UFC Auckland on June 11 was always going to include a kiwi flavour and a couple fights involving two of our best UFC exports is about as much as we could ask for. Mark Hunt will return to Auckland to fight Derrick Lewis in what must be our only opportunity to see Hunt fight on home soil before his eventual retirement, while Dan Hooker will move up from featherweight to lightweight in a fight against England's Ross Pearson.
As #KiwiUFC fans, we can only be grateful for any UFC action in Aotearoa, let alone UFC action with a kiwi flavour. We don't have enough kiwi fighters to ask for more and the quality of our kiwi fighters isn't quite high enough to demand massive drawcards, even then Hunt's been a major reason why the UFC has invested so much in taking events to Australia while another lad with kiwi flavour Robert Whittaker. The trans-Tasman bond has led to our kiwi lads (both Hunt and Whittaker fight out of Australia and have done so for some time) doing more for UFC in Australian, than Aotearoa. And that's all good.
It's all good and the presence of the UFC in Aotearoa is exciting, however Hunt and Hooker are both at worrying junctures of their professional fighting careers. We've waited this long to see our South Auckland legend fight in Auckland and Hunt is not only coming off a loss to Alistair Overeem and the 'loss' to Brock Lesnar, he's knee-deep in his personal fight against steroid users.
There's still a fair chance that Hunt could knock Lewis out, knocks out the next heavyweight and somehow works his way back into title contention. Right now though, that's incredibly unlikely and a loss to Lewis (who is on a six-fight win-streak and is coming off a win over Travis Browne) will put Hunt in a position where he can't really demand a fight against anyone ranked above him (#7) or Lewis (#6); this is Hunt's last genuine chance of clinging to the upper echelon of the heavyweight division. A loss would put Hunt back in a chasing pack of Browne, Andrei Arlovski and Stefan Struve which could be viewed as a heavyweight no-man's-land, especially when you're over 40-years-old.
Hooker is 3-3 in the UFC and now he makes the jump up to lightweight, which is obviously being talked up as a great move for his career. Apart from representing Aotearoa to the fullest, Hooker is basically a non-factor in UFC land and this fight against Pearson is not only an interesting match up - Pearson's lost five of his last seven fights - it also reflects Hooker's standing in the UFC. Neither Pearson or Hooker are ranked in the top-15 of the lightweight division.
If Hooker is eager to make some waves in the UFC, Pearson is a nice challenge for him as he embarks on this lightweight journey. Pearson is there for the taking as he'll come into this fight on the back of three losses, yet Pearson is also a grizzly veteran who will be looking to extend his career and he'll desperately want to break that losing streak.
The results of these two fights will have major implications on the futures of Hunt and Hooker respectively. As the UFC continues to grow with more money and popularity, Hunt and Hooker have stalled, perhaps they've drifted in the opposite direction to the UFC and fights on home soil should in theory help Hunt and Hooker grab crucial wins.
Before this though, we get to enjoy Robert Whittaker fighting against Jacare Souza on April 16. So stay tuned for next week's hype.
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