The UFC’s first event in London in over three years took place on Saturday and the fight card was a hit. According to the UFC, 17,081 fans were on hand at the 02 Arena to watch nine fighters earn finishes during the 12 fights that took place.
And some of those finishes were of the jaw-dropping variety. Muhammad Mokaev took under a minute to earn a victory in his UFC debut. Paul Craig took some damage on his way to another submission victory. Makwan Amirkhani ended a three-fight losing skid in memorable fashion. Ilia Topuria came back from almost getting knocked out to earn his own knockout. Molly McCann scored just the fourth spinning back elbow knockout in UFC history. Paddy Pimblett kicked his hype level up another notch with a submission win. Arnold Allen might have punched his ticket to a top-five opponent with a TKO over Dan Hooker, and in the main event, Tom Aspinall proved he’s moved past the idea of a slow rise in the heavyweight division.
In short, UFC London was a very memorable event for the promotion. So much so that UFC president Dana White was talking about plans to head back to England for a second fight card in 2022.
Read on for the winners and losers of UFC London, which took place at 02 Arena and streamed in its entirety on ESPN+.
Tom Aspinall: Tom Aspinall said he wanted a slow and steady climb up the UFC heavyweight rankings. Hearing that, the UFC booked him in the main event of UFC London against Alexander Volkov, who was ranked No. 6 in the official UFC heavyweight rankings ahead of this bout, Aspinall was (key word - was) No. 11.
Aspinall answered the UFC’s challenge by running through Volkov. The soon-to-be 29-year-old looked exceptional in getting the win. His striking was effective, his ability to put Vokov on the mat and open him up with ground strikes was impressive and the submission technique that ended the fight was outstanding.
Aspinall carries his size well. His movement and athleticism are a step ahead of most of the division and his strikes landed per minute rate is among the highest in the history of the UFC’s heavyweight division. That Saturday was just his fifth bout inside the UFC octagon is mind-boggling.
Arnold Allen: Twenty-eight-year-old Arnold Allen got the biggest win of his career at UFC London when he stopped Dan Hooker in the first round. The win was Allen’s ninth straight win in the UFC and first knockout victory with the promotion. As far as statement fights go, Allen had his on Saturday.
Allen deserves a top-five opponent in his next outing. His call out of Calvin Kattar would put him in that mix and that fight would not be a bad one to headline a UFC Fight Night card.
Paddy Pimblett: The Paddy Pimblett show is entertaining. He is full of charisma and confidence; he has an exceptional ground game and a massive amount of fan support. The downside — and one the UFC is surely aware of — is that Pimblett’s striking defense is lacking. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the UFC handles Pimblett. From all appearances, he could be a money printing machine for the UFC in the UK market, but a bad matchup could ruin that in one fell swoop.
Gunnar Nelson: Saturday marked Gunnar Nelson’s first fight since a September 2019 decision loss to Gilbert Burns. Nelson made things look easy in his return fight, beating Takashi Sato with his grappling and ground strikes. This win was an important one for the 33-year-old. It showed he has recovered from the injuries that kept him from the cage and that he remains a capable fighter in the welterweight division.
Nelson needs to get back into the octagon as fast as he can and capitalize on his victory at UFC London.
Molly McCann: Molly McCann might not be the most skilled fighter in the flyweight division, but she has an overabundance of toughness, heart, tenacity and, as it turns out, power. McCann scored a frightening spinning back elbow knockout in the third round of her bout against Luana Carolina. The stoppage was McCann’s first knockout win in the UFC and first KO since 2018 when she captured the Cage Warriors Flyweight title. This knockout was an incredible finish from the exuberant McCann.
Ilia Topuria: Ilia Topuria remained undefeated with a massive knockout win over Jai Herbert at UFC London. There were some scary moments in the first round for Topuria, who ate a hellacious head kick in the early going, but he recovered and came back in the second round to finish the fight with a body to head combination that left Herbert unconscious before he hit the mat. Topuria’s performance on Saturday was one of the more memorable comebacks in recent memory because he was all but done after that head kick. I believe the only thing that saved him was Herbert hesitating and not going for a follow up blow after he dropped Topuria.
Makwan Amirkhani: Makwan Amirkhani ended a three-fight losing skid in a big way on Saturday with a first-round submission win over Mike Grundy.
Amirkhani is a talented fighter, but he has been hit or miss throughout his UFC career. In his post-fight interview, he said he has matured and changed his focus as of late. His win at UFC London was a big step in the right direction for the 33-year-old.
Mike Grundy: Things did not go Mike Grundy’s way at UFC London, but that he was able to fight in London and have his terminally ill father in attendance for the event deserves notice and recognition.
Sergei Pavlovich: Sergei Pavlovich won his first two UFC fights via first-round knockout. Injuries and visa issues kept him from fighting since October 2019. Pavlovich made his return to action at UFC London and he got right back to doing what he does best, scoring a first-round knockout win over Shamil Abdurakhimov.
If the 29-year-old can stay active — he has never fought in North America — Pavlovich could be a fighter to watch in the heavyweight division.
Paul Craig: Paul Craig moved his UFC unbeaten streak to six straight with a submission win over Nikita Krylov at UFC London. With the submission victory, Craig has four consecutive stoppage victories in a row. Craig has gone the distance once in his career — a 2019 split draw with Mauricio Rua.
Craig doesn’t win every fight, but he’s one of those fighters who you can believe when he says he always goes for the finish. Craig is a rare breed.
Jack Shore: I was critical of Shore’s performance in his last fight. He was a monster favorite in that bout, but he didn’t show out during the bout and that left me disappointed. That was not the case on Saturday. Shore impressed against Timur Valiev at UFC London. The odds were much closer in this contest and Shore fought up to the level of his opponent and put on a superb performance in getting the win. Shore is now 16-0 as a pro and he looks like he might be ready for a ranked opponent. The matchmakers need to give Shore a test.
Timur Valiev: Timur Valiev lost to Jack Shore, but he gets props for the effort he put in at UFC London. Valiev showed no quit, incredible recovery and the ability to stay in a fight, even when he was badly hurt.
Elise Reed: Elise Reed had a rough UFC debut. She was matched up against Sijara Eubanks at flyweight in that contest. Reed lost the fight via TKO. The former Cage Fury strawweight champ moved back to 115 pounds for her second UFC outing and she looked good in getting a split-decision win over Cory McKenna at UFC London. Reed displayed powerful striking — especially her right hand. For a fighter with just six pro fights to her name, Reed looked good on Saturday.
The 21-year-old has extensive experience in MMA in the amateur ranks and he has built a solid following over the past few years. That experience makes Mokaev an incredibly confident fighter. That self-assurance showed through before, during and after Mokaev’s fight on Saturday.
Don’t be surprised to see Mokaev ask for a big step up in competition in his next fight.
John Gooden: The UFC needs to utilize John Gooden much more than it currently does. Gooden is a consummate professional at the commentary table and what makes him more valuable than most who work on the call for UFC fights is that he knows, understands and explains (correctly) the scoring criteria during the events. That fact alone puts Gooden head and shoulders above every other UFC commentator.
Dan Hooker: Arnold Allen overwhelmed Dan Hooker in Hooker’s first fight at 145 pounds in over five years. Hooker showed a lot of heart, as always, but outside of one strike that put Allen on his heels, Hooker couldn’t get any momentum going.
Hooker is an incredibly tough fighter and always gives his all. With this loss, his road to the top of the featherweight division became very, very hard. Hooker might be better served to head back to lightweight.
Takashi Sato: Takashi Sato laid back too much on the feet against Gunnar Nelson. He attempted just 23 significant strikes during the welterweight fight and that inactivity gave Nelson the time and space he needed to implement his grappling game and dominate the fight.
Luana Carolina: Luana Carolina had a seven-inch reach advantage over Molly McCann, but she did nothing with that physical edge. She allowed McCann to overwhelm her on her feet. That’s a gap Carolina needs to close.
Jai Herbert: Jai Herbert almost pulled off a huge upset in the first round when he landed a massive head kick that dropped Ilia Topuria. However, Herbert failed to follow up and his hesitation was just enough to allow Topuria to regain his senses and work a takedown. Topuria then finished the fight in the second round via strikes. Herbert is going to regret that moment of uncertainty.
Cory McKenna: Cory McKenna lost to Elise Reed on Saturday. The fight should serve as a learning experience for McKenna, who focused too much on her striking in the first two rounds and not enough on her grappling. McKenna did fairly well when she got the fight to the mat, but she waited too long to do that in the first two rounds. The good thing for McKenna is that she is till very young at 22 and has a lot of time to learn and improve.
Cody Durden: Cody Durden ruined what was a solid win and performance in his last outing by blurting out a racist trope in his post-fight interview. A win over the highly hyped Muhammad Mokaev could have made some forget that moment. Instead, Mokaev ran through Durden and reminded everyone of Durden’s comment by telling him to, “Go to U.S. embassy, they will take you back to America,” during his post-fight interview with UFC commentator, Michael Bisping.
Paul Felder: During the walkouts for the Ilia Topuria vs. Jai Herbert fight, UFC commentator Paul Felder said, with some derision in his voice, “this (lightweight) isn’t his weight class.” What Felder’s comment ignored is the fact that Topuria was reportedly hospitalized in January because of a weight cut gone wrong to hit the featherweight limit. Felder opining on what weight is or isn’t right for a fighter, who is not Paul Felder, was way out of line — especially considering the backstory.
UFC: The UFC awarded all nine fighters who earned a finish at UFC London a $50,000 fight-night bonus. While I applaud that move, I also have to ask, why isn’t that the norm? The money is there for the UFC to adopt that policy and to do so would remove some of the criticism the promotion gets — and rightfully so — for how it pays its fighters.
If the promotion wanted to really hit a home run, it would adopt a $50,000 per finish bonus and bump all the fighters to a flat rate that is equal to the show-win deal they are currently fighting under.
We keep hearing about record revenue for the UFC and its ownership group, but we don’t see that revenue being shared in a fair and equitable manner with the people who are bringing in that revenue - the fighters.