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10 reasons to watch UFC Fight Night 101, including a crucial middleweight main event in Australia
The UFC’s middleweight division will further settle into place on Saturday night when Bruce Buffer announces the winner of the Robert Whittaker vs. Derek Brunson matchup.
Right now it looks like champion Michael Bisping will defend his title against Yoel Romero after the new year, but outside of that, the remaining top-ranked fighters in the division are unsure who they will face next. The fight between top-15 middleweights Whittaker and Brunson should allow the UFC matchmakers to get down to the business of fixing that problem.
Most fans will focus on the main event, and with good reason. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only fight you should catch. There’s a nice mix of prospects and newcomers on this card, as well.
UFC Fight Night 101 takes place Saturday (Sunday in Australia) at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The event airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
Here are 10 reasons to watch.
1. Last chance to get on board
After a 3-2 UFC run at welterweight, Whittaker moved up to middleweight. He’s been unbeatable since, going 4-0. That run has Whittaker (16-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) sitting at No. 11 in the division according to the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings heading into his fight against No. 6 ranked Brunson (16-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC).
Brunson, currently enjoying a five-fight winning streak, has been fighting at 185 pounds since joining the UFC in 2012. The two losses during his UFC stint came to Yoel Romero and Ronaldo Souza, who are currently ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the division.
This is the last big middleweight fight of 2016, and while neither of these fighters has the name recognition of the surging Gegard Mousasi, Romero or Souza, the winner could find himself one or two fights away from fighting for the title.
So, I guess the message here is, if you don’t know these two, it’s time to get to know them.
2. The road back begins in Melbourne
Any 155-pounder unlucky enough to catch an “L” faces a tough road in the UFC’s most stacked division. Jake Matthews and Andrew Holbrook are in that exact spot heading into UFC Fight Night 101.
Matthews (10-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) was on a two-fight stoppage streak before falling victim to the surging Kevin Lee on the TUF 23 Finale card in July. Holbrook (11-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) saw a 10-fight winning streak come to an end when Joaquim Silva knocked him out in 34 seconds on that same card.
Both of these fighters are good on the ground, combining for 14 submission wins, which means if we know anything about MMA, the fight will be contested on the feet
3. Third time probably won’t be a charm
Kyle Noke won his first three fights with the UFC, but since then he’s gone 3-5 and he’s currently on his second two-fight losing skid in the promotion. At UFC Fight Night 101, Noke meets Omari Akhmedov, who also has back-to-back losses.
The short story here is that these two welterweights are likely fighting to stay on the UFC roster.
Akhmedov’s style is to go for the finish, preferably via in-close striking. Like Akhmedov (15-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC), Noke (22-9-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) is a striker, but he prefers to work from distance, and that’s going to be the key to this fight.
If Akhmedov can get inside, the fight will be his to lose. If Noke can work his reach advantage and use his arsenal of kicks, he’ll have the advantage, especially if he can get the fight late into the third round, where Akhmedov has been vulnerable.
4. A whole lot of stoppages
If there’s a fighter chomping at the bit to step into the octagon in Melbourne, it’s Alex Volkanovski. Before making his move to the UFC, Volkanovski possessed both the Australian Fighting Championship and the Pacific Xtreme Combat featherweight titles.
Volkanovski was set to step in to face Jon Tuck as a late replacement on the ill-fated UFC Fight Night 97 card, but with the cancellation of that event, Volkanovski now faces Yusuke Kasuya.
In 13 pro fights, Volkanovski (13-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has put together a nice highlight-reel package, with 10 of his wins coming by knockout. Kasuya (9-2-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) has not fought since losing a unanimous decision to Nick Hein in September 2015. He, too, is a finisher, with each of his nine victories coming by way of stoppage.
5. Make mom proud
Khalil Rountree lost a lopsided decision to Andrew Sanchez on the TUF 23 Finale card, with the judges giving Sanchez the nod 30-25, 30-25 and 30-26. You might recall that was the fight in which Rountree, clearly frustrated with how he was being dominated by Sanchez, told his mother, who was cageside, to shut up.
Four months after that defeat, we’ll see how the coaches at Syndicate MMA have shored up the weaknesses in Rountree’s game.
Rountree (4-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) faces UFC newcomer Tyson Pedro (4-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in Australia. Pedro is 4-0 as a pro with all of his victories coming by way of first-round stoppage.
6. That’s a little more even
Danielle Taylor came to the UFC as a late replacement on UFC Fight Night 92. She fell short in that fight, dropping a split decision to Maryna Moroz in a fight that was notable for the number of strikes that were thrown, but not landed.
Taylor’s biggest issue in that fight was the height and reach she gave up to Moroz – seven inches in each department.
Taylor’s (7-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) opponent in Australia, Seo Hee Ham (16-7 MMA, 1-2 UFC), coming off a loss to Bec Rawlings, only has a two-inch height and two-inch reach advantage over Taylor, which should result in more strikes being landed in this matchup between two aggressive strawweights. With that in mind, this matchup could be a sleeper pick for a fight-night bonus.
7. Long odds, again
In August, Chris Camozzi tweeted that he wanted to face Dan Kellyon this card. Kelly replied that he would be happy to oblige, and so the UFC booked this middleweight bout.
Camozzi’s tweet indicates he thinks this will be an easy win for him following his submission loss to Thales Leites in August. On paper, it would be hard to argue with Camozzi (24-11 MMA, 9-8 UFC). But Kelly (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), one of the bigger underdogs on this card, has beaten the odds before, most recently defeating Antonio Carlos Junior in a fight in which he was a substantial underdog.
If Kelly does pull the upset, Camozzi’s long flight from Australia to Denver will feel a whole lot longer on the way home.
8. Looking to break in
Ben Nguyen and Geane Herrera might be outside the top 15 in the flyweight division, but that could change with the outcome of their bout in Australia. Both of these fighters are very aggressive and can test their opponents on the feet or the ground. The difference in this one might be Herrera’s ability to take a punch, or a lot of punches, something he displayed in his unanimous decision loss to Ali Bagautinov in June.
Nguyen is a tough fighter as well, but five of his six losses, including his July defeat to Louis Smolka, have come by way of knockout.
9. Tough follow-up
Jason Knight made a statement at UFC on FOX 20. Actually, he made a whole lot of statements, the majority of which were directed at his opponent, Jim Alers.
With a sparse crowd in attendance, every taunt that Knight threw at Alers, and there were many, was picked up by the microphone.
Knight backed up the talk, throwing aggressive and varied strikes and displaying an active guard when the fight hit the ground. In the end, Knight won by split decision, picking up “Fight of the Night” honors, as well.
Knight (14-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC) gets a big test in Australia, meeting Dan Hooker (13-6 MMA, 3-2 UFC) who is coming off a first-round submission win over Mark Eddiva in March.
10. Looking for progress
Yao Zhikui remains a work in progress. He joined the UFC with two professional fights under his belt and is currently on a 1-2 run with the promotion. What to watch for from Zhikui is how his overall MMA game has progressed since he’s been training with the Blackzilians.
Zhikui’s (2-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) opponent in Australia, Jenel Lausa (6-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), is making his UFC debut after capturing the PXC flyweight title in his last outing. Lausa has fast hands and he delivers every strike with fight-ending intent.
This fight should give the UFC a fair idea of the upside of these flyweights.