There is a gathering of thunderous punchers in Auckland, New Zealand, this weekend, with a card boasting a high percentage of knockout artists. The headliner sees local star and international fan favourite, Mark Hunt, take on a terrifying new heavyweight prospect in the form of Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis. Famous for his signature walk-off knockout, Hunt has been on the combat sports circuit for many years. His early career in the kickboxing organisation, K-1, made him a popular fighter as most of his fights were either spectacular knockouts or back and forth contests, not only demonstrating his ferocious power but also his unquestionable durability.
At 43, Mark Hunt is a seasoned veteran. His storied career makes him one of the biggest draws in the sport and, still sitting comfortably inside the top 10, the man also known as ‘The Super Samoan’ is only a couple of big punches away from the world title. Ranked one place higher at number six, Derrick Lewis is very much at the beginning of his career at the top of the sport. Riding a six fight winning streak, with five of those coming by knockout, it is understandable why people are so excited for this fight. The only man to take Lewis the distance was another durable veteran in Roy Nelson, almost a year ago.
That was Derrick’s toughest test to date and even he will tell you that he squeezed by on the scorecards. If he is to beat Mark Hunt, especially on his home soil, we will need to see Lewis on top form. He has the potential to emerge as a real threat to the division’s crown, but to edge his way into the top five he has to defeat the likes of Hunt, who is a man that has been up the mountain and back and knows what it takes to succeed. Lewis has sprinted to the foot of the mountain leaving a trail of heavyweight prospects in his wake. Now he begins the climb toward the summit and that first boulder is a treacherous one!
Standing at six-foot three, Lewis will tower over Hunt with his modest five-foot 10 inch frame. They are both nearing the heavyweight limit of 265lbs but with Mark Hunt needing to adhere to a diet to stay within the legal boundary. Their knockout percentages are outstanding with Mark having served up 75 per cent of his opponents in MMA and Lewis even more impressively stopping 89 per cent of his opponents. Hunt also starched almost half of his 30 opponents in kickboxing as well, so needless to say a lot of raw power will be carried into the Octagon this weekend. As I said earlier though, these two aren’t the only ones carrying heavy artillery on this card!
Derek Brunson in the co-main event has switched off more than half of his opponents and he will be facing Aussie Judoka, Daniel Kelly. Having just stepped into the top 15 with the biggest win of his career, Kelly will look to keep the momentum going from his UFC 209 win over former light-heavyweight champ Rashad Evans three months ago. Brunson was on a streak of his own until running into another Australian fighter in Robert Whitaker last November. What followed was a tentative effort against the legend, Anderson Silva at UFC 208, which lost him a judges’ decision. Very much needing to win here for the sake of his top 10 ranking, I expect Brunson will be headhunting from the first bell.
Moving down the card we find our next Auckland representative, Dan ‘Hangman’ Hooker. Struggling to put back to back wins together so far in the UFC, when Hooker has been on form, he’s looked spectacular. His losses are hard-fought decisions and his wins are furious striking combinations which send fighters crashing to the canvas, or slick submissions with no avenue for escape. He’s taking on the UK’s own Ross Pearson. A veteran of 22 UFC fights, Pearson made a name for himself by winning The Ultimate Fighter back in 2009. His aggressive, ‘stand-in-the-pocket’ style makes him a fun addition to any card, but it does put him at great risk.
We have seen Pearson ebb and flow in the UFC since that successful Ultimate Fighter Finale. Sometimes it seems to click for him and he lands a clean left hook to his opponent’s jaw, which tends to be followed by the safe embrace of a merciful referee, other times he seems frustrated. His time at Alliance in San Diego, working alongside former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz served him well. It added to his already adept footwork ability and we saw him dance effortlessly around the opposition and still land with power. This is the path of least resistance but it does take more effort.
I also know how Ross feels when he gets tagged on the chin because I was that kind of fighter as well. He likes to tuck his chin and throw power punches. With experience and probably strength on his side, it may be a smart gameplan to make it rough and uncomfortable for Dan Hooker. Ross will be at a disadvantage with reach, giving up around six inches in wingspan, so a close range fight will cause Hooker more problems than contending at a distance. I’d imagine the story of this fight will be exactly that: Pearson pushing forward, bobbing and weaving and throwing rocks at Dan Hooker’s chin, while Hooker backs up and counter-strikes, occasionally tying up to knee when the chase from Pearson is too relentless.
Three great fights topping another card of rising stars and veterans defending their ground. The fans in Auckland will bring the intensity, the fighters will respond and I think we will have an event full of drawn-out battles and dramatic finishes.
Watch UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Hunt live on BT Sport 2 from 1am BST on the morning of Sunday 11th June, or catch the Early Prelims exclusively on UFC Fight Pass from midnight on SaturdayReuse content