Monday, August 15, 2022

5 Positives & 5 Negatives From UFC London

On Saturday night, the MMA leader brought us UFC London, live from The O2 arena in England’s capital.

The event marked the second UK-held card of 2022, with the success of the promotion’s visit in March spurring the UFC to make the trip across the pond again just four months later. Returning to the Octagon were five of the victors from the first UFC London iteration of the year, including fan-favorite Scousers Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann.

While those two promised to steal the show once more, the headline spot fell to rising heavyweight Tom Aspinall again, who faced the toughest opponent of his career to date in the form of longtime top-five contender Curtis Blaydes.

Given the success of the March 19 UK event, Saturday’s card certainly had a lot to live up to. So, did it come close to matching the carnage from earlier this year? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC London 2.0.

Negative – A Slow Start

Granted, I might be being extremely greedy here, but the drawback of the quick return to London is that Saturday’s card wasn’t just competing with entertainment of a weekly UFC Fight Night, but with the chaos of March’s UK event.

With that said, this card certainly got off to a slower start, both in terms of entertainment and performance level.

While the opener between Cláudio Silva and Nicolas Dalby had its moments and bursts, the excitement behind it was mostly driven by the violence-hungry crowd. In reality, nothing too impactful landed, barring a few elbows from the Danish welterweight.

Beyond that, it was mostly back and forth on the fence and the ground, with the Brazilian battling immense fatigue and Dalby trying to avoid being controlled. With neither man, including the victorious “Lokomotivo,” delivering an impressive display, the opener certainly didn’t come close to matching March’s, which saw Muhammad Mokaev debut with a first-round flying-knee knockdown and submission.

The second fight of the night followed suit, with women’s flyweights Victoria Leonardo and Mandy Böhm putting on a tentative display on the feet, which had some slow-moving grappling exchanges against the fence. The fact referee Dan Movahedi had to separate them more than once perhaps says it all about this fight.

I’m also bitter that my chance for a “Böhm goes boom” heading fell away…

Positive – Persistent Punisher

Muhammad Mokaev has ambitions of becoming the UFC’s youngest-ever champion. While he didn’t take a huge leap towards that at UFC London, he certainly took an important one.

On paper, the Dagestan-born Brit’s sophomore outing wasn’t as spectacular and noteworthy as his quick debut earlier this year. With a deeper look, though, it was a vital one for his development. How often do we see rising contenders ride fast finishes to the rankings, before falling away when dragged to deep waters?

With that in mind, 15-minute experience early in his Octagon tenure is a handy chink in Mokaev’s armor. And more than that, it wasn’t a closely fought affair. “The Punisher” was relentless with his takedown attempts, tallying 26 of them across three rounds.

Against Charles Johnson, who is an accomplished grappler in his own right, Mokaev turned his opponent’s usually entertaining style to 100% defense. To control and dominate a man like Johnson at the age of just 21 is certainly telling of Mokaev’s potential.

The continued rise of a young and undefeated prospect? That’s a positive.

Positive – “JSP” Opens The Finishing Proceedings

It took five fights, but Jonathan Pearce finally brought some violence to The O2 in his featherweight clash with Makwan Amirkhani, coming only 42 significant strikes away from surpassing the combined number for the previous four victors on the card.

The tone was set immediately when the American viciously cut Amirkhani open with some sharp elbows after the Finland native changed levels. “JSP” created a similarly brutal scene in the second round, utilizing some rough ground-and-pound from top position after taking Amirkhani’s back.

After failing to escape from the compromising position, referee Movahedi put an end to the night for “Mr. Finland,” who’d been thoroughly dominated four months on from his 57-second submission win over Mike Grundy in the same city.

Positive – Wood Returns In Style

Nathaniel Wood had been absent from the Octagon for nearly two years prior to Saturday night. With that in mind, seeing the cage door close behind the 28-year-old was a positive in itself.

Aside from a tight choke at the end of round two, it was one-way traffic throughout, in terms of result, not effort. While his leg was being chopped away in a display of kicking that would have had most fans grimacing from their sofas, Charles Rosa didn’t stop swinging. He also did what most call for fighters to do when two rounds down — brought out the wild, Hail Mary spinning sh*t.

But “The Prospect” was simply too sharp, piecing the American up in what was by far the most polished and impressive display of Wood’s seven-fight UFC career, and in his first outing at featherweight no less.

From the return to the home crowd to the performance, there was lots of positives in this one for Wood. But most of all, he was back in the cage with a smile on his face — the best outcome possible.

Negative – Silent Victors

We all love good pacing over 45-minute waits between fights (cough*PFL*cough), but the likes of Mokaev and Wood notching impressive victories in front of their home crowd and yet not having the chance to soak in the moment by addressing the fans? Not a fan.

Mokaev has proven to be an entertaining figure on the mic and given his place as a highly touted prospect who’s targeting a fast rise up the flyweight ladder, the opportunity to further his stock and even call out a next opponent would have been big.

Similarly, Wood returned from a lengthy layoff that had been full of ups and downs with a memorable display in front of an adoring set of London fans, only to have to quickly exit. Sure, he got his time on the cage wall and had the chance to drink in the atmosphere, but it was a shame not to hear from him.

Nathaniel Wood
Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Positive – She’s Only Gone & Done It Again

She may be Liverpudlian, but London is well and truly Molly McCann’s city.

In a true case of déjà vu, “Meatball” brought out what is quickly becoming her infamous spinning back elbow. While this time, it wasn’t a one-and-done shot, her finish of Hannah Goldy didn’t fall far short of her knockout of Luana Carolina when it comes to brutality.

After the elbow did the initial damage, McCann sent “24K” face-first to the canvas with a flurry of punches against the cage, as well as on the American’s way down. Despite Goldy staring at the canvas. The London crowd had waited patiently for the best part of four hours for the first big fan-favorite moment of the night. Who can they always rely on for that? “Meatball” Molly.

And what better way to crown the victory than with a “f*ck the Tories” chant?

A side note how good is it to see a great fighter and all-round great person like McCann getting the recognition she deserves? And in front of her home fans no less.

The Liverpool native is right where she ought to be: featured spots on UFC cards and drinking shots with stars like Michael Chandler and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.

Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Michael Chandler, Molly McCann
Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Negative – A Legend Falls Once More

First off, if this was against any other opponent, Nikita Krylov’s performance at UFC London would have gone down as a positive, because it was essentially perfect. But the fact that it saw a true legend of the sport suffer another defeat, especially one that left him out cold, made it a tough watch.

On Saturday, Alexander Gustafasson saw his opponent having his hand raised for the fourth consecutive time. And on this occasion, it was by way of a brutal knockout. It looked bleak in the opening seconds, with the Swede dropped immediately by a left hand.

After a desperate attempt to recover, another hard left, this time in the clinch, folded Gustafsson before a few follow-up shots made it a quick and unsuccessful night for the three-time title challenger.

After a long layoff and a return to his old stomping ground, this was no doubt a devastating result for “The Mauler.” We often say how preferable it is for fighters to go out on top rather than on the back of a long skid. With that said, and given the manner of his latest loss, it’s probably time for Gustafsson to exit the sport within which he’ll always be fondly remembered.

Positive – Teabag Trumps Twerking

There was to be no twerking in London on Saturday night, aside from the pubs and bars around The O2 after I imagine.

What we did see, though, was the promised Modern Warfare 2-esque “teabag,” and credit to Jordan Leavitt, not only for his speed in avoiding Pimblett’s incoming backside, but for taking it like a good sport afterwards — something the pair’s buildup certainly leant itself to.

In the first round, “The Monkey God” did as he’d predicted and imposed his wrestling offense. But after going shot-for-shot with Leavitt in the grappling exchanges, attacking his opponent’s neck on more than one occasion, and unloading some ground-and-pound at the end, I struggle to see how anyone (with knowledge of the criteria) could score it for the American.

But whichever way people swayed in the opening round, it ultimately didn’t matter, with “The Baddy” bringing things to a close in the second. After attacking a D’Arce choke, Pimblett met Leavitt’s attempts to dip with a brutal knee. That kind of offense is a bit of rarity when it comes to a fighter chasing a submission, so credit to Pimblett for having the wherewithal to offload it.

From there, Pimblett took Leavitt’s back, trapping his arm in the process, and locked in a tight rear-naked choke for the tap. To finish an elite grappler like Leavitt, who’d never been finished before — even against submission pro Claudio Puelles — was no doubt impressive.

Pimblett & McCann’s UFC London takeover = complete.

While fellow Scouser McCann delivered a fantastic message through the medium of crowd chant, Pimblett also used his mic time for an important cause, bringing light to men’s mental health following the tragic passing of one of his friends.

The post-fight aesthetic of the crowd singing along to “You’ll never walk alone” was certainly fitting in that regard.

Negative – Come On, Curtis

After being comfortably beaten by Jack Hermansson, Chris Curtis put on what was a bitter and less than gracious display in defeat.

To the surprise of most, Hermansson, well-known to be an elite grappler, chose to stand with powerful striker Curtis, and ended up outpointing him across three rounds. In his frustration, “Action Man” appeared to criticize the Norwegian-born Swede for “running.”

If only the fight happened inside of a cage… oh wait.

I assume I’m not alone in this, but something really frustrates me about that reaction. “The Joker” chose to remain in Curtis’ wheelhouse and beat him there with his movement. For the man who failed to impose his striking or attempt to cut off the constantly circling Hermansson to parade out the cage flipping the bird… come on Chris. You’re better than that, I hope.

Hermansson, by his own admission, said something distasteful after the fight’s conclusion. However, not only did that come after Curtis’ hand gesture, but he also apologized for it in his post-fight interview and presser appearance. Curtis would do well to look at his opponent’s conduct — he might learn something.

To be given a co-main event opportunity and react like that post-defeat while being escorted to the back by his team like a petulant child isn’t a good look. And to double down on it with a tweet after it? Embarrassing, quite frankly.

Negative – Another Horrible Ending

For back-to-back main events to end in an injury is about as unfortunate as it could get, not least for Tom Aspinall, whose rise towards the title has been stalled by something completely out of his control.

The UFC London main event lasted just 15 seconds. After throwing a hard leg kick that appeared to land on the knee of Curtis Blaydes, Aspinall fell to the floor in agony following what looked to be an awkward landing. For a tough heavyweight like Aspinall to be left screaming in pain just shows the excruciating nature of whatever had happened.

Per Michael Bisping on the broadcast, the doctor believed that the Manchester native likely tore his MCL. For Aspinall, the fans, and the victorious Blaydes, who clearly didn’t want to win that way, the ending to the headliner was a firm and gutting negative. Also, it was slightly classless for the UFC to stick a camera in Aspinall’s face while he was clearly in some distress.

Overall, while Pimblett and McCann brought us two memorable moments, the card was somewhat lacking, and ended in the worst way possible.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC London?

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