The Ultimate Fighting Championship made its Kiwi debut on Saturday at Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand, on Saturday, featuring a headlining bout between New-Zealand-born James Te Huna and former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt.
Having lost his last three fights at welterweight, Marquardt faced no small task in his return to 185 pounds.
Not only did Te Huna tower over him as a former light heavyweight, he was fighting on his home turf, which put Marquardt at a severe disadvantage… on paper.
The disadvantage, other than the visual image of Te Huna looking much bigger than Marquardt, didn’t show in the fight.
Te Huna showed a bit of power in a brief early exchange, but Marquardt was the first to strike big, landing a knee on a charging Te Huna that briefly dropped the Kiwi.
Te Huna tried to use his size to his advantage by shooting a takedown, but Marquardt countered and top top control, mounting some solid ground and pound damage.
After Te Huna escaped, the fight returned to the feet for a blistering exchange between the two with Te Huna landing a couple solid uppercuts before Marquardt put him back on the mat.
Marquardt went to work from top mount, again working Te Huna over with ground and pound. Te Huna bucked and tried to slip out the back door, but as he did, Marquardt snagged an armbar and locked it out for the finish.
“I just wanted to mix it up. I didn’t necessarily have a game plan on what to do in the fight, where to take the fight,” said Marquardt after the fight, admitting that it was painfully obvious welterweight wasn’t exactly working for him.
“The armbar wasn’t really in my plans, it just happened.”
The armbar finish ended the three-fight skid that forced Marquardt to return to middleweight and improved his overall record to 33-13-2.
The night’s co-main event featured two emerging heavyweights fighting to take that next step up the ladder towards title contention. Heavyweight fights tend to either go big, with a concussive knockout, or it’s a grinder.
This one was a grinder.
Jared Rosholt dominated popular Aussie fighter Soa Palelei for the duration of their 15-minute bout.
Palelei surprised by attempting several takedowns, but Rosholt’s All-American wrestling background was too dominant for the Aussie fighter. No matter what Palelei did, Rosholt countered and took control.
Whether standing along the fence or with Palelei on all-fours on the mat, Rosholt made him carry his weight, while peppering with punches and landing knees to the thighs and ribs.
It wasn’t flashy, but Rosholt put on a smothering performance en route to a unanimous decision from the judges.
Hatsu Hioki and Charles Oliveira put on an amazingly technical display, and that is not a euphemism for boring. Both men were aggressive from the opening bell, but Hioki had the early edge on the feet.
Once they settled in, however, the stand-up exchanges remained brief, Hioki often securing the takedown or turning Oliveira’s attempts to his favor.
Oliveira wouldn’t be denied though, constantly going after submission attempts, ranging from an early guillotine choke from standing to sweeping into a leglock attempt later in the fight.
Just as Hioki appeared to be winning the chess match, moving from side control to mount to back mount and attempting a rear naked choke in the second round, Oliveira again turned the tide. The Brazilian escaped the choke and immediately secured a Peruvian necktie that the Japanese fighter couldn’t escape.
Both fighters have had tumultuous tenures in the Octagon, but the victory over Hioki put Oliveira back on solid ground, improving his record to 18-4 and giving him back-to-back victories for the first time in a couple of years.
Robert Whittaker showed his growth as a fighter in his bout with Mike Rhodes. Whittaker took the center of the Octagon and used his jab to set up a plethora of follow-ups ranging from boxing combinations to kicks to elbows and finally to a late-fight takedown that sealed the deal.
Rhodes, a former RFA welterweight champion, landed his share of shots during the scrap, but mostly one-off techniques that couldn’t make up for the combinations that Whittaker utilized.
After 15 minutes, Whittaker, the TUF Smashes welterweight winner, took home a unanimous decision victory. The win upped his record to 12-4 and, more importantly, ended a two-fight skid.
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