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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 101

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Whittaker vs Brunson Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Whittaker put an exclamation point main event finish on a show filled with question mark decisions on Sunday (Saturday night in North America). In doing so, Whittaker could be what every promotion hopes for, a national star fighter in a country that UFC clearly has a substantial fanbase.

Australia has been one of the UFC's strongest international markets ever since Cain Velasquez and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira opened things up in 2010 with a show in Sydney. But, like New York and Toronto, Melbourne, the country's strongest UFC market, wouldn't allow cage fighting until last year. The company set its attendance record for its first show at Etihad Stadium with 56,214 fans last year. The return to the market for a second show, in running the Rod Laver Arena, sold out with a reported 13,721 fans for a Fight Night show, a much better showing than UFC would do in all but a few cities with this type of a card.

The show opened with eight straight decisions, a few of which were exciting, and some of which were close. It was the first time any UFC event in its 23-year-history had ever started with eight fights in a row going to the cards, and only the second time in history there were eight straight decisions. As Whittaker and Brunson came out, the show had featured 10 decisions in 12 fights, tying the most for any show in history.

Three prior shows have had 10 fights go the distance. The first was UFC 169, on Feb. 1, 2014, in Newark, NJ, headlined by Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber. That show opened with seven straight decisions. A Fight Night event two weeks later in Jaragua dol Sul, Brazil, headlined by Lyoto Machida beating Gegard Mousasi, also opened with seven straight decisions. The Feb. 27, 2016 show in London, England, headlined by Michael Bisping's win over Anderson Silva, also had ten decisions

The show in many ways was in the balance as the main event started. And it was immediate fireworks. Brunson had Whittaker in some trouble early, but Brunson, in his quest for a quick finish, ended up in trouble himself when he rushed in and found himself countered and hurt, with Whittaker winning one of the most exciting four-minute fights in recent memory.

In finishing Brunson in the first round, the 25-year-old Whittaker put himself into the top mix in one of UFC's strongest division. In a show built around native stars, Whittaker's win became the talking point of the show, after Melbourne favorite Jake Matthews, once talked about as being the country's future superstar, struggled to a split-decision loss to Andrew Holbrook. The crowd, not having a lot of action at that level during the show, came alive as Whittaker landed a left hook that left Brunson in trouble, and exploded when Whittaker finished his handiwork.

Mark Hunt has been Australia's star fighter after the fading out of George Sotiropolous years ago. But at 42, even in the heavyweight division, Hunt is clearly on borrowed time. Many expected Matthews, a powerful lightweight, to be the next star as he had two UFC wins before his 21st birthday. Matthews is still, at 22, one of the youngest fighters on the roster, but has also lost three of his last five fights.

Let's look at how fortunes have changed for five stars of Saturday night's show.

ROBERT WHITTAKER - Whittaker (18-4) solidified himself as one of the top middleweight contenders.

Whittaker and Gegard Mousasi (41-6-2), who defeated Uriah Hall last week, should both be considered part of the big six contenders (along with Yoel Romero, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, Mousasi and Chris Weidman) for champion Michael Bisping. Given the timing of both getting first round finishes, a Whittaker vs. Mousasi fight seems a natural. But even bigger for Whittaker would be if he could get a match with Weidman (13-2). Weidman brought up Whittaker's name as a potential opponent for a Feb. 11 date at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Even though Weidman lost his past two fights, as a former champion and a major name, a win by Whittaker in what would be spotlight fight on a pay-per-view show would do more to strengthen his name with a win than any other fight he's likely to be able to get.

DEREK BRUNSON - Brunson (16-4) had five wins in a row and would have been in Whittaker's position if he had prevailed. Right now, He could still find himself facing one of the major contenders if they need a fight and no other top contender is available. But if not, his best opponent for building back his name would be Vitor Belfort (25-13). Belfort has enough of a name from his long tenure as a star to where it would be seen as a name win to the public.

A lesser known name, but with a more impressive record who is coming off a recent win, would be Krzysztof Jotko (19-1).

ANDREW HOLBROOK - Holbrook (12-1) pulled out the decision by winning the third round on two of the three judges’ scorecards after all three judges had split the first two. Fighting at lightweight, a good next test for him would be Chad Laprise (11-2), the former TUF Nations winner in 2013.

JAKE MATTHEWS - Matthews (10-3) is too young to be written off, but has also been a disappointment considering he was a major favorite against Holbrook. And in his case, it was bad luck since that decision could have gone either way. So flipping one score, Matthews prospects would look every different, as instead of having lost three of five, he'd instead have won three of his last four.

Nick Hein (14-2) would make for an interesting next opponent, as both are powerful for their size and had local market popularity. Both are also far from being ranked at this point.

ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI - Another Australian fighter, Volkanovski (14-1), won his 11th straight fight in his UFC debut, with a second-round finish of Yusuke Kasuya. What we learned is that Volkanovski punches hard and accurately, and looks to be particularly strong at finishing on the ground.

Volkanovski fought at lightweight, but noted at being 5-foot-5, he wanted to eventually fight at bantamweight. But he wants to move to featherweight first. Two fighters who can be tests for him going into that division would be Clay Guida (32-17) and Andre Fili (16-4).