It has been two years and a day since the UFC hosted a card outside of the continental United States or Abu Dhabi. It’s been 732 days since Charles Oliviera (32-8) put Kevin Lee (19-7) in a guillotine choke in his native Brazil in his steady march to UFC lightweight gold.
Mixed martial arts is a global game – a melting pot of disciplines from all corners of the world. On the feet, the fighters rely on many combinations of Dutch boxing, karate and kickboxing; in clinch, Muay Thai and sambo; and on the mat, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. And with global martial arts, there are fighters from a wide range of nations who represent a diverse range of styles.
Alongside your American fighters, Dagestan wrestlers and Brazilian submission wizards, stands an emerging market of Western European talent. Europe features some of the most beloved fighters in the game. Think McGregor, Gane, Till and Bisping, with a fervent fan base that puts up with drastic time differences to watch the UFC every Saturday.
With Monday March 14 marking the UFC’s two-year hiatus from most of the world, Wednesday marks exactly three since the promotion staged fights in London. On March 16, 2019, the UFC made their final promotional appearance at the O2 Arena in London. Former British martial arts face Darren Till (18-4-1) challenged rising welterweight Jorge Masvidal (35-16) in the main event. Till, fighting in his home country, was dealing with Masvidal in the hand – then Masvidal knocked him out.
For every hometown hero, there’s another fighter across the cage looking to play spoiler. This Saturday is likely to boast chapters of triumph and tribulation for one of the 11 fighters hailing from the British Isles. There are eight Britons, two Welsh fighters and a Scotsman all looking to feed off the raucous sounds of the O2 this weekend.
This card is really very good. The UFC really made a concerted effort to get as many British fighters in the cage this weekend. With some key absences like middleweight No. 8 Till and welterweight No. 3 Leon Edwards (19-3), the card features the best and most exciting talent under St. George’s Cross.
The event is led by two ranked heavyweights, Tom Aspinall (11-2) and Russia’s Alexander Volkov (34-9). Aspinall is a top prospect at 265 and faces his toughest challenge yet with No. 6 Volkov. Aspinall has four fights in the UFC, winning all four via first- or second-round finishes. Aspinall has a 100% finish rate on his 11 wins and will be looking to get Volkov out early. Volkov has a lot more experience in the Octagon and has competed at an extremely high level for most of his UFC career. He has experience in the final laps and could be looking to test Aspinall’s gas tank.
If Volkov gets his game right, he will provide a technical, albeit boring, victory over Aspinall, much to the chagrin of the London crowd. If Aspinall gets his game right, an early stoppage win over Volkov would ignite the O2 faithful. It will be a boom or bust main event on Saturday, and Aspinall will fight for his nation and his place in the top 10. It would be much more rational to side with “Drago”, but I believe in the legend of Tom Aspinall.
Charlie Prediction: Aspinall via R1 KO/TKO
Prediction of Peter: Aspinall via R3 KO/TKO
The co-main event is also going to be fun. Arnold Allen (17-1) welcomes New Zealand’s Dan Hooker (21-11) into the cage as the Kiwi returns to featherweight. Hooker is a well-established fixture in the lightweight division and has fought Makhachev, Poirier, Chandler and Felder. He started in the UFC at 145 and will strive to prove he can still compete in the lighter weight division. It has a slim frame which makes the power it throws all the more surprising. His path to victory will be to test Allen’s chin and see if “Almighty” is ready to stand and trade.
Allen, on the other hand, has been on a quiet climb to the top 10 since 2015. He has six decisive wins in eight UFC bouts and suffered just one loss, a decision from his time at Cage. Warriors in 2014. I think this fight is very similar to Volkov vs. Aspinall, but the opposite for the fans. Hooker’s best bet is to look for a finish. Allen is a methodical points fighter, who presents dangers on the ground. Hooker has to throw hard and find that chin to silence the crowd.
Allen will do the opposite. He will try to mix takedowns and technical strikes en route to a decision victory. This fight is largely difficult to predict for several reasons. First off, Hooker is an accomplished striker who keeps opponents at bay. He was tall and lanky at 155 pounds, so you can imagine the difference in height one weight class lower. He does drop down a weight class though, which can mean a resurgence in his career (see Jose Aldo), or it means the beginning of the end.
Ultimately, I think Hooker’s power won’t translate well at 145. I think Allen can stick around until Hooker wears out after a tough weight cut. Allen fights smart – if he can neutralize Hooker’s first-round flurry, the rest of the fight could be his. I could overlook Hooker’s ability to stay, he has multiple decision wins after all, I just see Allen being able to control the fight and the pace in the second and third rounds.
Charlie’s Prediction: Allen by Decision
Peter’s Prediction: Hooker by Decision
This card features many promising names for English MMA as well as some members of the old guard. In the end, this map will be a lot of fun. Tune in to Liverpool personalities Paddy Pimblett (17-3) and Molly McCann (11-4) for their post-fight interviews alone. The entire card will run on ESPN+ and begin at 1 p.m. EST.