Just six weeks out from its return to New Zealand, the UFC has finalised the 13-bout card for February's fight night in Auckland.
The Herald can confirm bouts between strawweights Loma Lookboonmee and Hannah Goldy and welterweights Maki Pitolo and Takashi Sato have been added to the event, confirming the full card for UFC Fight Night 168 at Spark Arena on February 23.
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Lookboonmee (4-1) became the first Thailand-born fighter to sign with the UFC when she inked her first contract with the company last year. In her promotional debut last October, the Muay Thai specialist impressed with a strong display of striking from both distance and in the clinch to earn her first UFC win.
The Tiger Muay Thai-trained Lookboonmee will take on fellow UFC newcomer Hannah Goldy (5-1), who will be looking to bounce back after a loss on debut last August. The American had her last fight at flyweight (56.7kg), and will drop down to strawweight (52.1kg) against Lookboonmee.
Like Goldy, welterweights (79.3kg) Pitolo and Sato will look to bounce back from losses when they step inside the cage in Auckland. Hawaiian Pitolo (12-5) was handed a unanimous decision defeat to Australian Callan Potter – who is also fighting on the Auckland card – at UFC 243 in Melbourne last October in his UFC debut, while Japan's Sato (15-3) was submitted by Belal Muhammad last September.
While adding the two fights to the event, the UFC has cancelled the scheduled bout between Australian fan favourite Tyson Pedro and Brazilian Vinicius Moreira, with Pedro forced to withdraw due to a knee injury.
It's a major setback for 28-year-old Pedro, who was set to make his first appearance in the UFC in more than a year. However, undergoing surgery this week, Pedro could face another lengthy stint on the sidelines. The UFC initially planned to find a replacement for Pedro, but ultimately chose to remove the fight from the card.
The card is headlined by Kiwi lightweight Dan Hooker, who will take on American Paul Felder in a battle of two of the division's top ranked athletes. Hooker's City Kickboxing teammates Kai Kara-France (flyweight) and Brad Riddell (lightweight) will also fight on the card alongside Australian-based Kiwi Ben Sosoli (heavyweight).
UFC Auckland card
Dan Hooker (NZ) v Paul Felder (five-round main event)
Karolina Kowalkiewicz v Yan Xiaonan
Kai Kara-France (NZ) v Tyson Nam
Jake Matthews (Aus) v Emil Meek
Jimmy Crute (Aus) v Michal Oleksiejczuk
Brad Riddell (NZ) v Magomed Mustafaev
Ben Sosoli (NZ) v Marcos Rogério de Lima
Callan Potter (Aus) v Kenan Song
Rachael Ostovich-Berdon v Shana Dobson
Jamie Mullarkey (Aus) v Jalin Turner
Kevin Aguilar v Zubaira Tukhugov
Loma Lookboonmee v Hannah Goldy
Maki Pitolo v Takashi Sato