MMA Review: #715: UFC Fight Night 168

-This was the first UFC show in New Zealand since 2017, with a classic sounding main event in the form of Dan Hooker vs. Paul Felder. Rest of the card wasn’t up to much but what can you do?

UFC Fight Night 168

Auckland, New Zealand

-Your hosts are John Gooden and Dan Hardy.

Lightweight Fight: Brad Riddell vs Magomed Mustafaev

This one looked like a good opener, as Mustafaev had been flying under the radar in the UFC since 2015, but was actually 15-2 overall with his only loss coming to Kevin Lee. As the Dagestani guys always seem to be badass I figured he’d have too much for New Zealand’s own Riddell, who had won his UFC debut in impressive fashion in October.

Round One and the crowd are way into Riddell. Both guys look tentative to begin and circle pretty slowly, before Mustafaev connects on a hard body kick. Beautiful right hand lands from NOWHERE for Riddell and down goes Mustafaev, but the Dagestani does enough to slow him down on the ground and goes right into a heel hook attempt. Riddell seems calm and escapes to his feet, and Mustafaev holds him against the fence. Nice takedown from the Dagestani but Riddell gets to his knees immediately. Mustafaev gets a rear waistlock and manages a suplex, then slaps one hook in. Riddell shakes that off though and works to his feet, but gets dumped again. Good knees to the legs from Mustafaev as Riddell gets to his knees once more. Knee to the head lands for Mustafaev as Riddell stands fully, and the Dagestani keeps hold of him and drops for a single leg. Riddell ends up down again, but he works back up only to eat a knee to the body before being taken down again. Good job again from Riddell to get up, and a right hand allows him free. He decides to clinch again though before breaking off with seconds to go. Round ends there. 10-9 Mustafaev, as he controlled the entire round after recovering from the knockdown.

Round Two and Riddell clocks Mustafaev with the right hand again, stunning him before following with a thudding low kick. Kick sees Mustafaev slip down, but he pops up before Riddell can capitalise. Another right hand connects coming forward for Riddell. Leg kick follows again as Riddell looks by far the sharper striker. Decent right hand counter connects for Mustafaev. Big exchange sees both men land with right hands. Huge overhand right glances for Mustafaev. Riddell keeps coming forward though, and this time he drops Mustafaev with a low kick but lets him right back up. Big combo from Riddell. Nice body kick from Mustafaev but Riddell fires back, only to get taken down off an attempted kick. Mustafaev gets the rear waistlock again, but Riddell stands back up. Good job from Riddell to turn into him, but he’s struggling to shake the Dagestani off. Single leg puts Riddell down again, but the Kiwi immediately gets back to his knees. He stands back up again, but Mustafaev plants him back down once more. Round ends with Riddell working back up. 10-9 Riddell to even it up.

Round Three and this could go either way. Head kick glances for Riddell as he goes forward. Spinning wheel kick misses for Mustafaev and Riddell lands some shots on the ground before letting him up. Clean left hand lands for Mustafaev. Body kick follows but Riddell comes back with a right. Beautiful jumping knee lands for Mustafaev as Riddell comes forward, but the Kiwi walks through it and stuns him with a combo. Clinch from the Dagestani slows him down though and from there Mustafaev looks for the takedown again. Good job from Riddell this time to defend and escape. Hard leg kick lands for Riddell. Surprising takedown follows and he lands in Mustafaev’s guard before standing free for a second, but when Mustafaev refuses to get up the Kiwi pounces to drop some punches from the top. Looks like Riddell’s bleeding from the forehead. Reversal from Mustafaev puts him back up, but Riddell separates and hits him with a hard body kick. Single leg responds and he gets Riddell down, but the Kiwi stands back up again. Somehow Riddell reverses and throws Mustafaev down to land some punches, and from there he gets a front facelock and pumps up the crowd before landing more shots. Mustafaev keeps going for the takedown, but he looks tired to me and Riddell looks to lock up a kimura. Mustafaev avoids that, but Riddell stands and lands elbows to the head before getting his own takedown on the buzzer. Clearly Riddell’s round, so I’d go 29-28 for him overall.

Official scores are 29-28 Riddell, 29-28 Mustafaev, and 29-28 for Riddell, sending the crowd into RAPTURE. Pretty great opener as both guys fought HARD, but in the end Riddell’s slightly better striking and cardio pulled him through. I clearly underrated him as he looked far better than I could’ve imagined against a very tough opponent, so I’m looking forward to seeing him again.

Heavyweight Fight: Marcos Rogerio De Lima vs Ben Sosoli

De Lima hadn’t fought since his loss to Stefan Struve over a year prior to this event, and to be honest I’d forgotten he was on the roster! This looked like a winnable fight for him though, against a plodding, smaller striker in the form of Sosoli.

First round begins and De Lima opens with a glancing head kick. WILD TRADE follows and Sosoli’s mullet makes him look like a thinner Roy Nelson. Another wild trade follows and neither man lands cleanly. Brutal low kick from De Lima and holy shit he’s swinging insanely heavy stuff. Brutal head kick glances for him but Sosoli walks through and they trade again. De Lima continues to swing haymakers and Sosoli’s chin somehow holds up. The Aussie continues to wade forward, but this time he walks into a CRUSHING RIGHT HAYMAKER and he goes down face-first for the stoppage.

Well, that was a ridiculous fight. Sosoli just seemed to have no gameplan outside rushing forward and swinging, and De Lima was happy to oblige by throwing sledgehammers back, and yeah, he landed the hardest shot first. Hugely enjoyable stuff to watch at least!

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Xiaonan Yan

Former title challenger Kowalkiewicz had fallen on hard times coming into this one, losing her last three fights, but this one at least looked a bit easier for her as Xiaonan was a bit unproven despite beating Angela Hill in her last appearance.

Round One begins and they trade strikes from the off with both women landing some decent shots. Xiaonan looks supremely confident on her feet. Clean right from Karolina but she eats a nasty combo in response. These women are FIRING in the early going, just trading pretty wildly like the previous fight. More combos from Xiaonan and it looks like Kowalkiewicz might be having issues with her right eye, constantly wiping at it. Spinning backfist glances for Karolina but she eats another combo in reply. Clinch from Kowalkiewicz and she drives Xiaonan into the fence, but the Chinese fighter reverses and takes her down instead. Xiaonan seems happy to just hold her down, before pulling free to avoid an armbar. Karolina stands and Xiaonan rushes her, but can’t land anything and they clinch again. Kowalkiewicz breaks off but she’s really struggling with her eye and Xiaonan wades in with more strikes. This is reminiscent of GSP vs. Koscheck with the eye injury. Clinch sees Xiaonan hit a hip throw to the ground. Big ground-and-pound gets through for her before she stands and kicks the legs. Round ends as Karolina gets up. 10-9 Xiaonan.

Round Two and Karolina is clearly struggling to see. Her corner should maybe have stopped this due to the eye injury. In fact before they start, the doc gets called in to check her over. She claims she’s okay to go, and right away they trade off again. Beautifully timed right hand lands for Xiaonan. Karolina keeps swinging back but Xiaonan is all over her here. More of the same continues as Xiaonan keeps walking Karolina down and landing shots. Kowalkiewicz manages to clinch to slow her down a bit, but she can’t get her down. Instead Xiaonan manages to take her down, and then lets her right back up. Karolina is looking beaten up now. Suplex from Xiaonan puts her down from the clinch, and they go into north/south which gets a pop from the crowd. Back onto the feet and Kowalkiewicz fires back with a pair of right hands that connect, but Xiaonan continues to outland her on the feet. Round ends standing and has to go to Xiaonan again.

Round Three and really, Karolina’s corner should’ve thrown the towel in here. Exchange picks up again and Xiaonan hurts Karolina with a body shot and then flurries on her with some heavy punches, but the Polish fighter manages to weather the storm. Another big flurry has Karolina hurt and Xiaonan takes her down and drops almost into full mount. Kowalkiewicz rolls for a leglock in order to escape, and then goes for a heel hook. Xiaonan seems okay though and punches the body. She escapes from the leglock and winds up on top, but it’s a bit of a weird position as Karolina still has her leg somewhat isolated. One minute to go and Xiaonan remains on top, where she works away with punches, but with seconds to go Kowalkiewicz reverses into top position. 10-9 Xiaonan, 30-27 overall.

Judges have it 30-26 all round for Xiaonan Yan. Great showing for Xiaonan who I’d say is clearly a contender in this division right now, and so it’s time to move her up the ladder ASAP. I feel bad for Kowalkiewicz, though – she was clearly compromised due to the eye injury from the first round and her corner probably should’ve stopped the fight. Hopefully this doesn’t mark her career being wrecked as it did for Koscheck when his eye got smashed by GSP.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jimmy Crute vs Michal Oleksiejczuk

This was a big opportunity for Crute in his first co-main, as although he’d been tapped out by Misha Cirkunov in his last fight, before that he’d looked like a real prospect to watch. Oleksiejczuk had won his first three UFC fights so he was a dangerous character for sure, but after he’d been overwhelmed by Ovince St Preux on the ground, I thought Crute’s grappling could pull him through.

Fight begins and Crute shoots right away and takes Oleksiejczuk down. The Polish fighter tries to get back up, but he gives his back in the process and Crute trips him right back down. Oleksiejczuk stands again, but Crute forces him back down and stays heavy on him as the Pole keeps on trying to slither free. Announcers mention that Crute has DADBOD KELLY in his corner. Absolute legend that guy. Oleksiejczuk is working hard here but he just can’t get up, and Crute keeps on forcing him down when he does. Midway through the round and Oleksiejczuk finally separates, but despite landing a right hand, Crute gets hold of him and slams him back down, this time landing in side mount. Full mount follows and the Pole is in trouble. Back to side mount for Crute and he locks up a kimura and CRANKS IT to force the tapout.

Totally one-sided fight as Crute just ran right over Oleksiejczuk, never letting him have a moment to breathe from the off. It was just takedown after takedown and once Crute got a dominant position and Oleksiejczuk got tired, it was OVER. Fantastic showing from the Aussie.

Lightweight Fight: Dan Hooker vs Paul Felder

This sounded like an AWESOME FIGHT on paper, as Hooker was coming off the biggest win of his career over Al Iaquinta while Felder had gone unbeaten in 2019 and had most recently beaten Edson Barboza. It was clear that the winner would end up in title contention, and given he was at home, I was picking Hooker.

Round One and Felder pushes forward as Hooker dances on the outside and lands a trio of low kicks. Spinning backfist misses for Felder as Hooker lands another low kick. Clean right hand connects for the Kiwi. He continues to circle on the outside and land the low kick, and Felder seems to be struggling to find his range. Right hand does glance for Felder. Snapping jab lands for Hooker. His striking is looking excellent in this round. Nice body kick from Felder but Hooker’s still outlanding him from the outside. Big left hand from Felder but Hooker fires back with one of his own. More circling from Hooker but an inside low kick drops him. He pops right back up and they trade knees from the clinch before Hooker breaks off. Beautiful counter left hand lands for Hooker. Another combo lands for him and he stays on his bike to avoid Felder’s offense as the round ends. 10-9 Hooker.

Round Two and shit, Felder’s right eye is almost swollen shut. Good head movement from Hooker to avoid Felder’s offense and he picks at him with some strikes of his own from distance. Hooker is looking fantastic here. Crowd are now chanting FUCK HIM UP at Hooker which is….interesting. And he connects with a beautiful combo, but eats a left hook in return. Clinch from Hooker and he takes the back standing, slapping a hook in for good measure. Action slows down there as Felder remains calm despite the bad position. Finally Hooker lets it go and they separate. Wild swings miss for Felder and Hooker remains incredibly chilled, just dancing on the outside with strikes. Couple of hard leg kicks get through for Felder. Spin kick lands to the body for Felder. His nose is bloody though. Counter knee glances for Hooker but Felder walks through it to land a combo. Wild trade follows with both guys landing. Felder’s just swinging wildly now. Couple of clean counters land for Hooker and that’s the round. 10-9 Hooker.

Round Three and again, Hooker circles on the outside and looks to pick at Felder while continuing to move around. These guys are really trading with low kicks now. Stiff jab lands for Felder. Big exchange sees Felder land a heavy right hand. Combo answers back for Hooker. Right hand from Felder counters a low kick and he follows with a jab. Big low kick from Felder. Beautiful counter combo lands cleanly for Hooker. Both guys now look visually beaten up. They’re just trading big shots now every time they throw. Left hand snaps Felder’s head back. Couple of jabs follow and then they trade off with more big shots. Spin kick to the body lands for Felder. Seconds to go and they keep on trading. Felder’s right eye is a MESS, wow. Takedown attempt is blocked by Hooker and they clinch up to end the round. 10-9 Hooker by a hair, very close round though.

Round Four and Felder hurts Hooker with a low kick in the opening seconds. Hooker wades through it but Felder fires some huge punches at him, and holy shit Hooker’s chin is GRANITE. He ate some huge shots there. More punches land for Felder but Hooker fires right back. Big one-two wobbles the Kiwi and it looks like his jaw might be damaged as his face is badly swollen. Takedown attempt is blocked by Felder and he breaks off with an elbow after they jockey for position. Left snaps Felder’s head back and Hooker spins around to get a rear waistlock. Felder breaks free from that and they separate with two minutes to go. BRUTAL right hand lands cleanly for Felder but somehow Hooker just eats it up. Another big right hook lands for Felder in an exchange. This is an insane fight. Felder is really taking over in this round, landing huge punches over and over. Takedown attempt from Hooker is blocked again. Seconds to go now and they muscle along the fence to end the round. 10-9 Felder and theoretically it could be 2-2 if you gave him the third.

Round Five and the crowd are WIRED. Not sure who looks more beaten up now. Jab opens things for Hooker but he eats another low kick. Big exchange sees both men land punches but Felder seems to have the power advantage now and Hooker isn’t moving around quite as well as he was earlier. He looks a bit tired. Takedown attempt is blocked by Felder, who manages to avoid a rear waistlock too. They break off and Hooker lands a nice combination, but Felder fires right back with a nasty right hand. These guys are just willing to brawl it out now. Both men continue to wing out punches, but somehow neither man looks stunned or hurt badly. Big right hand lands for Felder and Hooker tries to get him down and manages it! Crowd go apeshit for that as there’s just one minute to go. Seconds to go and Felder works free, but almost gives his back! He scrambles though and Hooker ends up on top, and then they stand and exchange from the clinch. Super-close round, but probably 10-9 Felder. I’d go 48-47 for Hooker overall though. Who knows, it was a close fight.

Official scores are 48-47 Felder, 48-47 Hooker and 48-47 for DAN THE HANGMAN HOOKER. Crowd obviously LOVE that one and I think it was probably the right call, just about. Insane fight as both guys took a ludicrous amount of damage and never backed down for a single second. Hooker clearly came out the strongest and was piecing Felder up in the early going, but then once he slowed down a bit and got hurt by Felder’s leg kicks, it became a wild brawl which clearly favoured the Irish Dragon. Unfortunately for him, it was just a little too late. At any rate this was a truly phenomenal fight – definitely a Fight of the Year Contender, even if it’s probably been surpassed since.

Post-fight Felder announces his retirement in an emotional moment and then to make things even more amazing, Hooker himself comes over to raise his hand. That’s exactly what MMA is all about, and I’d say it’s one of the most memorable moments in recent UFC history.

Final Thoughts….

This was a hell of a show in the end, with an absolute CLASSIC WAR in the main event, a tremendous opener and three excellent fights in between. Kowalkiewicz/Xiaonan should probably have been stopped, but that’s about the only criticism I’d have of this show. Overall it was awesome and if you missed it, check it out on Fight Pass.

Best Fight: Felder vs. Hooker
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: