As the UFC heads to Western Australia for the first time, a rare opportunity comes about for fighters from that part of the world to showcase their talents without leaving their respective sides of the world. The undercard of UFC 221 features a slew of Australian, Kiwi, and Asian fighters looking to make a name from themselves, and hopefully showcase their talents enough gain notice on this side of the world.
Let’s do this.
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass) — 6:30 PM ET
Luke Jumeau (12-4, 1-1 UFC) vs. Daichi Abe (6-0, 1-0 UFC)
It’s New Zealand versus Japan to start off the night, as the undefeated Abe comes south to face Jumeau, who I immediately love because his nickname is “The Jedi.” A former Pancrase champion, Abe is one of the biggest Japanese prospects to enter the UFC in quite a while, stopping four of his five opponents on the way to the UFC. He made a successful debut last September in Tokyo winning a close decision over the bigger and more experienced Hyun Gyu Lim. Meanwhile Jumeau rode a six-fight winning streak into Auckland for his UFC debut last June, decisioning Dominque Steele
Given Abe’s power and his propensity to stand, despite his black belt in Judo, it might be prudent of Jumeau, if he is able, to impose a wrestling attack and try to get Abe to the mat. Given the power Abe has shown in his career, standing with him seems like the least desirable option for Jumeau. An ugly fight in close might for him might just be worth the risk.
Teruto Ishihara (10-4-2, 3-2-1 UFC) vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez (6-2, 3-1 UFC)
In an interesting move for Team Alpha Male’s Ishihara, the Japanese fighter is dropping down to bantamweight for this against Mexico’s Quinonez, who fighting once a year for the past three years, has quietly built up a three-fight winning streak. Ishihara was a bantamweight early in his career and he is clearly hoping to a return to that weight class will bring an increase in size and power. He is coming off a win in September Rolando Dy after two tough losses to Artem Lobov and the much bigger Gray Maynard. 135 may end up being a much better weight class for him.
Of course, the other element here is that Quinonez trains at Alliance MMA, making this another battle in the seemingly endless feud between Team Alpha Male and Alliance MMA. Quinonez has better movement, which could give him the advantage of the more straight forward Ishihara. But how Quinonez handles the power of Ishihara and traveling outside North America for the first time will be the difference.
Ross Pearson (19-14, 11-11 UFC) vs Mizuto Hirota (18-8-2, 1-3-1 UFC)
It is a do or die for the TUF 9 lightweight champion Pearson, who has lost four fights in a row, all against top competition, the last being a knockout lost to Dan Hooker last June. But the Australia based Brit has a winnable fight against Japan’s Hirota, who is 1-1-1 in his second run on the UFC. He too is coming off a loss last June in New Zealand, and it seems like both men will be fighting for their UFC lives.
Pearson is probably the more versatile fighter still, as Hirota relies mostly on a boxing attack, but he has also been very good at defending takedowns. Given the stakes of this fight, this will probably be a fun one, especially since Pearson is bound to be lifted by the Aussie crowd. It will come down to who wants it more.
Preliminary Card (FS1) — 8 PM ET
Jussier Formiga (20-5, 6-4 UFC) vs. Ben Nguyen (18-6, 4-1 UFC)
The FS1 portion will kick off with what should be a really fun fight between top flyweights as the fourth ranked Formiga matches up against the eighth ranked Nguyen. Both men are very talented grapplers who are coming off submissions victories, with Nguyen able to outscramble the crazy Tim Elliot back in June in New Zealand and Formiga submitting the flyweight monster Ulka Sasaki in September.
The fight will come down to this most likely — can Nguyen initiate scrambles against the more solid on top Formiga. Nguyen is probably the better striker so will need to mix things up, but he should be the fast fighter. Nguyen has also fought in Australia many times and its near impossible not to root for him after this.
Jeremey Kennedy (11-0, 3-0 UFC) vs. Alexander Volkanovski (16-1, 3-0 UFC)
A lot of people like this fight between the undefeated Canadian Kennedy and the streaking Australian Volkanovski, who has won thirteen fights in a row. Both men have the same record in the UFC and the two even trained together in Thailand several years ago. The two men’s fighting styles are much different however, as while Volkanovski is a diverse striker who can also grapple, Kennedy for a lack of a better term, wrestlef**ks people.
The big factor in this fight is likely to be size. Kennedy is 5’11, huge for a featherweight, while Volkanovski is a more compact 5’6. Volkanovski will have to negotiate the reach and size of Kennedy while somehow doing when none of Kennedy’s UFC opponents have been able to do, stay on their feet. Volkanovski has the home country advantage, but they will do him little good when Kennedy gets him on his back…
Rob Wilkinson (11-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. Israel Adesanya (11-0, 0-0 UFC)
This is a VERY interesting fight and is my candidate for sleeper fight of the card as we have one of the more interesting UFC debuts in recent years in Adesanya, one of the best kickboxers to come out of his part of the world ever. In addition to being undefeated in MMA, he carries a 65-5-2 kickboxing record and even challenged unsuccessfully for the Glory middleweight title last year. He also did a lot of this fighting both sports at the same time, which is never easy. Also, this is the only Australia vs New Zealand fight on this card and that dynamic is sure to come into play.
That being said, the story of this fight seems rather simple. Wilkinson, who has six wins by submission, is going to want to take “The Last Stylebender” to the ground and keep him there or try to wrestle against the fence. Every one of Adesenya’s wins in MMA are by knockout and he’s never gone past the second round. Wilkinson may be able to wear him out and grind him out, but that is a BIG maybe. That will be the game plan everyone will employ against Adesenya and the question is Wilkinson good enough to pull it off.
Damien Brown (17-11, 2-3 UFC) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (15-8-3, 2-2 UFC)
At first glance this seems like an unlikely fight to headline the FS1 prelims and be the last thing people see before the big show starts. And then you realize the kind of fights Brown and Kim have engaged in the UFC. Brown is coming off a Fight of Night performance last November against Frank Camacho that could have easily gone away, and Kim had a Fight of the Year contender on the UFC 199 prelims in what is probably one of the greatest brawls in the history of the UFC that no one freaking knows about. The matchmakers are hoping this one is bombs away, and we get a fight to remember.
The two men also happened to be pretty evenly matched, and their skills sets seem pretty similar. Kim probably have the advantage, given he has a height and reach and is riding a two-fight win streak, but this is one fight where the Aussie crowd could make the factor, given Brown’s hard luck UFC career and status as a military veteran. All I can say is I hope both men live up to their reputations.