The UFC’s yearly foray into the European market was scheduled to hit one of the homes of MMA; Dublin, Ireland on May 27th 2018. Ireland as a whole is the home of rich history in combat sports, with a deep back catalouge of boxers and martial artists. The MMA world, however has gone from strength to strength in more recent times with the likes of heroes and pioneers John Kavanagh, Andy Ryan, Aisling Daly, Paddy Holohan and Owen Roddy among of plethora of names forging a thriving, safe and structured approach to the now well renowned amateur and pro scene.
News began to bubble that the card could feature a strong Irish contingent with the likes of Karl Moore – gunning to become the first two weight, Cage Warriors World Champion since the global superstar of Irish MMA himself, Conor McGregor. Current Bellator and seasoned veteran Paul Redmond, alongside top young prospect and recently crowned BAMMA World Lightweight Champion Rhys McKee.
Though the card did not materialise, to which the UFC has yet to release a statement on why the switch occurred. The most popular speculation, cited by the lads of Severe MMA in their recent podcast, is that the UFC could not get the names and schedules aligned to make the fights. The replacement though, is one that has garnered plenty of early interest and warranted excitement among UK, European and Worldwide MMA fans. The UFC will officially take the Octagon to The Echo Arena, Liverpool for the first time in its history.
This switch has been engineered mostly by fast rising UFC prospect Darren Till. Darren made his UFC debut in 2015, when he defeated Wendell de Oliveira Marques via 2nd round KO. He then took on fellow European Nicolas Dalby, in which he whilst winning the first two rounds in a dominant fashion, suffered a shoulder dislocation 10 minutes in. Dalby came back, knowing he was two rounds down, to score a 10-8 in R3, forcing a draw. Till then proceeded to take a 2 year hiatus, which saw him travel to Brazil to hone his skills and focus on matters inside the cage rather than outside. He exploded back onto the UFC’s radar with a decisive win over Jessin Ayari on the undercard of 2017’s UFC Fight Night 109 – Gustafsson vs. Teixeira. A quick turnaround saw another decisive win over tough Serbian fighter; Bojan Velickovic added to his record. The world began to change for Till when he was announced to fight household name, and fan favourite in Cowboy Cerrone in his first main event at UFC Fight Night 118 Cerrone vs. Till – Gdasnk, Poland. The fight was a one sided demolition, which ended in a first round decimation of the legend Cerrone, by way of Till’s signature elbows and left hand – placing him comfortably on a stratospheric trajectory.
Since that evening Till has been campaigning for a Liverpool card, building on the ground work laid by the old guard of Liverpudlian MMA in Terry Etim, Paul Kelly, Paul Sass and Team Kaobon Head Coach; Colin Heron. His wish has been granted by the UFC, who had Till officially announce the card this past weekend during the pre-fight press conference at for UFC Fight Night 127: London (headlined by Fabricio Werdum and Alexander Volkov and ending in a 4th round TKO for Drago). A highlight of the card came during the interval when commentators John Gooden and Dan Hardy spoke to the Liverpool man about the upcoming UFC Liverpool card and he duly produced one of the best promos that we may see this year. Intelligent moves by the UFC.
I don’t doubt that the UFC will be looking to capitalise on the hotbed that is Liverpudlian MMA at the moment. Rising stars in ex-Cage Warriors Featherweight Champion Paddy Pimblett and current Bantamweight and Lightweight champions Molly Mcann and Chris Fishgold, respectively. Though interestingly, Paddy Pimblett featured in an interview for The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani in which he seemed to rule himself out of UFC Liverpool, quoting a pre-booked holiday and that the night “is for Darren Till”. At present its not clear if this is a negotiation tactic or the truth. Nevertheless, for anyone that has seen a walkout during a Cage Warriors event for any of these local fighters you will understand why the UFC is clamouring to get there, and why the tickets for that night The Echo will not last long.
For the card itself, it has been reported that Till will be the main event at The Echo, and if you ask him, he wants the biggest fish in the pond. Names of Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, Rafael Dos Anjos and Jorge Masvidal on his lips. Fans have asked questions about Colby Covington, after his recent turn to heel and troubles in Brazil and what with Till being an adopted son of the country, they would like to see scores settled by one of their own. Neil Magny, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Gunnar Nelson have also been touted, the latter of the three Till has been in the circles of fighting recently, but bouts evading him.
Personally, I like the Masvidal, Ponzinibbio or the Neil Magny fight. Masvidal and Ponzinibbio fights offer plenty of room to show off his lethal striking, and the Magny fight will be a great test of his takedown defence, and whether he can keep up and overcome the high pace that Magny sets. Some fights have already been booked:
- Nasrat Haqparast vs Nad Narimani (moved from UFC Fight Night 127: London)
- Tom Breese vs Dan Kelly
- Elias Theodorou vs Trevor Smith
I would expect to see some of the Irish talent looking to get onto the UFC Dublin card feature here, and possibly Mike Grundy, Darren Till’s teammate featured in his emotional promo cut at UFC London.
As a final note I think its great to see that the UFC are clearly beginning to capitalise on local draws by putting fighters in their hometowns: Khabib in Brooklyn, Gaethje in Arizona, Nunes in Brazil, CM Punk in Chicago, and of course, Till in Liverpool.