It does not get much better than this.
Australia and New Zealand’s first UFC champion set to defend his title for the first time and a month-long stretch full of Aussie and Kiwi UFC talent.
To start us off, Robert Whittaker, Tai Tuivasa and Megan Anderson will all make the octagon walk this weekend at UFC 225 in Chicago, in what will be a historic moment for fight fans across Australasia.
When the UFC first came to Australia for UFC 110, would many people have predicted the number of fighters from this part of the globe that would one day be competing at the highest levels of the sport?
Back then, Anderson Silva was in the midst of toying with the middleweight division while Whittaker had only fought twice professionally. Now Whittaker is set to begin to create his own championship legacy when he attempts to defend the title that Silva once held for so long.
To think that back when the UFC first came to Australia in 2010, Tai Tuivasa was only 16-years old and running amuck in Sydney’s west. He now has his own Reebok t-shirt, seven first-round knockout wins, and is set to fight a former UFC heavyweight champion in only his third fight with the promotion. Tuivasa is climbing his way through the UFC fast and a win this weekend would push him into the top-10 of the heavyweight division.
And then there’s Megan Anderson. Making her UFC debut at UFC 225, Anderson had never given the idea of competing in MMA a single thought when the UFC first came to Australia in 2010. The Gold Coast native now finds herself fighting against the former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm; the woman who shocked the world when she knocked out Ronda Rousey in Melbourne. As only the second legitimate female featherweight in the UFC, a win from Anderson would almost guarantee a shot at the title against Cris Cyborg.
Three fighters with huge opportunities to break new ground yet again. MMA has come a long way in this corner of the globe and Whittaker, Tuivasa and Anderson will all be representing their countries with pride when they compete this Sunday.
And while Whittaker is a proud Australian it would be remiss not to point out the fact that he represents two countries. Born in Auckland, his traditional Maori tattoo is a clear reminder of his New Zealand heritage and place of birth.
While Aussies and Kiwis are often fierce rivals when it comes to ball sports, there is a sense of camaraderie when it comes to mixed martial arts.
Perhaps it’s because we are tucked away in a tiny corner of the globe, taking on the rest of the world who have been involved in the sport for far longer. Perhaps it’s because of our shared ANZAC identity, and the wars our two countries have fought alongside each other. Whatever it may be, Whittaker has galvanised MMA fans from both sides of the Tasman as their shared champion.
It was only a matter of time before the immense amount of sporting talent from both countries started to rise through. Getting people to drop the footy and pick up the gloves will always be an uphill battle. But one only must look at the number of fighters from Australia and New Zealand who will be competing in the coming weeks to notice the amount of talent coming through.
In total, over the next five UFC fight cards, a total of 11 fighters representing Australia or New Zealand are set to compete.
In addition to the three local fighters competing at UFC 225 this Sunday, the Aussie and Kiwi flags will be flying high in Singapore two weeks later. Tyson Pedro will be looking to get a big push up the rankings when he takes on former title challenger Ovince-St-Preux. Aussies Jessy Jess, Jake Matthews, Nadia-Kassem and New Zealand’s Shane young will also feature on the card.
Two weeks’ later, New Zealand’s Israel Adesanya will be centre stage when he headlines The Ultimate Fighter finale against Brad Tavares. A day later his countryman and teammate Dan Hooker will strap on the gloves to fight at UFC 226, arguably the biggest fight card of the year. These two have looked nothing short of outstanding in recent fights and are at the forefront of New Zealand’s MMA surge.
To round off the impressive run of local action, Alex Volkanovski will be taking on one of the most resilient fighters in the UFC, Darren ‘The Damage’ Elkins. A win from Volkanovski would also see him take a step into the UFC rankings.
Five-fight cards, 11 Aussie of Kiwi fighters. It all starts this Sunday with UFC 225. Tune in and support your locals.