As NFL season remains in full swing, the UFC’s international schedule continues this weekend. After trips to Northern Ireland and Brazil last Saturday, the Octagon will make its way to Melbourne, Australia for UFC Fight Night 101 on Saturday. Originally slated with a pair of former Strikeforce middleweight champions squaring off for the second time, the card underwent a big change when Luke Rockhold was forced from the main event with a knee injury. His opponent, ‘Jacare’ Souza has yet to be rescheduled for a bout. The card will still be headlined by a 185-pound contest, but instead it will be rising contenders Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson who get the limelight. Ranked No. 7 and 8 in the UFC’s middleweight division, there are several similarities in terms of where these two are at in their career. Both bring five-fight win streaks into this bout, which will serve as the first UFC main event for each. Prior to their current run, each was also stopped by strikes against a top contender. For Whittaker, his loss came in his second-to-last welterweight bout, against Stephen Thompson. Brunson was one of five men who have been stopped by Yoel Romero in the third round, but notably was winning the fight up to that point. In the increasingly crowded middleweight division, Romero will likely be the next to challenge for Michael Bisping’s title while Gegard Mousasi also staked his claim to a big fight with his performance this past weekend. ‘Jacare’ and Rockhold are certainly in the mix for a shot as well, but the winner of this fight should jump right into those ranks and could go a long way towards boosting their chances for a title opportunity in 2017. Aside from Whittaker, eight other Australians and New Zealanders will be competing on this card, giving the Melbourne audience plenty to cheer for throughout the event. The co-main event features one of those fighters, 22-year-old Jake Matthews. Perhaps the brightest prospect to emerge from Oceania other than Whittaker, Matthews hopes to rebound from a tough loss against Kevin Lee in his last bout He will take on Andrew Holbrook, who is also looking to bounce back from a first round TKO — the first loss of his career — suffered back in July. One of the longest-tenured veterans of the Aussie scene is Kyle Noke, and despite a late opponent change from Dominique Steele to Omari Akhmedov, he’ll still be competing on this card. Noke and Akhmedov have both suffered losses in their last two bouts, with Akhmedov being stopped by TKO twice in the third round. One of three fighters making their debut on this card, Alex Volkanovski seems to have the most UFC-ready skill set. For an Australian, his wrestling is surprisingly adept, and his strikes carry power on the feet and on the ground. He brings a 10-fight winning streak into his UFC debut, which includes bouts from featherweight up to welterweight. However, he will likely find that featherweight needs to be his home if he wants to stick around in the UFC. This bout will be at lightweight though, as he faces Yusuke Kasuya, who will attempt to pick up his first UFC win after 14 months on the sidelines. Other main card bouts include a light heavyweight bout between TUF 23 finalist Khalil Rountree and undefeated Aussie Tyson Pedro along with a strawweight contest featuring Seo Hee Ham and Danielle Taylor. The preliminary card is headlined by a pair of familiar faces, as the surprising Dan Kelly puts his 4-1 UFC record up against Chris Camozzi, who has found the best form of his career in his recent UFC run. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting odds for the entire 13-fight UFC Fight Night 101 card today at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Take a look: ——————– UFC Fight Night 101: Whittaker vs. Brunson NOVEMBER 26, 2016 Rod Laver Arena | Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Fight Card Robert Whittaker +115 Derek Brunson -155 Over 2.5 -120 Under 2.5 -120 – Andrew Holbrook +250 Jake Matthews -350 Over 1.5 -190 Under 1.5 +150 – Omari Akhmedov -120 Kyle Noke -120 Over 1.5 -190 Under 1.5 +150 – Yusuke Kasuya +150 Alex Volkanovski -190 Over 2.5 -130 Under 2.5 -110 – Tyson Pedro -105 Khalil Rountree -135 Over 1.5 -105 Under 1.5 -135 – Danielle Taylor +115 Seo Hee Ham -155 Over 2.5 -215 Under 2.5 +165 – Daniel Kelly +200 Chris Camozzi -280 Over 1.5 -190 Under 1.5 +150 – Damien Brown +145 Jon Tuck -185 Over 2.5 -150 Under 2.5 +110 – Jonathan Meunier -120 Richard Walsh -120 Over 2.5 -130 Under 2.5 -110 – Geane Herrera +125 Ben Nguyen -165 Over 2.5 -120 Under 2.5 -120 – Jason Knight +130 Dan Hooker -170 Over 2.5 -210 Under 2.5 +160 – Ning Guangyou +100 Marlon Vera -140 Over 2.5 -175 Under 2.5 +135 – Yao Zhikui +135 Jenel Lausa -175 Over 2.5 -230 Under 2.5 +170 – ——————– Brad’s Analysis: Whittaker versus Brunson is a fantastic bout, and a case could easily be made for either man. Whittaker is the sharper striker of the two, and he has shown tremendous takedown defense in his UFC career, which would seem to match up well with Brunson’s game. However, Brunson’s striking has been devastating of late, and his aggression, southpaw stance, and reach has allowed him to swarm on several opponents before they are able to react. The question here is what happens once Brunson closes the distance because Whittaker has shown an iron chin since moving up to 185 (most notably eating some massive kicks from Uriah Hall and seeming completely unfazed). Is Brunson able to control long stretches up against the cage or eventually get takedowns? If he can’t — and I don’t believe either of those things will happen — I have to side with Whittaker. Brunson has shown a bit of a vulnerable chin in the past, and while he’ll be controlling the majority of this fight and more likely to win a decision, I have to think Whittaker is able to clip him over 25 minutes. Holbrook is sort of in the Damon Jackson mould of grappler, where he’s a solid technician and good enough physically that he can overwhelm nearly everyone on the regional scene. However, his lack of top-end athleticism causes him to struggle once he gets to the next level. Matthews is quite the opposite. He has a ways to go technically and is prone to some mistakes befitting his age, but he’s impressive physically. I don’t think Holbrook is crafty enough to overcome that gap, and I expect Matthews to take a decision here at worst. This could be Noke’s last stand, and it will be a struggle for him early. Akhmedov should be able to get takedowns, land big shots, and potentially even finish the fight early. However, Noke will have the edge as this fight drags out, since Akhmedov fades like few others in MMA. Will the Aussie have enough to score a late finish or take a decision? I actually don’t think so, as the takedowns will come just a bit too easily for the Russian and he won’t gas like he normally does. Volkanovski is really a featherweight, and he will struggle when he runs into an actual lightweight who can strike a bit. While his wrestling has looked good on the regional scene, I don’t think it will prove effective beyond the lower levels of the UFC. That means he’ll be forced to strike, where his size (5-foot-5) will put him at a distinct disadvantage against anyone capable on the feet. Luckily for him, Kasuya is essentially a perfect matchup, as the Japanese fighter only really offers a submission game, and doesn’t have the wrestling to get this fight down. Volkanovski will actually have an edge on the feet here, and should just stay standing to look for the TKO, which I expect to come. Pedro has an average fight time of 2:05 across his first four pro bouts, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. He has grounded several of those opponents and found submissions. That should be the plan against Rountree as well, who struggled badly with the wrestling of a natural middleweight in his UFC debut. I’m not sold on the potential some see in Rountree, and I’ll go against the name value travelling across the world to face a big grappler. Sidenote: Rountree is the oldest looking 26-year-old since LeBron James was 26. Taylor didn’t look bad against Maryna Moroz…when she pulled the trigger. Unfortunately for her, those occasions were few and far between. Against a far more active Ham, we could see Taylor come out and match her pace, or recede even further into her shell. I hope it’s the former, but I’m not willing to take a position on either side. As for a pick, I have to side with what I’ve seen, and that’s Ham being capable of outworking Taylor to a decision. Daniel Kelly: The power of two first names. If you bet $100 on him in each of his five UFC bouts, you’d be up $880 right now. That’s insane. He’s yet to be favored in a UFC bout, and that won’t change here. The expectation is that Camozzi should be able to use his superior striking and movement to pick Kelly apart at range. But if Kelly somehow manages to close the distance (or get Camozzi to do it for him) would you really be shocked if he starts scoring some Judo throws or trips, and scores a top position victory? Me either. At this point, I’m almost forced to bet him if the number is above +250. I finally decided to stop fading Tuck last fight, and he puts on his worst performance. He’s really one of those fighters I can’t get a handle on. Physically and technically, he should be able to beat Brown, either by exploiting his opponent’s bad striking defense or his terrible takedown defense. However, I definitely get the sense that Brown has more desire to win, more cardio, and is a more consistent fighter (even if that level of consistency is below what Tuck is capable of). Now watch Tuck come out and dust Brown like he did Jake Lindsey. I certainly won’t be backing him though. Meunier hung around longer than I expected him to against Colby Covington, which was nice because his cardio was one of the things that was a big question mark about him. Walsh won’t be able to manhandle him like Covington, and that means Meunier might get a chance to show off his striking here. Even if it does turn into a close quarters fight, I’m not sure Walsh has a grappling edge either. If I can get Meunier at a dog price based on the utter dominance he suffered in his UFC debut, I may have to take that shot. Remember how TUF Nations went for the Australians? Nguyen against Herrera is a good fight, one of the best on this card. The UFC hasn’t released the full broadcast information for this card, but if my math is right, this fight is going to be the opening FS1 prelim. What? Not even the featured Fight Pass prelim? At any rate, I expect this to be back-and-forth no matter where it takes place. Herrera gave Ali Bagautinov plenty to worry about on the ground in their fight, and has some solid stand up with a bit of flash. Nguyen is much more fundamental on the feet but extremely dangerous with the tools he does use. On the ground, he’s better than the mauling he took at the hands of Louis Smolka made him seem. I think Herrera may take this by being more willing to switch his game up, but I would need a decent plus number to bet either guy here. Knight won his last fight by using improved striking against a very limited stand-up fighter in Jim Alers. If he tries to employ the same gameplan here, things won’t go well for him. Hooker is a longer, more powerful, more diverse striker who keeps a high pace on the feet. The problem for Knight is that his wrestling game probably isn’t good enough to force this into a grappling match either. Hooker looks like a good parlay piece to me, and if he drops below -150 somehow I’ll be playing him straight. When this fight was scheduled to be in Vancouver at UFC on Fox 21 I wrote this: “I may end up betting Guangyou as the underdog here, as Marlon Vera continues to underwhelm me. Vera has been taken down and controlled in all of his UFC fights, and I think Guangyou is powerful enough to continue that trend. Perhaps Vera can find a submission like he did in his lone UFC win against Roman Salazar, but I’m willing to take a chance that he doesn’t.” Now that the fight is going to take place on Guangyou’s side of the world, I like him even more. The age and lack of activity are concerns, but Vera simply has not looked good in the UFC. YAO’s YA BOY! Although in this fight, he may not be. Lausa has a vastly superior striking game than Zhikui, and has shown good hips in avoiding takedowns. He can get a bit reckless at times on the feet which could open up some easy takedowns for Zhikui, but I don’t imagine the Chinese fighter can do much with them. Yao’s biggest tools to win so far have been his toughness and cardio, and with Lausa just going 25 minutes in his fight before getting signed to the UFC, I don’t think that cardio edge will be there either. Even with the UFC being a bit more lenient towards Chinese fighters, I think this might be Yao’s last stand in the Octagon.
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