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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday got reacquainted with Auckland, New Zealand, as UFC Fight Night 168 descended upon the Spark Arena with a lightweight main event pitting Dan Hooker against Paul Felder. They went toe-to-toe in a back-and-forth war, with “The Hangman” emerging as a split decision winner in a result that touched off immediate debate among observers.
The victory was the fourth in a row and seventh in eight appearances for Hooker. The surging contender was joined on the card by City Kickboxing teammates Brad Riddell and Kai Kara-France, who both recorded wins.
Felder’s professional record fell to 17-5 in defeat, though the Philadelphia native has lost just twice in his past seven outings. Despite being highly ranked in the 155-pound weight class, the Roufusport representative discussed the idea of retirement prior to the bout. Afterward, he doubled down on the sentiment and once again hinted that may have competed inside the Octagon for the last time.
“I knew it was close,” Felder said. “I feel like I hurt him a lot in the fight, but he got the takedowns. He’s smart. He busted me up pretty good. That might be it for me. I got a 4-year-old at home that misses me every time I go away like this.”
Meanwhile, Felder’s adversary already had his sights set on a higher-ranked opponent.
“I got my eye on someone,” Hooker said. “I want the belt or ‘The Highlight’ reel. I want Justin Gaethje next.”
Not all the main card bouts were as competitive as the headliner. In what was a somewhat unsettling encounter between fighters headed in opposite directions, Xiaonan Yan relentlessly battered former UFC women’s strawweight title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz for the better part of 15 minutes. Kowalkiewicz between the first and second rounds could be overheard informing her corner that she was having difficulty seeing out of her right eye. She spent the rest of the fight trying to avoid punches by keeping her hand cupped to her face. Kowalkiewicz, 34, provided an update on her condition via Instagram and revealed that her injuries would require surgery.
“This is the first time after my fight that I can’t say that I am OK,” Kowalkiewicz said. “In the beginning of the first round, I have broken small bone [near my right eye] right here and [the nerve] stuck there. I couldn’t see nothing. My vision was double, and everything was like in a fog.”