The rise of mixed martial arts in New Zealand has been swift and purposeful over the past two years, with a host of Kiwis making the most of their opportunities to lift the sport into the mainstream arena.
The likes of Israel Adesanya, Dan Hooker and Kai Kara-France have taken the UFC by storm. Jay-Jay Wilson is one of the most exciting lightweight prospects on Bellator's roster. Genah Fabian and Sigi Pesaleli both qualified for the playoffs of their respective divisions of the Professional Fighter's League in 2019. Ev Ting leads a growing stable of Kiwis fighting in One Championship.
Now, with leading Australian promotion Eternal bringing their 50th fight night to Auckland this weekend, there is a hope that those successes in the major promotions will have a trickle-down effect.
The card at the SkyCity Convention Centre will be headlined by a lightweight bout between B.J. Bland of Auckland's City Kickboxing and Iain Blade of Otautahi Lost Boys in Christchurch, while every fight on the card will feature a Kiwi.
Speaking to the Herald, Bland said a good performance on such a card gets fighters closer to an opportunity with one of the world's major promotions.
"It's kind of a feeder promotion," Bland explained.
"It's crucial that everyone supports it. If you're a fan of MMA and you're a fan of the City Kickboxing boys fighting in the UFC, one of the best ways of supporting the whole gym is coming to these cards because they're like the lifeblood of our sport. If these shows and promotions aren't run, there's nowhere for us to gain experience and to have a platform to make the next step up."
Bland has seen one of his former opponents do just that, with Australian Callan Potter called into the UFC last February for a short-notice fight in Melbourne. Potter's previous bout before joining the UFC was a split decision win over Bland at Eternal 40. Potter will also be fighting in Auckland this weekend, against Kenan Song at UFC Fight Night 168 on Sunday at Spark Arena.
The Eternal event in Auckland will be the promotion's third card to be broadcast worldwide on the UFC's streaming service, UFC Fight Pass. Bland fought on the first Eternal card broadcast on UFC Fight Pass, in Melbourne last October, beating Abel Brites by unanimous decision.
The partnership has seen Eternal host events around UFC shows, with October's card two nights before UFC 243 at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium, while the Auckland card is being held the night before UFC Fight Night 168. At the Melbourne event, plenty of UFC stars were in attendance including bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.
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Speaking of the opportunities that could come with this weekend's card, Bland said the event being broadcast worldwide provided plenty of incentive.
"When you're in the minor promotions, battling away to try get a name for yourself, recognition and putting you name out there is probably the hardest part.
"You have to perform and get the results, but you also have to get known, otherwise you'll get overlooked. Being on UFC Fight Pass, that's the best way. Anyone in the world can go online, type your name in and see the fights, and people can watch live. It's a good benefit."
As for his fight against Blade, Bland expected it to be one for the fans.
"It's going to be a fight. I know Iain doesn't pull out of fights and when he comes to fight, he fights. It's not going to be like a feint off or a running match, we're going to go.
"One of my biggest characteristics, not in fighting but just in life in general, is I'm an impatient person. I don't enjoy waiting around or testing the waters. When I want to do something, I want to go. That's how I fight and that's what you'll get."