The announcement of a UFC title fight for the UFC on Fuel TV 7 event on February 16th 2013 at Wembley Arena has galvanised a typically shy on name-quality European card and reassured UK MMA fans that the UFC have not forgotten about them.
With previous fan animosity built towards recent UK UFC cards, the feeling prior to last week's fight announcements was pessimistic to say the least. Although we expect and appreciate that the event would be padded with top UK talent, the knowledge that the three most recognisable names in UK MMA (Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy and Brad Pickett) would not be appearing due to alternative fight commitments, or admissions on Twitter in Hardy’s case, left UK fans fearing the worst in terms of card quality.
From the beginning of the Zuffa-era of the UFC (2001 – present) up until June 2009, the UFC held nearly 100 events, all of which were predominantly based in the United States. In this period the UFC actively targeted the UK as their primary international market. In this eight year timespan, the UFC took their product across the pond nine times and in this duration the only other country given access to a UFC event was Canada, with events being staged there twice. From June 2009 up until the present day, the UFC have rapidly expanded their international market visiting seven nations that the UFC had never previously ventured. Whilst the UFC continued to visit the UK during this time, the number of events inevitably diminished and due to the promotion aiming to make a good impression in conquering new territories, the quality on the UK cards were not in line with what the UK fans had come to expect.
From events being headlined by Rampage Jackson v Dan Henderson in a fight to determine which combatant would unify the UFC and Pride Light-Heavyweight belts (UFC 75) to Stefan Struve v Stipe Miocic in a battle to stay relevant in the Heavyweight division (UFC on Fuel TV 5), UK MMA fans were beginning to feel that they had been abandoned by the UFC as they pursued further exploration of the United States, Canada and the burgeoning Brazilian market.
However the arrival of a title fight on a UK UFC card (the first time since BJ Penn defended his UFC Lightweight strap against Joe Stevenson at UFC 80) has reignited the fire and enthusiasm from the UK fans towards the upcoming Wembley Arena held event. Renan Barao v Michael MacDonald for the UFC Interim Bantamweight title promises to be an explosive and highly significant fight for the 135lb division, especially in light of Undisputed UFC Bantamweight Champ Dominick Cruz’s injury setback. This bout, teamed with rumours of a potential matchup including either Carlos Condit or Josh Koscheck and the already heavy UK presence in the form of Che Mills, Paul Sass and Terry Etim, appears to signal a return to the vintage years of UK UFC card quality that the fans have been craving.