The UFC rolled into the London on 17th March, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the promotions visits to England. Amid initial vocal displeasure from fans due to the name quality of fights announced, and a lack of polarizing fights for divisions on the whole, media members and analysts were more optimistic. To add to the fans upset, and understandably so, the card was left without a main event for a long time despite efforts from SBG Ireland headcoach John Kavanagh almost seemingly orchestrating a heroic salvation when he seemed to have bartered an agreement on social media between fellow Mjolnir/SBG Ireland fighter Gunnar Nelson and Liverpool’s Darren Till, but for various reasons this didnt materialise. Instead, London Fabricio Werdum was brought into the fray late on, much like his move at UFC 216 to fight the rising heavyweight in Alexander Volkov.
Another topic of discussion for UFC London was UK MMA standout: Micheal Bisping. Having recently vocalised his thoughts on his career coming to an end and talking about a retirement bout “having to be in the UK”, many fans wanted to see The Count headline this card. Names like Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and Rashad Evans being touted as potential opponents. Whilst we didnt see Bisping grace the Octagon, we did see him announce the UFC Gym venture onto the British Isles, promising 100 gyms to open over the next 10 years, showcasing and training MMA to all comers and levels. Personally i think the best take on this was from Andrew McGahon of The Mac Life who rightly argues that its unlikely that many well established UK MMA coaches will leave their own gyms in favour of a move into one of the UFC Gyms and this leaves the promotion at risk of not only harming their product with a venture not hitting the intended mark, and a potential to dilute the product. But worse still, promoting and teaching a poor standard of martial arts to other people.
Of course, the fight cancellation merry-go-round had another turn in London with the usual round of cancelled bouts occuring during the weigh-ins. The most notable being Brad Scott vs Jack Marshman. Both men were dropping to 170lbs from 185lbs to face off – Jack Marshman unfortunately struggling with his weight cut and the UFC pulling him from his bout, Brad Scott on the other hand did weigh in successfully for the bout, and whilst UFC did not find him another opponent, he also quickly learnt he was not going to be paid. This has now been partially cleared up with Scott being paid a portion of his purse, but this does show a glaring hole in the contract negotiations with the UFC for bouts. Personally i would like to see the UFC make this a standard practice in order to protect fighters should this type of thing happen. We also saw the Haqparast vs Narimani fight, which was moved to UFC Liverpool due to an eye injury to Haqparast.
Onto fight night and the card itself, which in reality, was a very good one. UK fighters stood up on their home soil and turned in some wonderful performances, stand outs in Danny Henry, Hot Chocolate Roberts, Jimi Manuwa and the buzzer beaters of the night, Paul Craig and Leon Edwards. The atmosphere inside the 02 Arena was at its usual level of raucous, plenty of people turned out and watched a good majority of the fights with Manuwa vs Blachowicz getting a well deserved reception and Werdum getting a great pop during his walkout. A point made by Sean Sheehan of Severe MMA I think is a prevalent one; though the UK fans always turn up, and the UK fighters certainly hold up their side of the bargain, complaints about the lack of big names is not going to change if this attitude continues. Numbers are what drives the new WME/IMG machine that is the UFC and if they are able to provide cards of this calibre (again, on paper) and the UK fans will still come out in droves to watch live, then they will do that. This is a business at the end of the day.
As a final note before I dive into the recaps of the fights themselves, I wanted to give a special mention to Dan Hardy, whom in my opinion is the best, if not one of the best analysts that the UFC has on their roster at the moment, alongside the likes of Dominick Cruz (who I also think is fantastic), Hardy just has such a raw and unadulterated passion for this sport, and that shows in abundance when he combines excellently well with his hours of pre-show work, and depth of technical, practical knowledge from his own past and current martial arts career. An absolute fundamental piece of the future success of the UFC broadcast product.
The Main Event – Werdum vs Volkov:
The main event saw Fabricio Werdum, a veteran and ex champion in the Heavyweight division take on the new face in the UFC in Alexander Volkov, whilst being a new face in the UFC, Volkov certainly is not a new face to MMA, having racked up a record of 30-6 in his career.
The fight in practice was a little strange, Fabricio came out in the first round and looked to shoot early for takedowns, which he completed, and stayed in the guard of Volkov for much of the first round without taking or dishing out much damage to the Russian. The second round was similar, i noticed that Volkov seemed to be a little perplexed, and maybe this was the occasion and seeing a man that he had grown up watching standing infront of him conquered him early in those two rounds. Werdum however, got the takedowns again and threatened with a moment of brilliance, he tried twice to hit a deep half guard back take, and succeeded with the third attempt, using supreme technique to take the back, but then he seemed to rush to the kimura grip and armbar attempt that Volkov was wise too, and he came on top. This was the beginning of the end.
Round three came, Volkov upped the striking and Werdum looked to have gassed. He had taken the fight on relatively short notice and i think sensed late in the second that the deep half back take to armbar was his chance to win, and post that almost submitted to the fact Volkov was going to take over. Volkov clearly took the third with lots of clean striking, and then wrapped it up in the fourth with a TKO due to culmination and volume of strikes.
All in all, i think this was a passing of the guard to the newer, fresher faces at HW. Volkov isnt a huge hitter, but at 6ft 7, with ability to use dynamic and combination based striking, he can wear plenty of strikers down by using that and working in his own massive range. Takedown defence can be worked on, but he looked good in his ground game defence, to stave off any Werdum attacks.
HW looks to be on the re-build, with named like Ngannou, Tai Tuivasa, Curtis Blaydes, Volkov and the idea of Lesnar coming back. I can see Volkov, now ranked #3 getting one more before going onto the winner of Stipe/DC, maybe on a PPV card later in the year. But dont be surprised if they make that fight to capitalise on the momentum early.
Jimi Manuwa vs Jan Blachowicz:
War. That is the only way that i can describe this one. Hark back to Manuwa vs Blachowicz 1 in Poland, on the co-main event of Gonzaga vs Cro-Cop was a UD win for Manuwa and not the most exciting fight to watch. We went to the polar opposite in this fight. Round 1 began and after a brief feeling out process they started to land, and land well. Blachowicz utilised his jab so well throughout the whole fight, and it was the jab that setup the combination that stunned and dropped Jimi in the first. Jimi battled his way through it, showing the London crowd his heart and toughness, coming back into the round and landing his own strikes.
As always with Manuwa he is looking for his motto shot of “One shot, One kill” and he very nearly landed it with a big headkick in the second. Jan took his turn to show his toughness and ride it out, getting back on the bike and using his jab to setup either his takedowns or his favoured combination of the 1,2 followed by an uppercut, right hook.
Round 3 I came round and Jan was decisive in his sticking to the gameplan, continuing the good work that he had put in during the previous two rounds and landed a few more takedowns for good measure. The tale of the fight really was Jan utilising his jab, volume striking, shutting down Jimi looking for the single shot counter. A better gameplan and better fight IQ on the night secured the win for Jan and i would be more than happy to see the rubber match. Jan has called out Shogun Rua, who is now matched with Volkov so maybe do those fights around the same time, and you can match Jimi with the Volkan rematch and Shogun with Jan should the results fall kindly.
Tom Duquesnoy vs Terrion Ware:
This was certainly a fan favourite before the match up, and it didnt let anyone down. Both guys wanted to exchange in the pocket, and show off their dynamic striking abilities. We saw vintage Duquesnoy in the first round, starting off with really heavy leg kicks, that to his credit, Terrion wore very well. Lots of movement and dynamic striking saw Tom Duqeusnoy saw him take R1 convincingly.
R2 we saw some improvements in Tom’s takedown defence, stuffing some shots from Ware and when he was taken down, working quickly back to his feet. Though the old demons of old came to haunt Duquesnoy when we saw him start to slow down, and Terrion Ware start to come into the fight more and more as R2 and into R3 who made it a close R2, landing plenty of his own strikes.
R3 for me was Terrion Wares round, he showed his grit and determination after taking alot of strikes in the two earlier rounds, he came into his own in the final 5 minutes. Tom looked considerably more tired than in R1 and R2 and was moving more defensively than to setup heavier strikes. Overall, I think the right call was made by giving it to Duquesnoy 29-28, but i think the UFC put him in there to maybe put Terrion away and to get a highlight to add to his reel, but that wasnt the case. He is very young, and working in Albuquerque at Team JacksonWink will do him wonders, but he needs to start kicking on now, and rounding out the holes in his game.
For Ware, i dont think this should be the end, hes had three tough fights and should be given another chance in my mind.
Leon Edwards vs Peter Sobotta:
The start of the first round saw both fighters feeling each other out, before Leon landed a big left hand and dropped Sobotta, maybe a little hastily Edwards rushed in to finish the feet and ran into an armbar attempt from Sobotta but nothing was doing and Edwards escaped, staying in guard for the majority of the round.
From then on I think Rocky wanted to prove that he could hang on the ground with someone who is so well known for their ground game, taking Peter to the ground and working from full to half guard landing dominant ground and pound.
The final round saw Peter cut with an elbow over his left eye, Leon moved Peter to turtle position and started to land a furious plethora of strikes, Sobotta who had begun to wilt under the earlier pressure of the round, and the cut obviously affecting him, stopped to defend intelligently in the eyes of the referee who stopped the bout at another buzzer beater of 4:59 in R3.
Leon then jumps on the mic and delivers a perfect one line callout of Darren Till, expressing that it should be England vs England, Birmingham vs Liverpool at UFC Liverpool, to which Till just smiled and shook his head. If that fight doesnt go ahead, i want to see Rocky get someone in the top 15, his time is now.
John Phillips vs Charles Byrd
This fight was over by the time that it had started really. Phillips wanted to land heavy hands from the offset, and Byrd stepped in landing a power double leg takedown, forcing Phillips to the fence. From there he progressed to move through Phillips’ guard landing some heavy ground and pound at points before locking up the rear naked choke to get the tap.
I am pleased to see Phillips make his UFC debut and there is no doubt that he will add more levels to his game under John Kavanagh at SBG, and be back much stronger. For Byrd, that was a very good game plan executed to perfection, and he moves on to bigger things.
Danny Roberts vs Oliver Enkamp:
Roberts vs Enkamp continued the electrifying pace that had been set by the earlier prelims. Roberts coming into this fight coming off his second loss in the UFC at the hands of Nordine Taleb. Enkamp however had been vocal about wanting to fill out his frame, adding lean muscle this camp and focussing on his strength and conditioning to add to his Karate black belt. This is probably a good strategy given his short notice call-up in Stockholm saw him drop a UD loss, also to Nordine Taleb.
Unfortunately it looked to be similar here for Enkamp, whilst he started pressuring with his flashy style of front and back leg kicks. Roberts seemed to dwarf him in body style, Roberts counter striking also looked very good, some excellent slips and counter boxing set up the monster left hand that crippled Enkamp in the first.
Danny Roberts, fresh from his fight and taking little to no damage, should be high on the UFC’s list to get on the UFC Liverpool card upcoming in May.
For Enkamp, I think he is on the right track with adding size to his frame, maybe he can take some real time out and do just that, or change his style a little to branch out his fundamentals which will allow him to land his flashy, highlight reel kicks.
Danny Henry vs Hakeem Dawodu:
Another Scottish talent walked to the cage in Danny Henry, after having a grueling, though successful debut against Daniel Teymur, brother of 155lbs prospect David. His opponent, Hakeem Dawodu, another debutant on this card walked to the octagon with a lot of hype on his shoulders, a 7 fight veteran in WSOF and having recently moved to SBG Dublin and a name high on many peoples prospect lists looked to follow in Henry’s footsteps and earn himself a successful debut win.
It was not to be for Dawodu though, as Henry caught him very early with a bomb of a right hand, dropping him hard. Henry then dived onto his opponent, with clinical killer instinct, and begun to wrap a guillotine. Dawodu valiantly attempted to escape, rolling three times whilst Henry tightened and cranked it with every revolution. Eventually Henry finished the choke half standing, with Dawodu falling unconscious. A great performance by Henry, who with his massive frame for the weight class, is certainly one to watch.
Paul Craig vs Magomed Ankalaev:
This fight was the spark that lit the flame for the rest of the undercard for me. Paul Craig came into this fight wanting to prove that his last outing was not the ceiling of his performances in the UFC, and following the debuts of Russian talent, Magomed Ankalaev rolled into this bout with considerable hype behind him, notably being touted and awarded in Russia by The Last Emperor himself, Fedor Emelianenko
The tale of the fight was a very dominant performance from Ankalaev, backing up the hype he came to the fight with – seemingly cruising to a 30-27 win over the tough Scot who had been dropped in R1 and then taken down in the two following rounds. Craig found himself pushed up against the fence when the 10 second clapper sounded, throwing caution to the wind Craig throws up a triangle, and squeezes with everything he has, getting the tap from Ankalaev with SIX TENTHS OF A SECOND TO GO. Incredible scenes as Paul Craig breaks the record for the latest finish in a 3 round fight in the UFC.
A true showing of never say die attitude, and that in MMA, you are never safe from any of the elements. What makes it even crazier for me, is that after the fight we find out that it was Paul Craigs last fight on his contract, to which he has been awareded with another one. Ankalaev will learn from this, being his first loss and i still expect big things from him in the UFC.
Stevie Ray vs Kajan Johnson:
Stevie Ray, a staple of UK MMA shows and ex Cage Warriors champion was back in the UFC on a short notice step up after a controversial period of failed contract negotiations, a change of management and then an eventual re-signing to the promotion on a 4-fight deal. His opponent Kajan Johnson, who was first chalked to fight Rustam Khabilov (backed out due to injury) has also been in the headlines due to his Project Spearhead work.
The fight was a very enjoyable one, and a difficult fight to score and judge. A good showing of MMA from both fighters, lots of pressure from Ray, met by a countering style of Johnson.
Lots of people have taken umbrage with the post fight speech by Johnson who was upset with the London crowd for taking the SD win, he mentioned that all fighters were warriors and should be respected as such and i agree. Whether this is a subtle ploy to the unionisation efforts he is involved with or not, i think that any two fighters that step into a cage for our entertainment and produce a good fight should be respected, regardless of the outcome.
Mark Godbeer vs Dmitry Sosnocskiy:
The opening bout of the night was between Godbeer and Russian debutant Dmitry Sosnocskiy. Mark Godbeer started well, having success in round one and defended the takedown attempts well, his opponent looking severely tired as the bell rang.
The second round though was a different story, Sosnocskiy caught his second wind, got the fight to the ground and got the finish at 4:29 via rear naked choke.