Get yourself a cup of coffee and get your blood pumping with an early-morning haka because you're going to need it this weekend (Sat., June 28, 2014).
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is about to pull the trigger on another double-header, kicking off the mixed martial arts (MMA) action early from Auckland, New Zealand, with UFC Fight Night 43 from Vector Arena.
In the main event, hometown hero James Te Huna will try his hand at Middleweight, taking on Nate Marquardt in the former's return to his old stomping grounds. In addition, knockout artist Soa Palelei will take on wrestling standout Jared Rosholt in the Heavyweight co-main event on Fight Pass.
Since we've got two cards to deal with this weekend, each set of "Prelims" gets one post to cover them all. Let's see what's in store for New Zealand below:
Jake Matthews (5-0) competed for his native Australia on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Nations," falling to eventual finalist Olivier Aubin-Mercier in the quarterfinals. Though he was not offered a UFC contract, he picked up a win on the local circuit in April, his first victory to go the distance.
His finishes, all inside two rounds, are split between technical knockouts and rear-naked chokes.
Dashon Johnson’s (9-0) entire career has been spent under the XFS banner, where he’s picked up eight first-round finishes. He also has an active boxing career to go along with his time in MMA, going 15-15-3 while fighting the likes of Glen Tapia, Jermell Charlo, Joshua Clottey and Craig McEwan.
He will give up two inches of height to Matthews.
Dashon’s resume looks gaudy and he beat a legit boxer in McEwan, but his record is more padded than Jason Reinhardt’s. The one foe he didn’t finish is currently 12-11 and, even if you only count one of his fights against 0-12 Jordan Delano, the rest of them are a combined 1-30.
It is utterly disgusting that he was signed by UFC with such a pathetic group of victims.
Matthews isn’t anything special, but he’s going to be a massive step up for Johnson, who doesn’t seem as devastating on the feet as his side job would suggest. In all likelihood, Matthews uses his solid grappling to grind Johnson down with increasing efficiency as the fight progresses.
Going past the first round only once against a legion of cans isn’t adequate preparation for the big leagues.
Prediction: Matthews via third-round submission
125 lbs.: Richie Vaculik vs. Roldan Sangcha’an
Competing three weight classes north of his preferred size, Richie Vaculik (9-2) faced eventual winner Norman Parke in the first round of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Smashes," losing a decision. Despite the loss, he got a shot at UFC proper, but wound up on the wrong end of a drubbing from Justin Scoggins in his debut.
Six of his victories have come via submission.
Roldan Sangcha’an (4-0) is a product of the top camp in the Philippines, Team Lakay, alongside UFC featherweight Mark Eddiva. His last time out, he scored a submission win in the respectable PXC promotion, his fourth finish in as many fights.
He replaces fellow PXC vet Jon delos Reyes on less than a month’s notice.
Sangcha’an is a fun guy to watch -- he throws with conviction and he’s incredibly aggressive on the mat. The issue is that this leaves him very open to retaliation. I’ve seen him lose back mount multiple times because of his eagerness to latch on as soon as his opponent hits the ground.
"Vas" should have the experience and grappling acumen to punish Roldan’s eagerness, especially with the short notice.
If Eddiva is any indication, Team Lakay has shored up the wrestling issues that have plagued them in recent years. Even if Roldan’s takedowns are on point, though, his lack of positional awareness will cost him dearly.
Vaculik chokes him out early.
Prediction: Vaculik via first-round submission
Chris Indich (5-2) had the misfortune of facing eventual winner Chad Laprise in the quarterfinals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Nations," surviving the power-puncher’s assault but dropping a wide decision. Though he was praised for his grit, that grit did not save him in the Finale, where he dropped another decision to teammate Richard Walsh.
He has never gone the distance in victory.
Vik Grujic (6-3) impressed early on Nations, starching Canada’s Luke Harris with a series of vicious elbows from side control. Unfortunately for him, he tapped to Sheldon Westcott in the semis and dropped a decision to Nordine Taleb on the Finale.
He will drop to 170 pounds after competing on the show and the Finale at middleweight.
I’m not terribly impressed by either of these two, but Indich in particular is underwhelming. He’s praised for his "heart" the same way Diego Sanchez and Leonard Garcia are; not to signify the mental strength to execute a gameplan in the face of adversity but as a euphemism for "can’t strike worth a damn, but can take a beating."
His durability is his only redeeming trait.
Surviving don’t earn points, though.
As long as Grujic doesn’t consistently concede ground, he should be able to use his size to wrangle Indich down and work him over from top position. I may be too tough on Indich, but we’re past the days where a good chin and cardio are enough for consistent success. Grujic takes a wide decision.
Prediction: Grujic via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Neil Magny vs. Rodrigo Goiana de Lima
After losing in the semifinals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16, Neil Magny (10-3) opened his UFC career 1-2, losing to Sergio Moraes and Seth Baczynski after defeating castmate Jon Manley in his debut. Since then, however, he has come into his own, defeating Gasan Umalatov and the heavily-favored Tim Means.
He will have a six-inch height advantage over de Lima.
Rodrigo Goiana de Lima (8-1-1) missed all of 2012, but had a very successful 2013 campaign, picking up two first-round submissions and the Jungle Fight welterweight title in the process. The victories marked the 22-year-old’s fifth and sixth submission wins, both coming by way of rear-naked choke.
"Monstro" replaces the injured Claudio Henrque da Silva on around a month’s notice.
de Lima is younger than I am and looks to be a physical beast -- he’s got the tools to make an eventual impact in the division. I say "eventual" because he’s not ready yet. Magny’s striking is improving rapidly and "Monstro’s" takedown offense doesn’t seem sufficient to overcome Neil’s takedown defense. Add that to a massive length advantage for the American and it adds up to an unsuccessful debut for the Brazilian.
It remains to be seen how Magny does against the Top 20. What we’ve seen so far, though, should be plenty to chew up "Monstro" at range -- decision win for Magny.
Prediction: Magny via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Dan Hooker vs. Ian Entwistle
Dan Hooker (10-4) -- one of the division’s younger members at 24 -- enters UFC having won five straight and seven of his last eight. He has stopped nine opponents inside the distance, five courtesy of his submission game.
He will have a three-inch height advantage come fight night.
In addition to sharing the last name of the best bassist ever, Ian Entwistle (8-1) has won four straight bouts, all by submission and all inside two minutes. In fact, the Englishman has never seen the second round, seven of nine fights ending with 120 seconds.
My rampant adoration of all things "The Who" may be coloring my opinion, but I like Entwistle here. His ridiculously aggressive grappling is reminiscent of countryman Paul Sass and he packs the sorts of standing leglock entries you don’t see outside of Masakazu Imanari highlights. While this will undoubtedly result in him getting ground down by skilled top players, Hooker doesn’t seem to be one of those.
There’s every chance that Entwistle’s willingness to surrender position gets him biffed into oblivion. There’s also every chance that he does bad things to Hooker’s knees before that happens. I’ve been working on being more optimistic, so I’m calling the latter.
Prediction: Entwistle via first-round submission
Gian Villante (11-5) entered the UFC on a three-fight winning streak after falling in his first two Strikeforce appearances. Since then, however, he has been unable to maintain that momentum, going 1-2 in the world’s largest fight organization with a thumping from Fabio Maldonado marking his most recent effort.
Seven of his wins, including his lone UFC victory, have come by form of knockout.
Sean O’Connell (15-5) entered UFC on short notice, replacing former enforcer Steve Bosse against Ryan Jimmo in Quebec. Undaunted by the change in opponent, Jimmo crushed O’Connell with a vicious counter in the opening round, snapping a six-fight win streak.
He again enters the cage on short notice, replacing injured Aussie Anthony Perosh.
Based on his wrestling pedigree and fight camp, Villante earns my vote as the biggest bust in the division. His striking is awkward and he struggles mightily to score takedowns. Though he does have power, that doesn’t mean squat if he can’t deliver it.
O’Connell hasn’t demonstrated terribly much, but after Villante’s poor performances and recent thrashing by Maldonado, I have serious reservations about picking him over anyone at the moment. Barring Villante grinding him down in uneventful fashion, expect O’Connell to edge an ugly striking battle for a close decision win.
Prediction: O’Connell via split decision
UFC Fight Night 44 from San Antonio, Texas, gets the Stumberg treatment tomorrow. Be sure to join us then!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will offer LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 43 fight card on fight day (Sat., June 28, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 2:30 a.m. ET, right on through the Fight Pass main card, which is slated to begin at 5 a.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 86-39 (1 NC)