UFC on ESPN+ 26: Felder vs. Hooker

Preview and Predictions for UFC on ESPN+ 26: Felder vs. Hooker by Danny Rourke and Darell Garner 

The UFC travels to Auckland, New Zealand this weekend for UFC on ESPN+ 26: Felder vs. Hooker LIVE Saturday from the Spark Arena. The entire card will stream in its entirety on ESPN+ beginning with the Prelims at 4:00PM/ET, followed by the Main Card at 7:00PM/ET.  
UFC Auckland Main Card Predictions
Kevin Aguilar (-120) vs. Zubaira Tukhugov (-110)
Kicking off the UFC Auckland Main Card, Kevin “The Angel of Death” Aguilar (17-2-0) faces Zubaira “Warrior” Tukhugov (18-4-1) in a bout at Featherweight . Following his suspension for his involvement in the Conor-Khabib UFC 229 melee, Zubaira Tukhugov returned after a three year layoff at UFC 242 last September, battling Lerone Murphy to a Draw. Tukhugov will be seeking his first win inside the Octagon since defeating Phillippe Nover by Split Decision way back in December 2015. Kevin Aguilar will be looking to bounce back from the first setback of his UFC career, a Unanimous Decision loss to Dan Ige at UFC Greenville last June. Aguilar, a former Contender Series standout had previously earned Decision wins over Rick Glenn and Enrique Barzola before coming up short against the talented Dan Ige. These Featherweights should set an exciting pace for the UFC Auckland Main Card, and I expect the more effective Kevin Aguilar to get the win. Aguilar has finished his opponent in eleven of his seventeen professional wins. 
Danny’s Crystal Ball Prediction: Aguilar via Decision 
D’Bo’s Pick: Tukhugov via Second Round Submission 
Brad Riddell (-105) vs. Magomed Mustafaev (-115)
Another Auckland, New Zealand native and a teammate of Dan Hooker over at City Kickboxing, Brad “Quake” Riddell (7-1-0) will have the support of the home crowd as meets Magomed Mustafaev (15-3-0) in a Lightweight matchup. Brad Riddell will be trying to build off of the success of his promotional debut, where “Quake” earned a Unanimous Decision win over Jamie Mullarkey at UFC 243 last October. Riddell will be seeking his fifth consecutive win overall against Mustafaev. Magomed Mustafaev returned after a two and a half year hiatus at UFC Russia in St. Petersburg last April, defeating Rafael Fiziev via First Round TKO (spinning back kick) and improving his UFC record to 3-1. Mustafaev has won twelve of his last thirteen fights, and will be looking to establish himself as a legitimate contender with another impressive win over Brad Riddell. The oddsmakers see this bout as a coin flip, and I agree as I could see it going either way. However, for predictions sake I will go with the explosive Mustafaev to get the job done. 
Danny’s Crystal Ball Prediction: Mustafaev via Second Round TKO
D’Bo’s Pick: Mustafaev 
#14 Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+220) vs. Yan Xiaonan (-260)
Former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-5-0) hopes to turn things around as she faces the up and coming Yan “Fury” Xiaonan (11-1-0,1NC) in a Strawweight contest. Yan Xiaonan’s UFC career has quietly gotten off to a furious 4-0 start, most recently defeating the always game and Ultimate Fighter alum Angela Hill at UFC 238 last summer. Xiaonan has gone the distance and earned Unanimous Decision wins (over Hill, Syuri Kondo, Viviane Pereira, and Kailyn Curran) in each of her first four Octagon appearances. After winning her first three fights in the UFC and earning a title shot against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at the historic UFC 205 card, Karolina Kowalkiewicz has now lost five of her last seven fights, dropping her UFC record to 5-5. Since 2018, Kowalkiewicz has dropped her last three bouts to former Champion Jessica Andrade, Michelle Waterson and Alexa Grasso. While this appears to be a bout between fighters trending in opposite directions, Kowalkiewicz has an edge in experience having competed against the top Strawweights on the roster. While I expect Karolina to make this fight competitive, Yan Xiaonan should find her way into the divisional rankings with another Decision win, and extending her impressive win streak to eleven. 
Danny’s Crystal Ball Prediction: Xiaonan via Decision 
D’Bo’s Pick: Xiaonan via Second Round TKO
Ben Sosoli (+130) vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (-150)
All Ben “Combat Wombat” Sosoli (7-2-0,2NC) wants is to get a fair shake this time out and will certainly be hoping for no more funny stuff as he faces Marcos “Pezao” Rogerio de Lima (16-6-1) in a Heavyweight bout. While competing on the Contender Series, Ben Sosoli’s fight with Dustin Joynson was cut short, and ruled a No Contest due to an inadvertent eye poke in the First Round. Fast forward to the Combat Wombat’s official UFC debut against Greg Hardy in Boston last October. While Sosoli lost a Decision to Hardy, the result was overturned, and ruled a No Contest, when it was discovered that Hardy used an inhaler on  his stool in between the Second Round. Marcos Rogerio de Lima has alternated wins and losses over his last eight fights and is coming off of a Second Round Submission loss to Stefan Struve at UFC Prague last February. Side note, “Pezao’s” last four losses have all come by way of Submission. Fortunately for Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Ben Sosoli is more of a one dimensional fighter, with zero wins by Submission. Prior to the two No Contests, Sosoli has finished his last four opponents by knockout. While Pezao may be more well rounded, I think Sosoli will find a way to  get the crowd on its feet and get his hand raised. 
Danny’s Crystal Ball Prediction: Sosoli via First Round TKO 
D’Bo’s Pick: Rogerio de Lima via Third Round TKO
Jimmy Crute (+110) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (-135)
In the Co-Main Event, Jimmy “The Brute” Crute (10-1-0) takes on Michal “Lord” Oleksiejczuk (14-3-0,1NC) in matchup between two promising Light Heavyweight prospects.  The start to both Jimmy Crute and Michal Oleksiejczuk’s UFC careers has been virtually identical. Jimmy the Brute earned stoppage victories over Paul Craig (Submission) and Sam Alvey (TKO) before running into a perfectly executed Peruvian necktie Submission of Mischa Cirkunov, the first loss of his pro career. Poland’s Michal Oleksiejczuk began his UFC career with a Decision victory against Khalil Rountree that would later be overturned and ruled a No Contest due to Oleksiejczuk failing an in competition drug test. Following his one year suspension, Lord Oleksiejczuk responded with blistering First Round knockouts of Gian Villante and Gadzhimurad Antigulov before succumbing to the patented “Von Preux” Submission choke of Ovince St. Preux at UFC Copenhagen last September. Both fighters prefer to stand and trade, which should create an exciting buildup to the UFC Auckland Main Event. 
Danny’s Crystal Ball Prediction: Oleksiejczuk via Decision 
D’Bo’s Pick: Crute via Second Round Submission 
MAIN EVENT 
#6 Paul Felder (+115) vs. #7 Dan Hooker (-145)
“The Irish Dragon” Paul Felder (17-4-0) will be looking to play the role of spoiler as he takes on Auckland’s own, Dan “The Hangman” Hooker (19-8-0) in a key Lightweight divisional showdown.  Hooker certainly delivered in his Co-Main event slot at UFC 243 last October in Melbourne, Australia, putting on a virtuoso performance and defeating former Lightweight title challenger Ragin’ Al Iaquinta by Unanimous Decision to earn his sixth win in his last seven Octagon appearances. The Decision over Iaquinta was a departure for Hooker, who had finishes in his previous five wins. Hooker’s lone defeat during his seven fight stretch came via Third Round TKO against Edson Barboza at UFC Milwaukee, where Hooker displayed tons of heart and fight before falling to a brutal body shot. Barboza is an opponent who The Irish Dragon has also shared the Octagon, twice. Barboza and Felder originally met back in 2015 with Barboza earning the Unanimous Decision victory. Four years later Felder would exact his revenge, earning a Split Decision win over Barboza at UFC 242 last October.  Both Hooker and Felder hold wins over another recent shared opponent in James Vick. Felder beat Vick by Unanimous Decision at UFC Phoenix last February. Dan Hooker shut off James Vick’s lights with a picture perfect left hook at UFC San Antonio last summer. Felder has won five of his last six. Hooker has won six of his last seven. One of these streaking Lightweights is going to fall back and out of contention in a uber competitive division. Perhaps the winner earns a chance in the Conor McGregor sweepstakes. We will just have to wait and see. One more sleep! 

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Danny’s Crystal Ball Prediction: Felder via Third Round TKO 
D’Bo’s Pick: Hooker via Decision 
Next weekend, the UFC heads to Norfolk, Virginia for UFC on ESPN+ 27: Benavidez vs. Figueredo. Share your thoughts and picks with us in the Comments section below and enjoy the fights!

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