Kiwi fighters sure to be a hit in Las Vegas

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013

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See him in action at his day job, and you'd think Brad Morris was just another of the Warriors' training staff at Mt Smart Stadium.

Brought in by under-fire coach Matt Elliott during the off-season, Morris is the club's sports science manager.

He's the man who correlates, and then translates, all the information gathered from training sessions and NRL matches on each first-grade players' form - and then presents it to the coach so he can get more out of the troops.

A well-educated leaguie who loves his stats, right? Wrong.

This tough-looking but affable Australian is actually a UFC veteran; a man who survived two fights in the Octagon, including one brutal encounter with current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in April 2008. Morris, who hails from Newcastle, compiled a 10-win, 6-loss MMA record in his time in the cage, between 2002 and 2010. The high point was that fight against Velasquez, a ruthless technical knock-out loss in UFC 83 in Montreal, Canada.

Velasquez has gone on to big things in the UFC - and will defend his heavyweight title against Antonio "Big Foot" Silva in UFC 160 in Las Vegas today. Mark Hunt and James Te Huna are a couple of other blokes on the fight card in Vegas today of more interest to Australasian MMA fans - and Morris.

The 34-year-old is long-time friends with the duo, who take on Brazilians Junior dos Santos and Glover Teixeira, and Morris believes both have the ability to score massive upsets at the MGM Grand Hotel event. He has spent time with Hunt during his recent two-month training camp in Auckland and believes he has never seen the Kiwi slugger more mentally and physically in tune for a fight in years.

Ask anyone with MMA knowledge, and they'll tell you that Hunt has his work cut out today. Dos Santos is faster, has a longer reach, arguably hits harder and has a vastly superior ground game to the former K-1 world champion.

Yet Morris has confidence in Hunt - and believes the basis of a victory could come from the Kiwi heavyweight's ability to sustain massive damage - and his low profile.

"The area where Mark holds an advantage is we've all seen, over the last decade, that he can take a big hit," Morris told Sunday News.

"There's no doubt Junior can hit hard. He knocked Cain out in their first fight when he won the title.

"But watching that head kick that Cro Cop [Mirko Filipovic] put on Mark back in 2005, you know he can take it.

"The thing that is in Mark's favour is he can stand in that pocket and be close enough to do damage to Junior.

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"As far as submissions go, Mark is an awkward 120kg to try to move around. His centre of gravity is low. He carries a hell of a lot of size and weight in his legs.

"Getting him down isn't all that easy. If it goes to the ground, you're definitely going to think Junior will finish it there with some kind of submission.

"But for me, just the fact that Mark can take the punishment, well, my money is actually on him to take this fight - not Junior."

Visa issues have disrupted Hunt's build-up to today's fight but Morris said the experience of the Auckland-born fighter should mean he is able to concentrate when needed.

Morris admitted that Te Huna, who he used to train with in Sydney, had a far tougher job ahead of him taking on Teixeira.

He doesn't see Te Huna changing the game plan that has seen him rise up the light heavyweight rankings in this clash; go hard early and pepper his opponents with strikes.

"It's been all about setting up takedowns from strikes," he said. "If you can finish it on the ground, great, if you pepper him with strikes, that's probably the best way he will win this fight.

"His speed in transition is really good. From standup to takedown, or takedown to striking, his transitions are so smooth and quick. He's not easy to take down and his combinations of effective striking are superb. Jamie has been under-rated for most of his time in the UFC. He had one unfortunate loss, but otherwise he's been pretty impressive.

"I'm definitely a little nervous for him - but I think he can do it."

- Sunday News

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