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Junior dos Santos (pictured) fights Tai Tuivasa in the heavyweight main event Saturday at UFC Adelaide
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC Adelaide sees two up-and-coming Aussies looking to add a pair of beloved veterans to their resumes in Saturday’s headlining bouts.

Undefeated Tai Tuivasa can put the exclamation point on a strong 2018 campaign when he takes on former world champion Junior dos Santos in the main event, while the light heavyweight co-main event sees UFC and Pride legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua having to fend off Sydney’s Tyson Pedro. You can bet that Tuivasa and Pedro would love nothing more than to knock off dos Santos and Rua in front of a raucous home crowd.

In what could be his last fight in the UFC, heavyweight veteran Mark Hunt fights Justin Willis. The 44-year-old Hunt will be a free agent after his bout with Willis, who is unbeaten in three UFC appearances.

Also on the main card, former lightweights Jake Matthews and Tony Martin will battle to keep their welterweight marks unblemished, Contender Series contract winner Sodiq Yusuff fights Ultimate Fighter 27 alum Suman Mokhtarian in a featherweight bout, and Paul Craig tries to hand debuting Australian light heavyweight Jim Crute his first loss.

What: UFC Adelaide

Where: Adelaide Entertainment Centre in Adelaide, Australia

When: Saturday, Dec. 1. The two-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight FOX Sports 1 main card begins at 10 p.m. ET.

Junior dos Santos vs. Tai Tuivasa

This should be a fascinating striking battle as Junior dos Santos has to find a way to deal with the aggression of Tai Tuivasa.

In his last outing against Andrei Arlovski, Tuivasa showed off that he’s more than just a fast finisher by going three hard rounds with a former world champion who made his pro debut when Tuivasa was just six years old. Dos Santos isn’t quite as long in the tooth, but he’ll present a similar challenge.

Much of this fight will resemble a high-level kickboxing match, with both fighters having proven that they can use a variety of strikes to do damage. While dos Santos is known for his technical striking exhibitions, don’t sleep on Tuivasa. The 25-year-old is developing a reputation as an affable, fun-loving, shoey-drinking goofball, which is the sort of behavior that lulls his opponents to sleep. In reality, Tuivasa is a classic coiled spring. Just when you think he’s dormant, he’ll break out a flying knee or a furious combination.

Tuivasa also constantly walks forward, something the judges always like to see, and dos Santos will have to be on point with his jab and leg kicks to keep Tuivasa at bay. This is Tuivasa’s first five-round fight and if it goes the full 25 minutes, I have to lean towards “Cigano”.

Pick: Dos Santos

Mauricio Rua vs. Tyson Pedro

How one feels about this matchup for Mauricio Rua depends a lot on how much of a step one thinks he’s lost. In his prime, Rua’s supreme footwork and feared blitzing ability made him a nightmare for opponents regardless of their background. At 37, he’s looked as much prey as he has predator.

That’s not to say that Tyson Pedro can expect a walkover here. His size advantage will be a factor and it will serve him well to establish the distance at which he wants this bout to be contested early on. Despite being the younger fighter by almost a decade, starting too fast could be a mistake for Pedro as his teammate James Te-Huna learned the hard way when he was destroyed by “Shogun” back in December 2013.

Where Pedro can really shine is on the canvas. Rua has always been great at defending takedowns, but if Pedro can wear him down in the clinch and get a trip, he’s a threat to snag a submission. Even better for him would be if he can score a knockdown with a straight counter punch and go to work from there.

Barring a vintage first-round finish from “Shogun”, look for Pedro to get Rua’s back at some point and win via choke.

Pick: Pedro

Mark Hunt vs. Justin Willis

Before throwing down in a slugfest with Chase Sherman, it was fair to say that Justin Willis hadn’t really been tested inside the Octagon. He’s taking a big step up now against Mark Hunt.

“The Super Samoan” is a far better striker than anyone Willis has fought thus far, so a key to Willis’s success will be whether he decides to push the pace early in the hopes of catching Hunt off-guard, or take his time figuring out the K-1 vet. On the flip side, Willis has a dynamite left hand that Hunt will have to respect.

This has the makings of a fun standup battle, which makes it difficult to predict especially if both men decide to just throw caution to the wind in pursuit of the Fight of the Night award. I see Hunt’s deeper kickboxing arsenal making the difference here as he ends his UFC run on a high note.

Pick: Hunt

Jake Matthews vs. Tony Martin

Great matchup here between two well-rounded fighters on their way up in the welterweight division.

Known for his submission acumen, Martin surprised many with a third-round knockout of Ryan LaFlare in his last outing, the first time in 18 pro bouts that Martin had finished an opponent with strikes. Improved confidence in the standup will serve him well against Matthews, a 24-year-old who has grown leaps and bounds since joining the UFC back in 2014.

Both fighters look like new men at 170 pounds, no longer having to torture themselves to make the lightweight limit. This is the closest main card fight to call, but I give Matthews the edge for his top-shelf athleticism, a trait that allows him to cover up a lot of mistakes and swiftly capitalize when his opponents slip up.

Pick: Matthews

Suman Mokhtarian vs. Sodiq Yusuff

Suman Mokhtarian is a creative submission specialist, something he didn’t get to show too much of in his TUF 28 decision loss to Ricky Steele for whatever reason. He’ll be much more comfortable with a horde of hollering Aussies behind him.

Unfortunately for Mokhtarian, home cooking might not be enough to save him against the highly vaunted Yusuff. Coming off of a complete three-round performance against Mike Davis on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Yusuff brings excellent lateral movement and an absolute bomb of a right hand to the Octagon.

If Yusuff can resist the temptation to headhunt, he should fare well against Mokhtarian. He has a thick base, which will make it difficult for Mokhtarian to get takedowns even if he can manage to get hold of the elusive striker. This has to turn into a grappling contest for Mokhtarian to have a chance, otherwise Yusuff could leave him staring at the lights early.

Pick: Yusuff

Paul Craig vs. Jim Crute

Just 22 years old, Jim Crute is an intriguing prospect out of Australia. He made an impressive debut on the Contender Series with a first-round TKO of Chris Birchler in what was shaping up to be an entertaining standup battle and he’s also shown himself to be an offensive-minded fighter once he achieves top control. He’s the kind of fighter who goes for damage or submission attempts over position.

That could be a bad idea against Paul Craig, who is developing a reputation as a sneaky submission artist himself. “Bearjew” is comfortable fighting off of his back and he might actually invite Crute to take him down so that he can start throwing up armbar and triangle holds. However, it’s worth noting that Craig’s willingness to fight from bottom could also be his downfall when dealing with a fighter as aggressive as Crute.

This is Crute’s fight to lose and if he can exhibit a measure of patience in his UFC debut, the finish will come to him. But don’t be surprised if the tricky Craig catches another opponent off guard.

Pick: Crute


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