The British Invasion is Well Under Way. For a small country, the UK punches way above its weight on the sporting front. Not only is it hampered by its relatively small population, but that population is split over a vast range of different sports.
Football is the national sport, but there is also rugby, cricket and boxing to name just three others where England, at least, can count itself among the world’s elite. It looks like we could soon add MMA, and specifically the UFC, to that list.
It’s gaining popularity in terms of viewers, and is already one of the most popular markets on OddsChecker, but crucially, British fighters are starting to make their mark in the octagon. That was demonstrated clearly at the recent UFC Fight Night held at London’s O2 Arena.
Michael Bisping and Earlier…
Britain has always had fighters on the UFC roster, but it was not until Hall of Famer Michael Bisping pulled off one of the greatest shocks in the sport’s history that it got its hands on a UFC belt.
Stepping in on just 17 days notice, Bisping knocked out Luke Rockhold in the first round to win the Middleweight belt. Bisping had a sterling career in the UFC, winning The Ultimate Fighter series three, and getting his hand raised 20 times in the Octagon, so it was only fitting that he was able to end his career as a champion.
Prior to Bisping there was Dan Hardy, who took GSP the distance. Also worth noting are Brad Pickett and Ross Pearson, both very talented fighters and staples of the organization, but never really knocking on the door of the higher echelons of their divisions.
Then the next generation stepped up. Jimi Manuwa looked like he could be heading to the top, boasting a 14-fight winning streak before tasting defeat for the first time. Unfortunately for the “Poster Boy”, he lost the title eliminator against Volkan Oezdemir and his career went downhill from there.
The UK has Always Favored Boxing over MMA, but that Tide is now Turning…
This event may not have been the moment when the next generation of British fighters was definitively discovered, but it did serve as a showcase for the rising caliber of the UK scene.
There had been a feeling for a long time that there was a crop of fighters, heralded by Darren Till, who were special, and that night at the O2 showed that it was very much the case.
Jack Shore, the Welsh BJJ blackbelt and former Cage Warriors Bantamweight champion is currently undefeated after 16 fights. Paul Craig seems to have been around forever, but is only 34 and is putting together a body of work that is making him impossible to ignore.
His “Performance of the Night” award for defeating Nikita Krylov via triangle choke, when it looked like he was in danger himself, should put the fighter in line for a big-name opponent that will catapult him into the rankings.
In the main card, Molly McCann became the first British female fighter to feature on a main card. Her spectacular spinning elbow knockout of Luana Carolina gave her a “Performance of the Night award” too, as well as back-to-back wins in the promotion.
Up and Comers: Pimblett, Allen and Aspinall
The most noise going into the evening was reserved for fighters in the main, the co-main and probably the most of all, for the third from last fight. Paddy Pimblett is hard to ignore, and while there is little doubt the lightweight can talk a good game they don’t give belts out for that alone.
Instead he needs to let his actions speak louder in the octagon. Both his UFC fights have ended in the first round, and both times have seen the Liverpudlian clipped. At the O2 he was on his back with a motivated Vargas all over him. He has a long way to go, but there are far too many similarities to Conor McGregor’s meteoric rise to ignore.
Attitude Adjusted: Arnold Allen
On the other end of the spectrum when it comes to character and attitude, is Arnold Allen. Going into his fight against the well-schooled, well-rounded Dan Hooker, Allen was 17-1. He was seen as undoubtedly skilled, but there were question marks around both his ability to cope against the top-level fighters, and his ability to finish fights. These concerns are due to the fact his previous four fights all came by way of decisions.
Yet in affront to his critics, his brutal demolition of Hooker which led to a first round stop not only earned Allen a “Performance of the Night” award, but also the number six-ranking next to his name. The featherweight division is stacked with talent, but Allen proved without a shadow of a doubt that he can pose a problem for anyone.
Tom Aspinall: The Consummate All-Rounder
The main event saw Tom Aspinall step up in class when he took on former heavyweight title contender, Alexander Volkov. Aspinall seemed born for the UFC and has looked every bit as good as the hype from the moment he stepped into the octagon. Though he repeatedly said he wanted to take it slow in terms of his progression up the rankings, his performances have made that impossible.
He is the consummate, all-round fighter. A heavyweight who moves and thinks like a middleweight with lightning-quick hands that possess devastating power. Also, unlike many heavyweights skilled on their feet, Aspinall also has a superb ground game.
Aspinall’s Near-Perfect Performance vs Alexander Volkov
His first-round defeat of Volkov where he took him apart on the feet, then submitted him on the ground, was a near-perfect performance. It is highly likely Aspinall will get a title shot this year, and few would bet against him in that scenario.
A mark of the depth of British talent is that we are yet to mention Leon Edwards, who is likely to get his tilt at the welterweight belt before too long. There are of course many more, running on the heels of these fighters mentioned above. As momentum for the martial arts grows, the number of MMA fighters coming out of the UK will only increase, and as in boxing, they have every chance of becoming a major force in the sport in the near future.