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The best and worst from UFC Fight Night 168: Felder vs. Hooker

  • The UFC's return to New Zealand rendered an excellent show with a Fight of the Year candidate in the main event.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Feature
Modified 24 Feb 2020, 00:15 IST

Dan Hooker and Paul Felder threw down in an instant classic last night
Dan Hooker and Paul Felder threw down in an instant classic last night

UFC Fight Night 168 went down from Auckland, New Zealand last night and credit to all involved, it couldn’t have gone much better. The show was always going to be overshadowed by the Tyson Fury/Deontay Wilder boxing match and was always low on name value, and yet practically every fight on show delivered the goods.

Will any of the fights on offer – outside of a fantastic main event that may well end up considered as a candidate for Fight of the Year – be remembered by the end of 2020? Probably not, but that’s not the point – this was a perfect throwaway Fight Night show and after last week’s strange showing, was just what the doctor ordered.

Here are the best and worst moments from UFC Fight Night 168: Felder vs. Hooker.

#1 Best: The epic main event

H ooker and Felder
H ooker and Felder's fight should go down as a contender for Fight of the Year

The main event last night between Dan Hooker and Paul Felder always sounded like an action-packed clash, and sure enough the two Lightweight contenders delivered in spades, giving us 25 minutes of sheer violence that left both men battered and bruised. The decision could easily have gone either way, but in the end it was home country hero Hooker who had his hand raised.

Did ‘The Hangman’ deserve the nod? It’s hard to say in a fight so close. The general consensus was that Hooker took the first and third rounds with his leg kicks and his consistent punches, while Felder took the second and fourth rounds with his combination work and pressure. The fifth round could honestly have gone either way – I personally scored it for Felder – but nobody should have a problem with this call.

What next for both men? For Felder it looks like retirement, which is a fair call to make given his alternative role as a color commentator, while Hooker should definitely be given a crack at one of the higher-level fighters at Lightweight now.

Justin Gaethje – who he called out post-fight – definitely works. Regardless though, the Kiwi guarantees excitement and this fight was a legitimate classic.


#1 Worst: Should Kowalkiewicz’s corner have stopped the fight?

K arolina Kowalkiewicz struggled with an eye injury in her fight with Xiaonan Yan
K arolina Kowalkiewicz struggled with an eye injury in her fight with Xiaonan Yan
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Almost a decade ago, UFC fans witnessed the end of Josh Koscheck’s career when he was beaten by Georges St. Pierre in their Welterweight title clash. Sure, Koscheck ended up fighting for a further 7 years after his loss to the Canadian legend, but the truth is that the eye injury he suffered that night in Toronto – a broken orbital bone – continued to haunt him until the end and played a key role in the downfall that saw him lose 6 straight fights before hanging up his gloves.

The worst part? Had Koscheck’s corner simply stopped the fight when it was clear how serious his injury was, he may well have continued to see success for much longer than he actually did. Why is this relevant? Because the same thing may well have happened to Karolina Kowalkiewicz last night.

The Polish Strawweight suffered a damaged right eye during the first round of her fight with Yan Xiaonan, and despite the doctor giving her the all clear between rounds, the injury clearly bothered her throughout the course of her three-round loss. So should her corner have called a halt to things?

I’d say so, yes; sure, it’s hard to count any fighter out when you think about previous miracle comebacks we’ve seen in the UFC, but the reality is they’re few and far between, and in this case, it looked like Kowalkiewicz was totally outgunned.

So why not simply look to preserve her for another day? It’s a decision that, if she ends up going the same way as Koscheck, her team will have to live with for some time.


#2 Best: Hometown fighters surprise everyone

Brad Riddell upset Magomed Mustafaev to the delight of the Auckland crowd
Brad Riddell upset Magomed Mustafaev to the delight of the Auckland crowd

In my preview for this show, I picked just 2 of 8 fighters based in either New Zealand or Australia to win their fights – Jake Matthews and Kai Kara-France, both faced with seemingly beatable opponents on the undercard. Thankfully for the crowd in attendance in Auckland, I got that prediction massively wrong.

In the end only 3 Australia/New Zealand-based fighters lost – Callan Potter, Joshua Culibao and Ben Sosoli, and even then, Culibao took his fight with Jalin Turner on very late notice.

Along the way we saw big wins for Matthews, Kara-France, Jimmy Crute – more on him later – and Dan Hooker, but perhaps the most impressive victory came for Brad Riddell, who was a huge underdog going into his clash with dangerous Dagestani Magomed Mustafaev.

Despite Mustafaev’s gaudy record and much higher levels of experience, Riddell – who trains with Hooker and current UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at the City Kickboxing gym – showed tremendous striking skills, a strong chin, and excellent defensive grappling skills to outwork the Dagestani for a clear unanimous decision.

The old saying is that iron sharpens iron, and that certainly seems to be the case Down Under right now; where there were once just a handful of solid Australian and New Zealand-based fighters, that number seems to be multiplying now, and with two current UFC champions hailing from the region, we could be entering into a golden age of Australian/New Zealand MMA.


#3 Best: Crute proves he could be a future contender at 205lbs

Jimmy Crute looked excellent in his submission win over Michal Oleksiejczuk
Jimmy Crute looked excellent in his submission win over Michal Oleksiejczuk

Despite plenty of fans labelling it a “wasteland” of sorts over the last few years, the UFC’s Light-Heavyweight division has begun to recover somewhat, with the likes of Dominick Reyes, Johnny Walker and Aleksandar Rakic breathing new life into what could still be considered the post-PRIDE era.

After last night it’s safe to say we can add Australian prospect Jimmy Crute to that list of fighters.

Crute was faced with Michal Oleksiejczuk in what looked like a tricky test for him; the Polish fighter had become renowned for deadly striking from both the outside and the clinch in his previous 4 UFC outings, but last night ‘The Brute’ shut that striking game down quickly with an early takedown, and then worked to keep him grounded before submitting him with a kimura.

The win was impressive largely because for the first time in his UFC career, it felt like Crute came out with a gameplan and stuck to executing it rather than simply fighting his opponent in their own wheelhouse.

At just 23 years old, ‘The Brute’ has all the physical potential in the world, but this fight showed that he’s got the potential aptitude to make it to the top, too. He’s a man to watch going forward for sure.

Published 24 Feb 2020, 00:15 IST
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