Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC, boxing and the PFL live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
Lightweight action heroes Dan Hooker and Paul Felder gave fans the violence they desired, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday brought UFC Fight Night 168 to the Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand. While some stocks rose, others dipped.
Dan Hooker: Hooker crossed the threshold from prospect to full-fledged contender with a hard-fought split decision over Felder in the main event, as he picked up his third consecutive victory and pushed his record to 7-1 since he moved to the lightweight division. The fight was closely contested from start to finish. Hooker was forced to dig deep in the fifth round, and after emerging with another win, he finds himself in position to challenge a Top 5 opponent. Afterward, Hooker called for a fight with Justin Gaethje—a confrontation that would undoubtedly have the MMA world glued to its collective TV.
Jim Crute: Rebounding nicely from his first loss as a professional, Crute put himself back on track as one of the more compelling young talents in the light heavyweight division; and he wasted no time in doing so. From the opening bell, it was clear that Crute understood he had a significant grappling advantage. He tossed Michal Oleksiejczuk all over the cage before settling in side control and advancing to mount. “The Brute” sliced through Oleksiejczuk’s guard, locked in a kimura and forced the tapout 3:29 into Round 1. Just 12 fights into his career, Crute continues to inch closer to Top 15 competition.
Brad Riddell: After two UFC appearances, City Kickboxing’s Riddell has the look of a potential mainstay in the lightweight division. The most impressive development in his game was the grappling defense he displayed against Magomed Mustafaev. The Russian looked to close the distance against Riddell and attempted to lock onto him after virtually every standup exchange. However, the Australian kickboxer managed to neutralize Mustafaev’s efforts, floored him with a right hand in the first round and landed the cleaner shots throughout the 15-minute scrap. It was enough to earn Riddell a split decision. Afterward, he zeroed in on a potential pairing with Alexander Hernandez—a promising 27-year-old who has won nine of his past 10 bouts.
Michal Oleksiejczuk: Though he opened his UFC run with three stellar performances, the Polish knockout artist has been victimized in back-to-back submission losses to Crute and Ovince St. Preux. Even more concerning, he has looked absolutely lost in both appearances. Oleksiejczuk needs to round out his skills if he wants to compete at the highest levels of the sport. When his defensive wrestling and one-round gas tank fail him, he quickly unravels and concedes positioning on the ground. A move to 185 pounds might suit his smaller frame better.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz: In what was her fourth consecutive defeat, Kowalkiewicz was never afforded the opportunity to get in gear. She suffered early damage to her eye, and with her depth perception compromised, she became little more than a punching back for the ascending Xiaonan Yan. The China Top Team standout was aggressive from the start against the outgunned Kowalkiewicz, who expects to undergo facial surgery in the weeks ahead. The setback could leave the former KSW champion without a spot on the UFC roster a little more than three years after she fought for the undisputed women’s strawweight title.
Emil Meek: The Norwegian powerhouse fell to a disappointing 1-3 inside the UFC in a unanimous decision loss to Jake Matthews, leaving him in a precarious position with the company. Poor takedown defense remains Meek’s most glaring issue, as Matthews grounded him in all three rounds. “Valhalla” remains undeniably dangerous in standup exchanges, but until he closes the holes in his game, his situation does not figure to improve in the near future. Much was made of his work with former lightweight contender Gray Maynard ahead of his latest outing, and it appears as though he needs further gym time with “The Bully.”