Don’t Sleep on Hooker
It was a big weekend for New Zealand fighters, with Dan Hooker providing the first memorable moment from UFC 226 with his spectacular knockout of Gilbert Burns. Early in the fight, Hooker dropped Burns with a beautiful counter right straight that just grazed the nose.
Sensing the finish was near, Hooker picked up the pace and backed Burns against the cage before landing a counter lead hook that finished the grappling prodigy. Hooker has been with the Ultimate Fighting Championship since 2014 but hasn’t garnered the respect from fans and media that he deserves. He has proved to be one of the best strikers in the division and at only 28 years old, he has a bright future in the UFC’s most stacked division.
Next up was top prospect Curtis Millender vs Max Griffin. Millender made his mark in the UFC with his spectacular finish of Thiago Alves earlier this year and a dominant decision victory over Griffin added to his mystique.
At 6’3 with a 78-inch reach, Millender is one of the biggest welterweights we have ever seen in the UFC and his rangy striking skills proved too much for fellow distance striker Max Griffin. Millender picked him apart from bell to bell with his long 1-2s and landed intercepting knees to the sternum anytime Griffin tried to take the fight to the ground. Millender made a name for himself outside of the UFC but many thought his skills wouldn’t translate well to the highest levels. He has silenced the critics thus far with two dominant victories this year and is a prospect for whom UFC fans should keep an eye out.
Klose Gets Back in the Win Column
Next, Drakkar Klose took on Jackson-Wink MMA product Lando Vannata. After losing to David Teymur last December in one of the best fights of the year, Klose was clamoring to get back in the win column and did so with a dominant victory over Vannata.
Klose seemed to have all the answers to Vannata’s unorthodox style and controlled the fight for all three rounds. Klose’s countering was on point all night and landed multiple counter right hooks as Vannata looked for his patented spinning attacks. Klose also took a page from teammate Benson Henderson’s book as he went for these calf kicks that severely limited Vannata’s movement. Klose is now 3-1 in the UFC and is another prospect at lightweight to keep your eye on as he moves up the ranks.
The Most Underrated Fighter in MMA
Next up longtime UFC veteran Raphael Assuncao took on surging prospect Rob Font. Assuncao dominated every moment of the fight and continues to be the most underrated fighter in our beloved sport.
Whether it was on the ground, on the feet or in the clinch, Assuncao outperformed Font in every area of MMA. He has been on the cusp of a title shot for years now but keeps getting snubbed despite his 11-2 UFC record. His only losses came to current champion TJ Dillashaw and Erik Koch in his debut and he holds wins over Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes and Jorge Masvidal, who now fights two divisions above him. It’s been frustrating to see Assuncao pushed aside for more marketable stars, but let’s hope this win earns him a rematch with Marlon Moraes to solidify the next title challenger.
Middleweight’s New Contender
The headlining prelim bout saw Paulo Henrique Costa take out Uriah Hall in devastating fashion. Hall had some success early in the fight as he landed his snapping jab with ease, but his old tendencies started to come back later in the fight and he found himself against the cage eating vicious combinations by Costa.
Hall’s biggest problem has always been his inability to stay off the cage and Costa’s best skill is getting his opponents to the cage and firing off combos to the head and body. Costa isn’t the most technical of strikers but his relentless speed, power and pressure have proven too much for all 12 of his opponents.
Costa doesn't have the technical prowess of some, so he must rely on his athleticism and ability to mix up his strikes from head to toe. Besides the hooks to the head and body, Costa showed some Justin Gaethje-style leg kicks from the plum clinch.
Midway through the second round, Costa landed a counter lead hook and rear uppercut combo that finished the fight. The UFC is notorious for throwing young prospects to the wolves far too early in their careers and ruining the hype behind them. However, they seem to know what they have in Costa and continue to give him favorable matchups to build up the hype and give him time to become a well-rounded martial artist. If he continues this path we could be looking at a legitimate title contender in the next year or two.