More than two years after their last show on Kiwi shores, the UFC will make its return to New Zealand.
The Herald can confirm the UFC will be bringing another fight night to the country, with some of the world's top fighters heading to Auckland's Spark Arena in 2020 for an event booked for Sunday February 23.
"We are thrilled to return to Auckland with our third live UFC event," UFC senior vice president of international and content David Shaw told the Herald.
"New Zealand is a hot market for UFC, led by the success of new unified middleweight champion Israel Adesanya but also the likes of Daniel Hooker and Kai Kara-France.
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"Our Kiwi fans are some of the most passionate in the world and we can't wait to put on a great show for them."
The event is yet to have any fights confirmed; however the promotion is looking to book No 7-ranked lightweight Hooker in either the co-main event or the headliner, while Kara-France will be looking to make a quick turnaround after his upcoming fight in Las Vegas next month.
Multiple sources told the Herald the UFC matchmakers have been in touch with local fighters in regards to their availability around February and March, while Kiwi-born Robert Whittaker recently cancelled a speaking tour scheduled for late November and early December to get straight into training camp for an "exciting opportunity" – the training camp would have him primed for a fight early in the new year.
The Herald understands while Whittaker would likely be ready to go for the Auckland card, he was more interested in fighting in London.
Hooker, who has lost just once in the lightweight division, has been vocal about wanting to headline an event in New Zealand and, given his stature in the deepest division the promotion has to offer, he would be a popular choice at the top of the card.
With the rise of local fighters such as Hooker, middleweight champion Adesanya and No 6-ranked flyweight Kara-France, interest in the sport is rapidly rising in New Zealand.
The last time the UFC was in New Zealand, only four Kiwis were signed to the promotion – Hooker, Whittaker, Mark Hunt and Luke Jumeau.
In 2019, nine Kiwis are on the books – with Adesanya, Hooker, Kara-France and Whittaker among the best in their respective divisions.
While Kiwi Adesanya holds the middleweight title, he is not expected to be booked on the Auckland card as the UFC are believed to be working on scheduling his next bout as part of a pay-per-view event in the United States, also in the opening quarter of the UFC calendar.
Having another event in New Zealand could open the door for more local fighters to make the step up to the UFC. Hooker made his debut when the UFC came to Auckland in 2014, while Jumeau made his debut on the 2017 card.
Kiwi UFC fighters in 2019
Israel Adesanya (middleweight champion)
Dan Hooker (No 7 lightweight)
Kai Kara-France (No 6 flyweight)
Robert Whittaker (Former middleweight champion - NZ-born / Australia residing)
Justin Tafa (NZ-born / Australia residing)
Ben Sosoli (NZ-raised / Australia residing)