From Robert Whittaker to Mark Hunt and Alexander Volkanovsky, Australia and New Zealand are developing a reputation for curating top MMA talent.
When you think of regions that produce top MMA talent, you usually think of the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Japan but two more names that should be included in that list are Australia and New Zealand. As the world shrinks thanks to the advances of technology and travel, the idea of having to fly 14 hours from New Zealand to California is no longer a big deterrent for global recognition. At UFC Aukland hometown fighter Dan Hooker hopes to etch his name closer and closer to championship glory as he takes on Paul Felder.
More and more international names are becoming global stars and maybe none more so have broken into the top of the scene in the last decade than those that live in the way-south Pacific. More of the biggest names in MMA are coming from the region. There are a few up-and-comers to keep an eye on, like 25-year-old Australian native Jake Matthews, or Bellator’s 25-year-old New Zealand native Janay Harding.
Yet the five biggest names to come out of that shared region are simply on another level right now. They’re the standard-bearers that everyone is chasing after and it’s time we salute them.
While Israel Adesanya may have been born in Lagos, Nigeria, he moved to Aukland, New Zealand and became engrained in the region. He’s now billed from the region and fights out of New Zealand’s City Kickboxing. Since entering the world of pro fighting, he has won kickboxing gold in Glory, as well as now being the undefeated reigning UFC middleweight champion. At 30 years old, Adesanya has plenty of time to cement his legacy in the world of MMA outside of the coastal borders of his home in New Zealand.
One of Adesanya’s teammates at City Kickboxing is 31-year-old Alexander Volkanovski, otherwise known as the current UFC featherweight champion. Volkanovski is from Australia, and he is on an 18-fight win streak and has won in back-to-back fights against Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters going; Max Holloway. Volkanovski continues to prove that he and Adesanya are some of the benchmarks of the region.
At the age of 30, Megan Anderson is just hitting her stride. With her entering her peak in the sport, the former Invicta FC featherweight champion is looking to capture gold in the UFC. Anderson defeated Charmaine Tweet to win the interim championship in Invicta, then was promoted where she’d go on to defeat Cat Zingano. She’s not been unstoppable in the UFC but went the distance against Holly Holm and is 2-2 so far in the UFC with plenty of time to really show what she’s made of.
No list of top talent from New Zealand and Australia would be complete without the kicking King of Kiwi’s himself, Mark Hunt. Hunt’s now looking to continue his fighting career outside of the UF. Despite not having the best MMA record ever, Hunt has earned fans respect with an exciting and fan-favorite style, all while taking on the best in the heavyweight division. What makes Hunt such an icon isn’t his run in the UFC or even his time in Pride, but it’s his overall skills in both MMA and kickboxing. Hunt has 43 career wins between the two sports, and victories over Derrick Lewis, Frank Mir, Antonio Silva, Roy Nelson, Cheick Kongo, and Mirko Cro Cop.
While Adesanya may be undefeated, he’s only really started his surge through the top of the UFC’s talent pool. One man who’s been tested against the top is Robert Whittaker. Arguably the best the region has to offer, he has a laundry list of wins and accolades. He’s a former Ultimate Fighter winner, won the interim UFC middleweight championship in a fight with Yoel Romero. After the win, he was promoted to undisputed champion and then went on to defeat Romero again. He has wins over Ronaldo Souza, Uriah Hall, and Derek Bunson while riding a nine-fight win streak during that period. He’s not just a great fighter, but a great man, opting to forgo a fight with Jared Cannonier at UFC 248 so he could donate bone marrow to his daughter. Whittaker does New Zealand proud with the way he handles himself in and out of the ring.
UFC Auckland takes place on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, live from the Spark Aena in UFC Auckland, New Zealand. Follow along with FanSided MMA all your live results and highlights.