The lineup strength was a bit lacking for the UFC’s weekend debut in New Zealand, but like similar cards, the fighters delivered, and the end result was a number of solid fights.
While Saturday’s four-fight main card, which streamed on UFC Fight Pass from Vector Arena in Auckland, had its ups and downs, the main event ended on a high as Nate Marquardt(33-13-2 MMA, 11-6 UFC) made a successful return to the middleweight division with a first-round submission victory over James Te Huna (16-8 MMA, 5-4 UFC), a former light heavyweight who made the drop to 185 pounds.
It was arguably the most important victory of Marquardt’s career. He entered the contest on a three-fight skid and couldn’t afford another defeat. However, the 35-year-old wasn’t the only one who picked up a meaningful win. Jared Rosholt (11-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) grappled his way to victory, Charles Oliveira (18-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC) added to his growing list of submissions, and “The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes” winner Robert Whittaker (12-5 MMA, 3-2 UFC) also got back on track after dropping consecutive fights.
After every event, fans wonder whom the winners will be matched up with next. And with another night of UFC action in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Joe Silva’s (and Sean Shelby’s) shoes, and play UFC matchmaker.
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Should fight: Neil Magny
Why they should fight: The UFC welterweight division is a tough nut to crack, and it takes a lot to get noticed in the crowded weight class. Whittaker and Magny (11-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) aren’t there quite yet, but with each man holding multiple UFC wins, they’re on their way.
Whittaker outpointed Mike Rhodes to earn a decision victory in New Zealand while Magny stopped Rodrigo Goiana de Lima with strikes just minutes earlier at the same event.
Both fighters are trying to make waves at 170 pounds, and now is the time to pair them against each other and determine who can continue a push into title contention.
Should fight: Nik Lentz
Why they should fight: Following his record fourth submission victory in UFC featherweight competition, Oliveira called for a fight with an old rival in Lentz (25-5-2 MMA, 9-3-1 UFC). Quite frankly, the matchup makes sense.
Sure, Lentz isn’t the top-five featherweight some might hope to see Oliveira face after the Brazilian became the first man to finish Hatsu Hioki in MMA competition. However, Oliveira has a score to settle with Lentz, and now’s the time to do it.
The pair first faced off at UFC on VERSUS 4 in June 2011. They were in the midst of an entertaining and competitive affair before Oliveira landed an illegal knee that led to him wrapping up a submission. Unfortunately for “do Bronx,” the illegal blow resulted in a no-contest.
A little more than three years later, both men are relevant figures in the UFC featherweight division. They’ve earned impressive wins in their most recent UFC efforts, and now’s the time to run it back one more time.
Should fight: Gabriel Gonzaga
Why they should fight: He certainly doesn’t make it pretty or very entertaining to watch, but Rosholt is continuously proving capable of getting the job done at the UFC level after grinding out Soa Palelei for his third consecutive win.
Unless his opponent brings a strong counter-wrestling or jiu-jitsu game to the table, it doesn’t appear many fighters are going to avoid Rosholt’s smothering, ground-and-pound-based offensive attack.
Palelei had no answer for it, but perhaps a fighter with more skill on the ground would. When it comes to talented grapplers at heavyweight, they don’t get much better than Gonzaga (16-8 MMA, 11-7 UFC).
“Napao” is a former UFC title challenger who is one of the most successful non-champion heavyweights the organization has seen. He’s extremely dangerous on the mat, and Rosholt would have to be very cautious if he’d choose to take the fight there.
Even though Gonzaga is coming off a loss to Stipe Miocic and is currently recovering from a broken hand, he’s the type of savvy veteran Rosholt should be fighting as he gains more experience in the sport and attempts to climb the rankings.
Should fight: Yoel Romero
Why they should fight: If Marquardt and Romero (8-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) step into the octagon against each other, violent things are bound to happen.
Even though Romero is on a four-fight winning streak while Marquardt has just one win in an identical stretch, the matchup has a major upside for everyone involved.
Marquardt would have the chance to stop the momentum of a man many believe could be a top contender in the near future. “The Great” did a good job again getting his feet wet in the middleweight division with the win over Te Huna, but if he wants to improve his stock as a title challenger, he needs to defeat someone on his way up in the division. Romero fits that profile.
From Romero’s perspective, an opponent like Marquardt is exactly what he needs. There are few fighters at 185 pounds willing to sign on the dotted line to fight the Olympic silver medalist, and regardless of Marquardt’s recent record, there’s rarely a downside in facing a former Strikeforce champion and ex-UFC title challenger.
With both men on the wrong side of 35 and looking to make a serious run as their athletic careers begin to regress, Marquardt vs. Romero is the next fight to make for both men at 185 pounds.
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Check out our UFC Fight Night 43 recap video:
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