The “Black Beast” versus the “Super Samoan.” It almost sounds like a Godzilla movie. It features two monstrous heavyweights. They might not crush cities, but they can definitely crush jaws. They square off at UFC Fight Night 110 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis has compiled a tremendous 16 knockout finishes. Half of these stoppages came inside the UFC’s Octagon, where Lewis has smashed the likes of Damian Grabowski, Gabriel Gonzaga, Shamil Abdurahimov and Travis Browne to smithereens. Tipping the scales quite close to the upper limit of the heavyweight division, the 32-year-old is calling for big fights when he isn’t verbally seducing Ronda Rousey.
Lewis is getting his wish, too. After disposing of Browne, he now draws Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt. The 43-year-old’s momentum has faded after a quick start to his UFC career, but the decorated kickboxer does boast nine knockout wins, including six under the UFC banner. He’s brought an early end to the night for, among others, Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve, Roy Nelson, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Frank Mir. Hunt hasn’t fared well against recent opponents Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem, but his walk-off knockouts are still a thing of legend that should give Lewis nightmares as this fight approaches.
The UFC’s trip to New Zealand’s Vector Arena comes complete with six main-card bouts, featuring such notables as middleweights Daniel Kelly and Derek Brunson, lightweight mainstay Ross Pearson, former flyweight title challenger Tim Elliott and featherweight prospect Alexander Volkanovski.
The action begins with two preliminary contests airing live on UFC Fight Pass at 7 p.m. ET. The festivities move over to Fox Sports 1 for the remaining four prelim bouts at 8 p.m. ET and the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Heavyweights Derrick Lewis and Mark Hunt collide in the evening’s headliner. How excited should we be?
Kuhl: We should be pretty excited to see these two monsters throw down. Hunt’s record may look a bit spotty over the last four years, but two of his fights were against guys who got caught juicing and two were the current and last heavyweight champs. Coming off a tough third-round knockout loss to Overeem, the quadragenarian is still 2-1-1 in his last four outings, sitting at No. 7 in the division, and he’s ready to make a big statement against the beastly foe who is over 10 years younger.
The interesting thing about Lewis is that most mainstream fans probably are unaware that he is even sitting at 9-2 in the UFC over the last three years, because, while he does have wins over some big-name opponents, when you pepper in guys like Ruan Potts, Guto Inocente and Shamil Abdurakhimov, it is easy to forget a few of those in the fray. The fact of the matter is that Lewis is slowly creeping the ladder, and, while sitting in sixth place, a win over Hunt could easily make the case for a move to the top five. With current champ Stipe Miocic having already taken out three of the top-five guys, and Cain Velasquez always being such a big question mark, the only guy standing in front of a title shot for Lewis — other than Hunt, of course — would be Francis Ngannou. The way Lewis and Ngannou both handle themselves, we could even potentially see these two men battling for the strap in the not-too-distant future.
So, the answer to the original question is a resounding yes. Hunt is in career-relevance mode, and it also helps that he is not happy with his employer. Lewis is within striking distance of a title shot. Plus, let’s not forget that both men are hard-smashing monsters who are always going for the finish.
This is not one to be missed, and I have Lewis taking it by a nasty knockout.
Henderson: If knockouts are your thing, then you should indeed be very excited.
Hunt is a kickboxer who relies heavily on his power to finish fights in wowing fashion. However, plenty of his opponent have opted to key in on his weakness on the mat or use range to stay out of trouble on the feet. This won’t be the case when Hunt locks horns with Lewis. The “Black Beast” doesn’t tend to use such a disciplined approach.
Lewis is out for big knockouts of his own. He’s finished four UFC foes in the first round, and he’s tacked on another four finishes that have come in the later rounds. The huge Texas-based fighter can get sloppy at times, but he’s done a better job of recovering as he’s gained Octagon experience.
Someone is definitely getting knocked out in this headliner. Hunt’s chin can take a beating, but he’s also faltered several times. There’s always the chance that Hunt scores another one of his walk-off knockouts, but I’ll side with my colleague and pick Lewis to get the job done.
At age 39, Daniel Kelly seems like the most unlikely of potential contenders to emerge in the UFC. However, The Ultimate Fighter: Nations alum is now 6-1 in the UFC and 13-1 overall. Kelly meets fellow middleweight Derek Brunson in the co-headliner. How long can Kelly keep this up?
Henderson: Kelly has an excellent judoka background, but from the first moment he appeared on TUF, he looked like he had the body of someone twice his age — and he’s no spring chicken to begin with. Given his appearance, it didn’t seem likely that he’d do big things inside the Octagon. Yet, here we are, and here he is, sporting wins over Luke Zachrich, Pat Walsh, Steve Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Junior, Chris Camozzi and Rashad Evans. His only loss was a 49-second technical knockout delivered by Sam Alvey.
If it weren’t for his victories over Camozzi and Evans, I’d still be a Kelly skeptic. As it is, I’m finally coming around. He’s a legitimate threat in the division, and if he beats Brunson, then he might even crack the UFC’s top 10 at middleweight.
Brunson is a pretty big roadblock for Kelly. He’s an athletic fighter still in his prime fighting years. He’s only one inch taller than Kelly, but he has more than seven inches in reach over the judoka. Brunson has the power to finish Kelly on the feet if he lands a clean shot.
Kelly’s been able to handle plenty of fighters who enjoyed a reach advantage — Evans had more than four inches on him, Camozzi had six and Carlos Junior had more than eight — so that shouldn’t be a problem. However, he was knocked out by Alvey, and Brunson is the only recent opponent who still brings explosive knockout abilities to the cage. Kelly will have to demonstrate a solid chin if he wants to keep his winning streak going.
As much as Kelly’s overlooked, though, Brunson’s equally overrated. He’s a top-20 middleweight, sure, but what if we dissect his record a little further? He lost a decision to a declining Anderson Silva, he was utterly destroyed by rising contender Robert Whittaker, he was dropped by Yoel Romero, steamrolled by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and even lost a close decision to Kendall Grove. In the win column, he can boast victories over Chris Leben, Lorenz Larkin, Ed Herman, the aforementioned Alvey, Roan Carneiro and Uriah Hall. There’s definitely a distinct line that Brunson can’t seem to step beyond.
The question is whether Kelly lands on the Leben and Hall side of the line or the Silva and Whittaker side. My estimation puts him just a smidge into the Silva and Whittaker side. Kelly might be getting up there in years, but the Aussie fighter can still dish it out. If Brunson wins, it comes by an early flash knockout. Otherwise, this fight is likely to end with Kelly’s hand raised.
Kuhl: I agree with most of what my colleague said, with a few exceptions.
Kelly may not be a spring chicken, but he is a high-level athlete who spent well over a decade competing as an Olympic-level judoka with his most recent Olympic appearance taking place less than five years ago. In MMA, he is more at the midpoint of his career than nearing the end, and he is damned near impossible to stop, minus the Alvey slip-up, which was an anomaly. His submission game is sick, and his compact stature gives him some knockout power as well. Do I feel he’ll ever contend for a title? No. But, I do think he’s got more miles than the average 39-year-old fighter who has 30 fights under his belt.
I definitely agree that Brunson should be in his prime right about now, but, as my fellow writer pointed out, he lost to a pretty checked-out Silva, and, while the loss to Whitaker was a complete shutdown, he did fare well enough for most of that round — enough to earn “Fight of the Night” honors. The problem with Brunson is that, not only does he have wicked knockout power, but he’s also an All-American wrestler who has never been submitted.
I like Kelly and feel he still has some great fights to offer, but in this one, he’s going to need to get it to the ground. Brunson’s wrestling is very good, though. The question is whether or not Brunson’s takedown defense is enough to shut down an Olympic-level judoka. Ronda Rousey showed us how tough that level of takedown attempt can be to defend. If the fight stays standing, let’s just say that Brunson has a nasty striking game that none of Kelly’s previous opponents have brought to the table.
This one is a race to the finish. Either Kelly submits Brunson first, or Brunson gets the knockout. Because the fight starts standing, I’m taking Brunson by knockout, but I’m not, by any means, saying this is the last we see of Kelly.
Luke Jumeau, Ashkan Mokhtarian and Chan Mi Jeon — do we need to know these names?
Kuhl: Yes, yes, and maybe, respectively.
Jumeau has been fighting as a pro for almost nine years. He is a crafty welterweight with a solid balance of knockouts and submissions, and he hasn’t suffered defeat in four years. Having already faced two UFC vets in Vik Grujic and Li Jingliang, he enters the Octagon to meet veteran Dominique Steele, who is currently sitting at 1-3 in the promotion and is basically fighting for survival. Jumeau is only 29 and his best years are still ahead of him, so this will be a great one to watch.
Mokhtarian has an interesting story. Born in Iran, his family fled to Australia in the mid-1980s. In his teenage years, he had problems with substance abuse. MMA was his chance to turn his life around, and since turning pro about five and a half years ago, he has gone 13-1. He has only been to decision once, and he is currently riding a six-fight winning streak. The promotion is throwing him straight to the wolves, though. He faces former UFC flyweight title challenger John Moraga, who is on a three-fight skid and is badly in need of a big win. If Mokhtarian wins, it would be a big statement to the current flyweight roster.
The 19-year-old Jeon is still relatively untested. While she is undefeated in her first five fights, the striker has a big task ahead as she fights the more seasoned J.J. Aldrich. The 24-year-old Aldrich may still be young in her own right, but she did pretty well in her lengthy amateur career, went 2-1 in Invicta as a pro and entered The Ultimate Fighter, where she went 1-1. Aldrich is currently on a 2-1 run as she enters her seventh pro outing. Jeon is a tough read, but she holds a flyweight title in ALL FC and has finished four of her five opponents by knockout. It won’t be until after her UFC debut that we can put a solid read on her potential.
Henderson: If only Jeon had been competing in Korea’s top promotion, Road FC, I’d probably have higher hopes for her. As it stands, she’s seen mostly inexperienced competition. When she did step up to meet a veteran, it was against Megumi Yabushita, a sub-.500 fighter. Jeon could have all the potential in the world, but it’s hard to tell at this point. Jeon is stepping in on short notice against Aldrich, which could be to the youngster’s advantage. However, Aldrich is no joke. It’s a tough first outing for Jeon, and she’s likely to lose. Age is on her side, though, and she could eventually emerge as a steady contender in the women’s strawweight division.
Mokhtarian has a deeper resume, but it isn’t a glowing one. Sure, he has 13 wins, but he suffered a loss to a sub-.500 fighter in Edwin Arana. If the Australian Top Team product can’t even get past a low-level competitor like Arana with perfect consistency, then it seem improbably that he can top Moraga, whose recent skid includes losses to highly regarded flyweights Joseph Benavidez, Matheus Nicolau and Sergio Pettis. Moraga isn’t necessarily a top-10 fighter these days, but he should feast on someone of Mokhtarian’s caliber. The Iranian-born fighter might stick around for another fight, but he’ll be fortunate to record a UFC win in such a competitive division.
The 29-year-old Jumeau seems like another also-ran. It’s not that he isn’t talented — anyone who can make it to the UFC is one hell of a fighter — but his record doesn’t suggest the makings of a future world champion. He dropped the fight to Li and followed it up with a loss to another future UFCer, Jake Matthews. He also stumbled against the unheralded Jacques Marsters. The New Zealander did beat Grujic, but that’s the only notable win on his record. Steele is going to quickly send Jumeau on his way.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: There are a lot of good choices for sleeper fights on this card, but let’s focus on the women’s strawweight affair in which J.J. Aldrich welcomes South Korean fighter Chan Mi Jeon to the UFC.
The bout, slated for the early portion of the preliminary card, will be the second Octagon appearance for Aldrich. The Invicta FC veteran has been a scrappy fighter who has had her ups and downs in Invicta, as well as on The Ultimate Fighter 23 and in the UFC. Aldrich went 3-1 under the Invicta banner. She was eliminated from the TUF tournament by eventual season winner Tatiana Suarez and she lost her Octagon debut to Juliana Lima. Despite the setbacks she’s faced, Aldrich has remained a strong presence in the division. Her fight with Lima was a solid showing from the 24-year-old, and now she gets a chance to be the veteran welcoming the newbie to the UFC.
Jeon is an intriguing prospect who draws a tough first test inside the Octagon. The South Korean has been at the pro level since mid-2015. So far, she’s registered three technical knockouts and one knockout. Three of her finishes came in less than a minute, but most of her opponents have been low-level fighters with little or no experience.
This fight could put Jeon’s striking on display, or it could be a showcase of Aldrich’s experience. Either way, it’ll be an interesting fight.
Kuhl: I’m going to be closely watching the match between Daniel Hooker and Ross Pearson.
Both men have been around for a while, and they have had some total wars against high-level opponents. They have garnered some performance bonuses, too. This will not be a boring fight at all.
Pearson, the old guard of the two, hasn’t won in over a year. The 27-year-old Hooker has made low-profile events his home. So, both of these guys need a big-statement win to remain relevant in the promotion. Both guys can finish an opponent anywhere or go the distance, so this one could actually turn into a bonus night for either or both.
Pair this card with…
Kuhl: Ciders are very popular in New Zealand, and I’ve been on a bit of a cider kick lately, so I’m thinking this one will go well with something like Rekorderlig or J.K.’s Scrumpy on the high end, or a Crispin or Smith & Forge for the more budget-minded individuals. Ciders are crisp, exciting, and easy to drink, but, if you pick the right one, they also pack a huge punch. Some are sweet, some are dry, but almost all are satisfying at the very least.
Henderson: A binge viewing of the fights so far on The Ultimate Fighter 25. Is anyone following this competition? So far, Gilbert Smith, Tom Gallicchio, Jesse Taylor, James Krause, Dhiego Lima, Ramsey Nijem and Justin Edwards have advanced, while Joe Stevenson and Hayder Hassan are set to meet in the wild-card fight. There have been some finishes, and at the very least, fans can watch Nijem beat up on Julian “Just Let Me Bang, Bro” Lane.
|Fight||Kuhl’s Pick||Henderson’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Mark Hunt||Lewis||Lewis|
|MW: Derek Brunson vs. Daniel Kelly||Brunson||Kelly|
|LW: Ross Pearson vs. Daniel Hooker||Hooker||Pearson|
|LHW: Ion Cutelaba vs. Luis Henrique da Silva||Cutelaba||Cutelaba|
|FlyW: Tim Elliott vs. Ben Nguyen||Elliott||Elliott|
|FW: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Mizuto Hirota||Volkanovski||Volkanovski|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Damien Brown vs. Vinc Pichel||Brown||Brown|
|WW: Luke Jumeau vs. Dominique Steele||Jumeau||Steele|
|FlyW: John Moraga vs. Ashkan Mokhtarian||Moraga||Moraga|
|WW: Kiichi Kunimoto vs. Zak Ottow||Ottow||Kunimoto|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s StrawW: J.J. Aldrich vs. Chan Mi Jeon||Jeon||Aldrich|
|LW: Dong Hyun Kim vs. Thibault Gouti||Kim||Kim|