UFC coming to Auckland

By Daniel Richardson

James Te Huna (red shorts) says the June fight at Vector Arena will be a dream come true. Photo / Getty Images
James Te Huna (red shorts) says the June fight at Vector Arena will be a dream come true. Photo / Getty Images

James Te Huna's debut as a middleweight will headline the UFC's long-awaited first appearance in New Zealand.

'UFC Fight Night Auckland: Te Huna vs Marquardt' will take place at Vector Arena in Auckland on Saturday, June 28 and the Darfield-born Te Huna will meet former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt in a five-round main event.

No other fights have been announced yet but the card will feature 11-13 bouts. Kiwi heavyweight Mark Hunt won't be in action as he continues to recover from a badly-damaged hand suffered in his epic brawl with Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva at UFC Fight Night 33 in Brisbane last year.

Gold Coast-based New Zealander Dylan Andrews is expected to feature, although he is recovering from a shoulder injury and navigating a drop from middleweight to welterweight. Kiwi-born Australian welterweight Robert Whittaker could also be involved.

Te Huna, who lost his past two fights at light heavyweight but has a career MMA record of 16-7, has dropped 9kgs and is moving to middleweight for a fresh start.

"I'm serious about my diet. I'm serious about losing this weight and performing how I should be when the time comes,'' the 32-year-old said.

"This is a huge deal for me. When I was a kid I always dreamed about representing my country on the world stage and I never thought it would be fighting, competing in the UFC, doing what I do. It's pretty much a dream come true.''

Marquardt, a 34-year-old American with a career record of 32-13-2, is moving back to middleweight for the fight with Te Huna after he lost his past two UFC bouts at welterweight.

"He's a dangerous guy,'' Te Huna said.

"He likes to stand and bang so it's going to be a great fight.''

The decision to have the show in June comes as a slight surprise given Hunt is expected to be cleared for action in August and would have been a huge drawcard but he may now make his comeback on an Australian show later in the year.

Tom Wright, the UFC's managing director for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said bringing an event here was part of the promotion's global expansion.

"We've been looking at Auckland for a long time,'' Wright told the Herald. "I prepared a business plan for 2014, 2015 and 2016 back in August of last year and we have earmarked Auckland as a place that we wanted to bring the UFC. Sometimes things happen faster than you might have initially planned but we know we've got a strong fanbase. There's a great fight culture throughout all of New Zealand, so I'm excited about this opportunity.''

Wright will visit New Zealand next month to help put some finishing touches on the event.

The undercard will likely start around 5 or 6pm with the main card set to begin at 8pm. Vector Arena is expected to seat around 11,000 people for the show.

There's a strong chance a handful of up-and-coming Kiwis will be on the undercard.

- APNZ

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