On Sunday, Dec. 2 — and Saturday night for those of us in America — the UFC makes its return to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in Adelaide, Australia. UFC Fight Night 142 features all creatures, big and small. The card is headlined by a heavyweight showdown between former champion Junior dos Santos and rising star Tai Tuivasa.
Dos Santos enters the cage for the second time in 2018 after beating Blagoy Ivanov by unanimous decision in July. Since losing his strap to Cain Velasquez in 2012, the Brazilian has followed every win with a loss, and vice versa. He would like nothing more than to finally string together two wins for the first time in over six years.
Tuivasa has a different plan. The Aussie big man entered the UFC just a year ago with a knockout win over Rashad Coulter. He has since gone 3-0 in the promotion to bring his career mark to 8-0. After going past the first round for the first time in his career against veteran Andrei Arlovski in June, Tuivasa is out to make a significant jump with a win over dos Santos.
The co-headliner showcases another Aussie fan-favorite. Heavyweight Mark Hunt faces California’s Justin Willis. Hunt, who is known for exciting knockouts, is coming off two losses in a row. The 31-year-old Willis lost his first pro bout in 2012, but the American has gone 7-0 since, with a 3-0 record in the Octagon. With a win over Hunt, Willis will move much closer to a top-10 ranking.
Rounding out the main card is an exciting mix of fighters from various countries, including the undefeated Jim Crute and Suman Mokhtarian, veterans Jake Matthews and Tony Martin, and former light heavyweight champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who takes on up-and-comer Tyson Pedro.
The two-fight UFC Fight Pass early preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night. The action then moves to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for four preliminary bouts and stays there for the six-fight main card, which kicks off at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Dan Kuhl preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Undefeated heavyweight Tai Tuivasa is coming off a decision win over Andrei Arlovski. Can he keep his streak rolling when he meets another former UFC champion, Junior dos Santos?
Henderson: Australia’s Tuivasa sure seems like another bright spot for the UFC’s heavyweight division, where the average age of the top fighters tends to lean closer to 40 than it does to 30 or 25. Tuivasa is exactly 25, which makes him a perfect injection of fresh blood to join the likes of Francis Ngannou, Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov as new title challengers within the division.
So far, Tuivasa has marched through seven regional foes, including UFC flunky James McSweeney, with first-round stoppages in each contest, and three UFC foes, including two of whom he put away in the first frame. “Bam Bam” has proven to be a raging beast on par with the aforementioned Ngannou and recent title challenger Derrick Lewis. In his UFC debut, he delivered a flying knee that floored Rashad Coulter. In his sophomore outing with the promotion, he battered Cyril Asker. He was finally slowed down and forced to settle for a decision in his most recent affair against former UFC titleist Arlovski.
The longer duration of Tuivasa’s fight with Arlovski was actually a chance for us to see whether the Aussie would run out of gas in deep waters or hold his own. It turns out that he’s not done after five minutes of action. Tuivasa is capable of going deep in fights and still pushing forward.
Dos Santos should be an equally tough test for the undefeated upstart. The Brazilian is a former champion and a tough fighter on the feet. Tuivasa can look on the bright side, though: Dos Santos has suffered losses via strikes against Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic. Tuivasa has incredible power, and it would be a significant resume-booster if he can add his name to that distinguished list.
Dos Santos is still a force in the division — he played spoiler to Blagoy Ivanov recently — but the Brazilian hasn’t been as active or as effective recently. Tuivasa’s power will likely prove to be too much for the veteran to handle. Tuivasa will indeed keep his streak rolling with a star turn here.
Kuhl: Past performance is not indicative of future results, but history does tend to repeat itself. Dos Santos has played the “won one, lost one” game for over six years now, and he is due for a loss. Granted, he is bigger and more experienced than Tuivasa, but the same was the case against Velasquez, and JDS is even older now. He looked good against Ivanov, but that was Ivanov’s UFC debut.
Tuivasa is undefeated for a reason, but his chances of winning a distance fight against JDS are not great. However, as my colleague noted, he has a ton of power and his Brazilian counterpart has been knocked out in recent years. I, too, believe Tuivasa will win this one by knockout, effectively ending any hopes of another title run for dos Santos.
In his return to action following a lengthy layoff, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was obliterated by Anthony Smith. Now, Rua draws another up-and-comer in Tyson Pedro. Will Rua right the ship, or will he become a stepping stone for another light heavyweight on the rise?
Kuhl: Shogun had the cards stacked against him from the get-go in his last fight. Smith was surging, while Shogun had rust. The Brazilian was at a major size disadvantage against the former middleweight, who has proven to be an unexpectedly large light heavyweight. It just wasn’t going to turn out well for Rua.
Unfortunately for the Pride legend, Pedro is another big light heavyweight. However, Pedro has not proven to be as prolific in the striking department as Smith — most of his wins are actually by submission. Pedro is a formally trained martial artist, with belts in three major fighting modalities. He’s currently 3-2 in the UFC, but his last fight was a submission loss to Ovince Saint Preux in June. It was his second loss to a highly ranked opponent, with the other coming by way of decision against Ilir Latifi. Pedro really needs to pull off a win over Rua to make any waves in the division.
Rua’s last fight was no tune-up. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Smith disposed of him so quickly that he never really had time to shake off the rust from his layoff. He was showing serious signs of his age, too.
Pedro needs to make a statement in this fight, which he will. He has the size and skills to do so, and, unfortunately, Rua appears to be going the way of Rashad Evans, another aging star. Pedro is a beast, and he’ll take this one by TKO before the end of round two.
Henderson: For a long time, the refrain was, “Can you believe Shogun is still so young?” Of course, this stemmed from a combination of his early years in Pride and constant presence near the top of the light-heavyweight polls. However, it also stemmed partially from his decline.
Rua entered the UFC with a 16-2 record, but he lost his debut, defeated a couple of aging opponents and has failed to string together more than three victories in a row over the course of 11 years and 18 fights inside the Octagon. He had a great pair of performances against Lyoto Machida, the second of which gave Rua a short-lived title reign and provided fans with hope that Rua had regained his elite form, but he has failed to find consistency. Injuries haven’t helped, either.
The thing is, I’m not sure I trust Pedro anymore than I do Rua. The 27-year-old has been great at tearing through fringe players like Khalil Rountree and Paul Craig, and he had no issue asserting his dominance over Saparbeg Safarov, who remains winless inside the UFC, but he has struggled mightily when he encounters actual contenders like the aforementioned Saint Preux and Latifi. Rua still lands somewhere in between those two groups of factions of fighters — he may not be a contender, but he’s hardly a fringe guy.
Prior to his long layoff, Shogun had reeled off wins over the likes of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Corey Anderson and Gian Villante. His return performance against Smith was bound to go poorly, given Smith’s tremendous momentum and fierce attack. Pedro, on the other hand, has been struggling lately. The Aussie has failed to dominate, and this might give Rua the opening to get back in the win column.
Jim Crute, Sodiq Yusuff, Suman Mokhtarian, Damir Ismagulov, Alex Gorgees and Kai Kara-France — do we need to know these names?
Henderson: The UFC definitely loaded this card with promotional newcomers. However, it’s a mixed bag when it comes to what we can expect from these guys.
Crute and Yusuff are graduates of the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series. Crute is undefeated, but he fed on a healthy diet of mediocre competition in the Hex Fight Series. Crute, despite his perfect mark, will have a lot to prove inside the Octagon, but his five first-round finishes suggest that he could be entertaining. However, he’s got a tough debut match-up against Paul Craig that could result in the first blemish on his record. Yusuff, meanwhile, has worked his way up the regional ladder and suffered one prior loss. He benefits from making his Octagon debut against a fellow UFC rookie, Mokhtarian. So, Yusuff is the more likely of the DWTNCS recruits to leave the cage with a win.
Mokhtarian, of course, will have other ideas. He, too, brings a perfect mark to the UFC. However, his background is similar to that of Crute. In other words, he hasn’t exactly been challenged by tough opponents. The 26-year-old is also a proven finisher, and he stands to impress if he does destroy Yusuff this weekend. Don’t count on it, though.
Ismagulov and Gorgees are pitted against each other, so one of these men is bound to pick up a debut victory. The smart money rests with the 27-year-old Ismagulov, who is likely the best bet for overall future success inside the Octagon. The lightweight fighter was a champion under the M-1 Challenge banner, which means he’s seen far tougher competition than any of his fellow UFC rookies on this card. His opponent, Gorgees, is undefeated, but he joins Crute and Mokhtarian as Aussie prospects who need more seasoning.
Kara-France is probably the one name already familiar to UFC fans. He was a member of The Ultimate Fighter 24 cast, but he lost to Alexandre Pantoja during the tournament. If the UFC was still interested in flyweights, then the New Zealander might have had a chance to carve out a place as a mid-tier fighter with the promotion. As it stands, he has to compete in the bantamweight division, where he’s unlikely to find much of a foothold. He might not even get past Elias Garcia in his first Octagon foray.
Kuhl: I will have to disagree on Kara-France. The New Zealander regularly weighed in on the high end for a flyweight and actually missed weight in his last defeat under the Rizin banner. He has gone undefeated as a bantamweight ever since. Furthermore, the combined record of his opponents on his current five-fight winning streak is 55-23, so it’s not like he’s fighting inexperienced cupcakes. Garcia is the one who is fighting out of his natural weight class, and Kara-France has a good chance to win this one decisively.
Yusuff and Mokhtarian do have a lot to prove, because they have mostly fought inexperienced opponents. However, Yusuff has a slight edge. Crute, too, still has a lot to prove, and Craig is a tough draw for his debut. Gorgees is probably the least interesting of the bunch.
This brings us to Ismagulov. The dude is a beast. The Russian prospect is still young, yet he is a two-promotion title winner and a tournament champion. His only stoppage loss was a doctor’s stoppage, so he has yet to be truly knocked out or submitted. He has won in just about every way possible. He has plenty of battles that have gone beyond the third round, and he is very well rounded in his skill set. As my colleague noted, he is the most likely of the newcomers to make a big impact.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Kuhl: Sergey Kunchenko and Yushin Okami.
It appears to be a lopsided match-up, with the odds in favor of the undefeated Russian, but Okami is a perennial veteran. After he basically took one for the team against Ovince Saint Preux to get back into the big show, he came out strong against Dhiego Lima at his ideal weight. Okami is not going to just lay down in this one. Kunchenko will still get the win, but this is shaping up to be an exciting fight.
Henderson: I’m extremely bummed that the UFC has given up on its flyweight division. Any fans of the 125-pounders get a few last hurrahs this year, including the bout on this card between Wilson Reis and Ben Nguyen.
Reis is a solid veteran who is probably quite desperate after following a title loss to Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson with subsequent defeats against Henry Cejudo and John Moraga. The Brazilian is always game, and his long list of submission victories is proof that he’s always a threat if the fight hits the mat.
Nguyen has managed a 4-2 record inside the Octagon, and he’s somewhat likely to stick with the UFC as a bantamweight if he can impress against Reis. The 30-year-old has suffered a couple of submission losses, but he’s dealt out eight knockouts and could be a threat to Reis if he can keep the fight on the feet.
The flyweights are always fun to watch. It’s too bad the UFC doesn’t agree.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A can of Foster’s Lager. This card is decidedly Australian. Only a handful of the fights don’t feature an Aussie, a New Zealander or a fighter who has often competed in the region. We get heavyweights Tai Tuivasa and Mark Hunt at the top of the bill, plus the likes of Tyson Pedro, Jake Matthews and Jim Crute. Nothing says Australia like a can of Foster’s to accompany potential knockouts at the hands of Tuivasa and Hunt.
Kuhl: Ouch. Foster’s? I think Aussies all over the world would take offense to that, being that it is more known as an Australian beer outside of the country, as opposed to within it. However, I digress.
As a dad who gets up early and has been known to fall asleep as the later fights come to fruition, I’m inclined to pair this one with lots of coffee. These will be late fights in the United States. Yet, that is just an initial reaction.
Upon further review, this card will be exciting enough to keep viewers engaged. There are a lot of fights with potential for quick finishes, and whenever you see Hunt, Pedro or Tuivasa on a card, you should expect the proverbial fireworks. So, let’s pair this one with some type of Australian stout, which is more in keeping with the Aussie beer preference.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
HW: Junior dos Santos vs. Tai Tuivasa
HW: Mark Hunt vs. Justin Willis
LHW: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Tyson Pedro
WW: Jake Matthews vs. Tony Martin
LHW: Jim Crute vs. Paul Craig
FW: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Suman Mokhtarian
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Alexey Kunchenko vs. Yushin Okami
FlyW: Wilson Reis vs. Ben Nguyen
LW: Mizuto Hirota vs. Christos Giagos
BW: Kai Kara-France vs. Elias Garcia
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: Keita Nakamura vs. Salim Touahri
LW: Damir Ismagulov vs. Alex Gorgees
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