It's win or bust for Te Huna on home turf
Tonight represents a series of firsts for James Te Huna and the UFC.
Close to 10,000 rapid fans are expected to sell out Auckland's Vector Arena for New Zealand's inaugural hosting of the gruesome mixed martial arts event.
Regardless of the fight results, organisers say they will be back - possibly in Wellington in 2016 - but for Te Huna his 25 minute brawl with Nate Marquardt is all that matters. Victory is his only option.
The Perth-based 32-year-old was the first Kiwi to compete in the UFC. While Auckland's Daniel Hooker, who makes his debut at featherweight, and New Zealand-born welterweight Robert Whitaker also feature on the 10-card event, it is fitting Te Huna gets the chance to lead the show at home for the first time.
"He's taken the responsibility of being the main event for the first time ever in his home country very seriously," managing director of UFC New Zealand, Australia and Canada Tom Wright said. "He wants to demonstrate to ourselves, his fans and his country that he deserves the opportunity to fight for five rounds and be the headline."
Not only will this be Te Huna's first scheduled UFC fight over five rounds but his first at middleweight after dropping six kilograms from light-heavy.
Following two defeats, this is a career-defining evening for the local favourite. Marquardt, a veteran of 47-fights who also comes off successive first round losses, has greater experience to call on but Te Huna will hope his explosiveness can catch him off guard.
Whether he can transfer the home town advantage, or whether the pressure consumes him, could ultimately decide the outcome.
"It can go both ways," Canadian-based Wright said. "It all depends on the athlete. I watched the All Blacks play France in that juggernaut final. I've watched Canada play the United States in Olympic hockey when it was in Canada. Some athletes can channel it; so find it a bit of a burden. You've only got one chance to make a first impression. James is very confident."
Te Huna's career may be on the line tonight but it seems whatever happens, the UFC will be back. Wright has meetings scheduled with Sport New Zealand in Wellington in September and is keen to explore other parts of the country.
"It already has ticked the boxes," he said. "We've had New Zealand on our radar for quite some time. To help grow the sport you need to have live events. I'm not sure we'll be back next year but if not definitely in 2016. I want to look around the country to see if there's other places we can go; maybe Wellington, Hamilton or Christchurch.
"If you've never been to a live UFC event... it's very different to watching it on television. Don't blink because you might miss something."