A look at the heavyweight, featherweight, and welterweight matchups excluding the main event for the UFC Fight Night 43 card in Auckland, New Zealand.
Soa Palelei vs. Jared Rosholt Heavyweight
At +130 Soa Palelei has finished all of his 3 UFC fights by TKO or KO. It's an interesting number for a guy many assume is the favorite. It's kind of difficult to gauge Soa's trajectory.
He's obviously talented. You won't find many fighters who can hit as earth shatteringly hard as him. Not only that but he's got grappling chops as well. Lately he's made a nice, cozy home of top control, and has been destroying guys who dare enter. Ruan Potts and Pat Barry were slaughtered like cattle.
And yet I understand why he's considered the underdog here. He's rarely been faced with upper echelon competition, and he has no wins to speak that inspire the confidence of predicting a clear victory over the very 'neophytic' Jared Rosholt.
It's hard to measure Rosholt's trajectory as well. He has yet to really wow anyone with his game. Similar to his brother, it's possible the flashes of brilliance mean little in the grand scheme of things, but when you're a HW, sometimes all you need are those flashes.
I'm tempted to pick Rosholt. He has the ability to take Palelei down, and potentially keep it there. Soa has never had the greatest gas tank, which means Rosholt has a real shot if he can avoid getting punched. I don't expect this to be the popular pick, but I do feel like it's the accurate one:
Jared Rosholt by Decision.
Hatsu Hioki vs. Charles Oliveira Featherweight
I still have to remind myself that Oliveira is 24 years old. This will be his 12th fight in the UFC, which I'm almost sure is some kind of record for someone that age.
He finally gets a sort of favorable matchup. Hioki is at that point in his career where he simply needs to justify his existence. As a once-believer it pains me to say it. But a fighter with his talents can no longer fall back on incompetent judging to explain his collective failures. Again, it pains me to say that. And doubly so because the implication is that you never leave it in the hands of the judges even though they get paid for when you do leave it in the hands of the judges. And yet, I feel like he's carried the same baggage with him that sometimes got him in trouble in Shooto, where his sense of strategy has an erratic quality.
As for the matchup, Hioki is a +165, which makes betting a very appealing thing to do here. After all, for as much as we harp on Oliveira's mismanagement, his losses don't exist in a vacuum of unfair matchmaking. Hioki is still world class in top control, and Oliveira has exactly the kind of offensive ground game that would allow Hatsu to capitalize on openings just like Jim Miller. Hioki is still the guy who took grappling stalwart Baret Yoshida to the woodshed on the ground, Fargo style.
Hioki is a much more fundamentally sound grappler. However, I've got to favor Charles for his power on the feet. His recklessness will suit him here because Hioki doesn't punch hard enough to make him pay for being overaggressive. Being too aggressive on the ground is the bad idea of the bout. Being too aggressive is how he wins.
It's not a foregone conclusion though. After all, Hioki was never actually that bad on the feet. In fact, I'd argue his early success and reputation was enabled by the fact that he was always competent enough on the feet to avoid getting exploited. In some ways, it partially explains his schizophrenic gameplanning during fights. He chambers his kicks with the quickness, opting for the push kick a lot, and will jab frequently enough without looking desperate to land a takedown or trip in top control.
Picking Oliveira largely rests, for me at least, on Charles' ability to impose his game on the feet, where he's becoming increasingly good at throwing tibia to femur. Still, Hioki at those odds is pretty attractive.
Charles Oliveira by Decision.
Robert Whittaker vs. Mike Rhodes Welterweight
Mike Rhodes is a +250, and this is another interesting potential bet.
I've been unfair to Robert Whittaker in the past, as I felt like he was basically a low rent version of Chris Leben. I never considered that too unfair or derogatory, but I do think he has upside a lot like Leben who used to branded as one-note.
The thing that makes Whittaker someone who deserves more credit than they're often given is that at 23 years of age, he's hardly hit his ceiling. Granted, some may feel like he's beginning at too low a floor, but I disagree. He possesses a solid right hand with good power, and mostly just understands how to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves. His speed and power are threatening enough that with the right coaching, he could be more efficient. Working with Tristar Gym will help him a lot in this respect, which is one of the reasons why I'm not sure about picking Rhodes.
If this fight was booked right after TUF, I'd have no problem picking Mike. A product of Roufusport, his time spent with the heralded camp is evident in his standup. When you look at the Pettis brothers, and guys like Erik Koch and Chico Camus, they're not brawlers. They're patient strikers who pick their spots without becoming inert.
This will be interesting clash of styles, but I am sticking with Rhodes and calling for the excellent bet because Whittaker is precisely the kind of fighter who come forward which will play into Rhodes' counter attack perfectly. Even though Rhodes got merked by Brandon Thatch, so have a lot of people ("so will" I'd argue), and I liked what Rhodes was showing early on, moving his head a lot and keeping his hands up tight. Thatch just happened to catch Rhodes with the perfect crescent kick.
Mike Rhodes by Decision.