UFC Auckland: Kiwi heavyweight Ben Sosoli out to shatter stereotypes in NZ return

Just days out from his second official Octagon appearance at UFC Auckland, Kiwi-Samoan heavyweight Ben Sosili has a very clear message for his friends and family across the country.

Stop asking him for tickets.

"They're gone," Sosoli says directly into the Newshub camera. "I don't have any tickets.

"I told everyone - all my mates - look, you've got three months. Just save up, stop buying Cody's and beers, buy one less box and then buy a ticket."

The 30-year-old Melbourne-based fighter will face off with Brazilian banger Marcos Rogerio De Lima at Spark Arena, as part of the promotion's highly anticipated return to New Zealand shores.

It also marks a homecoming of sorts for the Aussie-born, South Auckland-raised Sosili, a Dilworth School product who made the move back across the Tasman five years ago.

Bouncing in and out of the club rugby and fight scene on a relatively casual basis, he eventually linked former UFC fighter turned coach Dan Kelly, who brought him into his gym, and showed him the ways of the professional fighter.

"Before I used to just think 'yeah, I'm going to go have a fight' and I wouldn't do much to prepare and just jump in there and think 'I can get drunk again'.

"Now I've changed my life a bit - I have to think everything i do is going to affect my next fight, whether I'm in camp or not. I want to train professionally and act professionally."

Add his brilliant but distinctly Australian 'Combat Wombat' name to the fold, it's understandable they've started claiming him as one of their own.

"That has been happening so much," he admits, with an unmistakably Kiwi accent. "I always have to tell them 'bro, I'm from New Zealand'. 

"But yeah I'm happy as to be back. I haven't fought here in about nine or 10 years, which were all amateur fights.

"I always wanted to come back and fight, but I thought it'd just be a regional card...to think that I actually get to have a UFC fight here, I'm over the moon."

Sosoli has had an unorthodox start to his UFC tenure. After falling short in The Ultimate Fighter reality show, he went the way of Dana White's Contender series, where his first bout was cut short by an accidental eye poke. 

In October, he received a surprise late call up as an injury replacement to take on the polarizing Greg Hardy, a rising talent whose chequered past earned him plenty of detractors, having been found  guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend back in 2014. 

Sosoli stings Greg Hardy with a punch in their October bout.
Sosoli stings Greg Hardy with a punch in their October bout. Photo credit: Getty

Stepping in on little more than a fortnight's notice, Sosoli became one of the few fighters to date to have exited the cage without having been the victim of a knockout, falling to a unanimous decision loss, which was later overturned to a no contest due to Hardy's illegal use of an inhaler in between rounds.

He became the first man to win a round against the ex-NFL player and impressed with his ability to both take and deliver a shot. Sosoli believes he'll be much better for the experience this weekend.

"I feel so much more comfortable I know what's going to happen this week, I know what it'll be like before I walk out,  I know what it feels like in the cage, but I get to do it all in front of my friends and family.

"I also had a full training camp too, which was great. I just can't wait."

While the aforementioned family is one of his biggest fight motivations, Sosoli is also inspired by a determination not to become just another cautionary tale of wasted potential.

"There's so many people - especially Samoans, Tongans, Māori - that end up 40 years old, sitting in the pub saying 'back in my day I could've done this or that, I could've been an All Black'.

"Thing is they probably actually could've...but you see too many people telling those stories.

"So I just want to help change the way that people - especially Polynesians - can take their talent for granted, show them what can happen when a good work ethic is instilled.

"Then there's no limit to what any of us can do."

And despite residing on the other side of the ditch, he's very much invested in building on the wave of momentum that MMA is riding in Aotearoa, which reached a groundswell with UFC superstar Israel Adessanya's ground-breaking Halbergs win, then acceptance speech.

"It's great exposure and hopefully we can build up the sport here because there's so much talent, all over the country. 

"We could take over the whole world if we wanted to."

A move back is definitely in his future, says Sosoli, as soon as he can entertain the intimidating prospect of buying a house in Auckland.

"I'm going to have to win a championship and get 10 bonuses before I can start thinking about that."

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