The Ultimate Fighting Championship is starting to plot a purposeful card for the company's return to New Zealand.
On Monday, MMAJunkie.com was first to report that the UFC was in talks with heavyweights Mark Hunt and Derrick Lewis to actualize a heavyweight bout that would headline the promotion's second card from Auckland's Vector Arena on June 11. Shortly after, FloCombat reported that the UFC was also working on a middleweight contest between Olympic judoka Daniel Kelly and Derek Brunson.
The UFC has not commented on either bout, both of which are in the early negotiation process.
The 42-year-old Hunt fought just over two weeks ago at UFC 209 in Las Vegas, where he was knocked out by a series of knees from Alistair Overeem in the third round. “The Super Samoan,” a native of South Auckland, is still under medical suspension due to a leg injury sustained early in his bout with Overeem and will need a physician's clearance before the bout is officialized.
Lewis has won six in a row inside the Octagon, most recently punching out Travis Browne in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the UFC Fight Night bill on Feb. 17. “The Black Beast” is now 9-2 in the UFC ranks and his win streak includes victories over “Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner Roy Nelson as well as former UFC heavyweight title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga. If Hunt-Lewis comes to fruition, it will be the third straight UFC Fight Night headlining slot for the Houston, Texas native.
Kelly, 39, has won four straight in the UFC, most recently earning a split decision nod over former UFC 205-pound champ Rashad Evans on the UFC 209 undercard. The four-time Australian Olympic judoka now holds a 6-1 UFC record, with his lone loss coming in a 49-second knockout defeat to Sam Alvey in May 2010.
Brunson is coming off of back-to-back losses, albeit in less-than-typical fashion. Last November, Brunson rocked rising Kiwi prospect Robert Whittaker in their middleweight main event in Melbourne, Australia, only to have the tables turned quickly, with “The Reaper” head kicking him and flurrying for the first-round knockout. Two and a half months later, the North Carolina native returned to face MMA legend Anderson Silva, but wound up losing a controversial unanimous decision after 15 minutes.
The UFC Fight Night bill from Auckland follows in the steps of the promotion's first effort in New Zealand, June 2014's UFC Fight Night card headlined by Nate Marquardt's knockout win over native son James Te Huna.