparent on the Fight Pass portion of the lineup, with Ross Pearson against Chad Laprise and Rin Nakai’s return against Leslie Smith. Is this a good move by the UFC to help build the prelims, or could these fighters be placed on a later card? Furthermore, considering this is a six-fight main card, could either of these fights have been on the top billing?
Huntemann: Is this a good move? I mean, sure. Why not? We’ve already seen that the UFC wants to draw more eyeballs to its products beyond just the main card, whether it’s on television or online with Fight Pass. The last UFC Fight Pass card was headlined by Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping, after all.
Ratings for the UFC’s Fox Sports 1 preliminary cards are also up, though it helps that the preliminary cards were for stacked pay-per-views that featured fighters like Conor McGregor, José Aldo, Nate Diaz, Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm. The UFC has made it a point to run more stacked cards as of late, particularly with pay-per-views. It seems to be a strategy that’s working, even if it might pose challenges in the long term.
As far as the specific fighters mentioned, they’re right where they need to be. Pearson, Laprise, Smith and Nakai are solid fighters, but to use a quickly-becoming-overused phrase, do any of these fighters really move the needle? Not particularly. However, they all fight an exciting style that lends itself to drawing in viewers. If the UFC wants to keep bringing eyeballs to its preliminary-card product, then putting exciting fighters like these four in that spot is a good way to go.
DeRose: It surely is a good move. It allows the UFC to grow its preliminary numbers and turn some eyeballs toward the company’s streaming service, UFC Fight Pass. That seems like basic marketing, doesn’t it? The UFC’s preliminary numbers are up, and these names will help the UFC’s cause. They are either some of the better fighters in their respective divisions or they already have a following from previous appearances with the promotion.
There are some fights on the main card that, sure, these two specific fights could overtake. It feels like Pearson, in particular, has been a featured fighter forever — two of his last three fights have resided on the main card. He has even been the co-main event twice in his last five fights. James Te Huna might be on the main card in part due to the location of this event being in his own backyard. The same could be said for Daniel Kelly, who is also on the main card opposite Antonio Carlos Jr.
The women might be more well served on the preliminary card. Nakai didn’t exactly have the greatest UFC debut and hasn’t fought in quite some time. Smith is probably most known for her cauliflower ear popping against Jessica Eye. Sure, we know these names, but they aren’t exactly at the forefront of casual fan’s mind.
There’s another “Rowdy” fighter in the UFC. Her name is Bec Rawlings. Unfortunately, Rawlings finds herself in one of the deepest divisions, women’s strawweight. She has struggled to find her footing so far, going 1-2 in Invicta and splitting her first two UFC fights after being on the the inaugural women’s strawweight season of The Ultimate Fighter. With a seemingly dominant champion like Joanna Jędrzejczyk and tough challengers like Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres, Carla Esparza and Joanne Calderwood, can Rawlings emerge from a crowded strawweight pack? Will her fight against Seo Hee Ham be her only chance to show the world what she can do?
DeRose: This is a big fight for Rawlings, but not because it’s her only chance to break into the top tier. Rawlings has been a tale of two fights in the UFC. Her first bout with Heather Clark didn’t really showcase much. Had she been a part of a different, more established division, rather than one that was newly formed, she might have been cut following the loss. Her next fight, on the other hand, was a great showing of skill, as Rawlings wrapped up the submission victory against Lisa Ellis in the first round. It all depends on which “Rowdy” shows up in this fight. Strawweight is pretty deep, and Rawlings has failed to beat the better fighters in the division twice now. Whether it be against Clark or Esparza, Rawlings hasn’t broken through to the next level.
Ham is a good fighter who really brought it to Calderwood in her UFC debut. Nobody gave Ham a chance in the fight, but she held her own. She is a tenacious fighter who will charge forward. That sort of aggressive style could be the downfall for any fighter if they don’t proceed with caution and instead approach with reckless abandon.
Even with a win here, Rawlings needs to take a step forward in her next fight and get a top-15 name if she wants to consider breaking out in the crowded strawweight pack. Furthermore, Rawlings needs to prove she can be victorious against the next level — someone like Felice Herrig or Jessica Aguilar, for example. Even this seems to be a tall task. It all starts with Ham.
Huntemann: Ol’ Sal is right. This a big fight for Rawlings. She was a part of the notable cast on the strawweight season of The Ultimate Fighter. However, like some others on the show, she’s been lost in the shuffle since it ended. Rawlings has a unique look and style — and Twitter feed, too. She’s a marketable fighter who just doesn’t seem to have had the same opportunities as some of her fellow strawweights. Well, now she does.
But Ham is no pushover. All but one of her 13 victories have come via decision, so Rawlings should prepare for a long night and for Ham to not go away quietly. Rawlings is a step below the elite in the strawweight division, but my colleague is on to something when he says Rawlings can prove herself against fighters like Herrig or Aguilar. Hell, if Rawlings defeats Ham, why not have her face Paige VanZant next?
It’s also not hard to see that, besides its efforts with Jędrzejczyk and VanZant, the UFC doesn’t do much promotion with the strawweights. This leaves it up to the women to promote themselves. A dominant performance by Rawlings in front of her countrymen is her best chance to break through the metaphorical glass ceiling in the strawweight division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: The opening main-card fight between Bec Rawlings and Seo Hee Ham is one to keep an eye on. Ham has only lost once — in her UFC debut against Joanne Calderwood — since 2011. Rawlings has experienced a middling career so far, but she is a tough, scrappy fighter who doesn’t give an inch. She will fight in front of her fellow Aussies, too. Women’s strawweight is an extremely crowded division. The time for Rawlings to make a name for herself is now. Ham is a veteran with a 13-4 record, so I would expect Rawlings to give it everything she has and make it an entertaining fight.
DeRose: Alan Jouban is a really interesting fighter who is known to flash some leather every now and again. He is looking to rebound after a loss to Albert Tumenov in October. The last time Jouban was coming off a loss, he went on to knock out Richard Walsh in one of the better finishes of 2015. In fact, his rebound-fight stat isn’t limited to just his UFC tenure. After each loss in his career, Jouban has responded by getting a straight knockout in his next fight. Brendan O’Reilly is a very willing opponent who will make it an interesting fight.
Pair this card with…
DeRose: Some Shamrock Shakes from McDonalds, or maybe a night in after a long St. Patrick’s Day celebration. This is probably one of the best undercards the UFC has put on so far this year. If you’re looking for a little relaxation after St. Patrick’s Day or you’re craving something great — trust me, Shamrock Shakes are worth it — this is the route to go.
Huntemann: I was never much into McDonald’s shakes, honestly. I love milkshakes as much as the next bloke, but it’s Dairy Queen or bust for me. The original, dammit! But I digress. Pair this card with whatever relaxes you, whether it be an ice cold beer (there I go with the alcohol again) or something… stronger. This card is packed with exciting fights, but my esteemed colleague is also right when he says this is a great card to chill out and relax to while you watch. As far as free (relatively speaking) cards go, this ain’t a bad one. So if you get overloaded on NCAA Tournament games this weekend, flip on Fox Sports 1 on Saturday night and enjoy something a little different.
|Fight||Huntemann’s Pick||DeRose’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Mark Hunt vs. Frank Mir||Hunt||Hunt|
|WW: Hector Lombard vs. Neil Magny||Lombard||Lombard|
|LW: Johnny Case vs. Jake Matthews||Matthews||Matthews|
|MW: Antônio Carlos Júnior vs. Daniel Kelly||Kelly||Kelly|
|MW: James Te Huna vs. Steve Bossé||Te Huna||Te Huna|
|Women’s StrawW: Bec Rawlings vs. Seo Hee Ham||Rawlings||Rawlings|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Brendan O’Reilly vs. Alan Jouban||Jouban||Jouban|
|WW: Viscardi Andrade vs. Richard Walsh||Andrade||Andrade|
|LW: Damien Brown vs. Alan Patrick||Patrick||Patrick|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Ross Pearson vs. Chad Laprise||Laprise||Pearson|
|Women’s BW: Rin Nakai vs. Leslie Smith||Smith||Nakai|
|FW: Daniel Hooker vs. Mark Eddiva||Hooker||Hooker|