UFC Auckland: Two prospects to keep an eye out for
The UFC has just entered a marathon of eight consecutive fight weeks and during such a hectic spell, some storylines may easily go under the radar. There’s just too much to keep up with. So therefore, if you’re planning on tuning in for the stacked fight card set to take place in Auckland, New Zealand this weekend, look no further than here for your two gems to look out for.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Yan Xiaonan
This fight is probably one of the standouts on the card on paper purely because of Kowalkiewicz’s (12-5) reputation. Despite coming into this fight on the back of three straight losses, the Pole has shown time and time again that her deceiving toughness makes all of her fights worth watching. But with that said, the real story of this fight is the soaring Chinese prospect, Yan Xiaonan (11-1).
Xiaonan has not lost since 2010. That was her third professional fight. She has turned into a winning freight train since. Xiaonan went 5-0 across four different promotions, winning all but one of those fights via stoppage, along her way into the UFC. Now, Xiaonan is 4-0 inside the Octagon — all victories via unanimous decisions — most recently against Angela Hill, and now, it’s time for a step up in competition.
This will be by far and away the biggest test of Xiaonan’s career — and one that could land her a spot in the rankings next week should she get her hand raised. Her dominant record has gone quietly under the radar as the Chinese striker is yet to be tested in the world’s premiere promotion.
As aforementioned, Kowalkiewicz has been distant from her best in recent months. She herself admitted that she will likely never be back to her old ways. But while her title challenging days may be over, she is still a formidable opponent that can test the pedigree of newcomers. Xiaonan will be the first to try Kowalkiewicz and her new found mindset.
The 30-year-old Xiaonan is a volume fighter most comfortable on the feet. Per UFC Stats, she lands 6.85 significant strikes per minute at a 40 percent clip. She also absorbs 4.22 sig. strikes per minute, making her a bit of a brawler, and an interesting matchup against a stylistically similar Kowalkiewicz.
How much does Kowalkiewicz have left in her? Is Xiaonan legit and ready to take the next step? There are a ton of questions that will be answered in this fight.
Jalin Turner vs. Joshua Culibao
The 24-year-old Turner (8-5) was a very highly rated prospect coming out of Dana White’s Contender Series. He forced a first round doctor stoppage upon his opponent and strutted towards a UFC contract — but then the challenges began. Making it to the UFC is one thing but living up to the hype is a different ball game.
Turner impressed fans around the world by taking a short notice bout against the heavy hitting Vicente Luque at Welterweight for his UFC debut. Turner is a lightweight. And it showed in that fight. Turner got KO’d in the first round and perhaps he just got a little too ahead of himself. Patience is a virtue sometimes.
He then returned to 155-pounds with a win over Callan Potter and has since lost a decision to Matt Frevola, leaving himself in a bit of a grey area in regards to whether he belongs in the UFC or not. Turner is still very young for a fighter of course, but all of a sudden, his fight against the debuting Culibao (8-0) has become a bit of a make or break situation.
Culibao is 25 and regarded as the top featherweight currently fighting in Australia. He’s stepping into this fight on short notice and up a weight class, essentially making this fight a golden ticket for himself. There is nothing to lose for the Sydney native. The ultimate low risk high reward scenario.
Culibao has never fought anyone remotely close to the UFC level of competition, but he does have five stoppages on his record. How he fares against a struggling but still respectable opponent in Turner will tell a lot about Culibao’s level and the stage of his development. He could very well fight himself into a UFC contract this weekend.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Turner responds to having his back against the wall for probably the first time in his young career and if he can make a statement of intent with a dominant victory. Or will Culibao put another nail in Turner’s UFC career and ride off into the sunset with a victory in his UFC bow? Don’t sleep on this one either.
Sports journalist based in CA, USA.