The Ultimate Fighting Championship made its New Zealand debut at Vector Arena in Auckland on Saturday. And after finishes in six of the 10 bouts on the fight card, UFC president Dana White said “it was a very tough night to pick” the post-fight award winners.
Although it ended in a split decision, the card’s opening bout between Sean O’Connell and Gian Villante scored the Fight of the Night bonus. It was an exciting battle that Villante eventually got the nod for, but many felt O’Connell should have won.
He didn’t get the W, but like Villante, O’Connell still went home with a $50,000 bonus check for his efforts.
The two Performance of the Night bonuses might have been difficult to narrow down from all the finishes on the card, but neither was a surprise.
Main eventer Nate Marquardt, making his return to middleweight after a failed three-year experiment at welterweight, was one of the Performance winners for his finish of Kiwi James Te Huna.
Despite Te Huna’s obvious size advantage, Marquardt used his experience to quickly take control of the fight and eventually catch Te Huna in a fight-ending armbar in the opening round.
Charles Oliveira was the other Performance bonus winner after finishing the unfinishable Hatsu Hioki.
In the first 36 bouts of his professional career, Hioki had not been knocked out or submitted.
Putting his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt up against Oliveira’s, however, put an end to that streak. Hioki had the upper hand for a good portion of the 9:28 that they fought, but Oliveira finished the fight late in the second round with a choke that finally left Hioki with no other option but to tap out.
Each bonus winner received an additional $50,000 on top of his contracted fight purse.