#KiwiUFC Winter Extravaganza: Stage Two (Israel Adesanya + Dan Hooker)

 Laughing emoji.

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The first half of the #KiwiUFC winter extravaganza was perfect, two wins from two fights and now it's Israel Adesanya and Dan Hooker's time to represent the hearty land of Aotearoa. Adesanya takes a big leap forward after just a couple UFC fights, jumping into main event status on the UFC Ultimate Fighter card and coming up against a hefty challenge in Hawaiian Brad Tavares.

Adesanya is up first, Saturday New Zealand time and then Dan Hooker comes up against Brazilian Gilbert Burns on the UFC 226 card led by Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier. We've had Robert Whittaker and Shane Young get wins on consecutive weekends and now we are going to be treated to Adesanya and Hooker fight back to back, on the same weekend; ah, frothing.

The Adesanya vs Tavares fight is the pick of the two. This represents a step up for Adesanya, but the type of step up that feels natural and a nice challenge for him at this stage of his career. He's only had two UFC fights and now fights the #8 ranked  Tavares who has fought (and lost) to Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero, while Adesanya isn't in the top-15 for the middleweight division. That's what you'd find with a brief scan of the surface any way, as we know Adesanya has a mountain of fighting experience behind him and after dispatching two opponents that lined up with Adesanya's UFC experience, Adesanya now has a fight that better reflects his overall experience.

That UFC experience for Adesanya has come swiftly, making his UFC debut in February and then fighting again in April. Now he's on to his third fight in six months and we need to compare that to Tavares for some context; Tavares has had one fight so far in April 2018 and and his previous fight was six months before that in October 2017. Tavares has had two fights in the last year, Adesanya's on to his third in six months and while there are a bunch of factors at play there (including the quality of Adesanya's opponents), it just feels like Adesanya is on a bit of a roll.

Adesanya is slightly taller than Tavares, aligning with Adesanya's probable advantage in the striking department. The variety and precision of Adesanya's striking could help control the fight for Adesanya, limiting the opportunities for Tavares to take Adesanya down and get busy on top of Adesanya.

Although Adesanya's offence primarily comes via striking, his takedown defence is on par with Tavares' and Adesanya has talked about the tools he has that we haven't really seen yet. Tavares defends 77.03% of takedowns, Adesanya 76.19% and with such lovely striking, there isn't much of need for Adesanya to try take Tavares down, but Adesanya could show that he's more than capable of nullifying the wrestling strength of his opponent, in this case Tavares.

This will be two quality fighters going at each other, with Tavares looking to establish himself as a low key threat in the middleweight division. Adesanya on the other hand already has plenty of noise and hype around him, without truly showing what he can do in the UFC and winning this fight would announce Adesanya's certified arrival to shake up the middleweight division.

Hooker has been sizzling since moving up to lightweight, with three wins all coming via finishes and deep in the undercard for UFC 226 he comes up against a jiu-jitsu beast in Gilbert Burns. One of Hooker's three finishes came via submission and while Burns has three of his six UFC wins via submission (all armbar), his last two wins have come via KO; these guys are both well-rounded and can obviously finish fights in a bunch of different ways.

The takedown defence of Hooker will come under close inspection from Burns and if Burns is able to get busy with his jiu-jitsu then Hooker could find himself under the pump. Since moving up a weight division, Hooker hasn't relied as much on his takedowns as he's now coming up against bigger bodies, although Hooker has shown that his takedowns and jiu-jitsu are as much a weapon as his precision striking.

A composed Hooker would be ideal, picking his shots and not presenting too many opportunities via his striking for Burns to counter with a takedown. Hooker doesn't need to over-stretch himself with his offence as Burns will likely present opportunites and Hooker has consistently shown in his last three fights that he's well-equipped to snap up those opportunities.

Both fights are tough match ups for the #KiwiUFC lads and while I'm excited to see them both get wins, these fights represent landmarks in the UFC roads of both Adesanya and Hooker. They have both shown signs of being able to go far deeper into their respective divisions and now is the time to level up, breaking into the mid-upper echelon on their divisions.

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Peace and love 27.