If you need proof that people are starved for live fights, I direct you to UFC London. The English crowd was hopping from start to finish, providing an atmosphere that Fight Night cards produce only once every few years, perhaps only once in a decade. The fighters fed off the energy, the hometown favorites delivering potentially star making performances. From Tom Aspinall dismantling Alexander Volkov in the main event to Muhammad Mokaev running through Cody Durden in the opener. In between, Arnold Allen demolished Dan Hooker, Paddy Pimblett continued his ascension, Molly McCann unexpectedly turned in a breakthrough performance, and Paul Craig continued his unlikely run through the light heavyweight division.
Basically, there was a LOT that happened that is going to be discussed in larger articles over the next few days. A while I’m sure to touch on some of those things, I also want to touch on some of the other stories that emerged from the event. So thus, here’s my Unofficial Awards.
For an audio review of the event, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: It isn’t always about who you beat. And while how you beat your opponent plays a big part of what I’m getting at, that doesn’t cover all the ground I’m referencing either. In the case of McCann, the infectious enthusiasm she displayed both during her fight with Luana Carolina and in her post-fight celebration played a big part in making sure people remembered her performance. While her spinning back elbow finish is undoubtedly what will be the most remember feature – and I’ll have more on that a bit later – McCann solidified herself as a star in the UK by perfectly playing to the crowd at every opportunity. For instance, after performing a suplex to close the second round, McCann acknowledged the crowd’s reaction, knowing she wasn’t going to have time to land any effective offense after that. I don’t see McCann ever becoming a title contender, but there are several fighters who have had legendary careers without approaching that level. McCann appears to have ensured she’ll have place on the UFC roster as long as she wants.
It does need to be acknowledged there were several fighters worth considering for this spot. Aspinall and Allen deserved major consideration in particular, but no one expected what is likely to be a career defining performance from McCann.
Biggest Fall in Stock: I’ll be the first to admit Dan Hooker has been facing some incredibly difficult competition as he has dropped four of his last five. Dustin Poirier was an interim champion. Michael Chandler fought for the UFC title and held the Bellator lightweight title on multiple occasions. Islam Makhachev will be fighting for the title someday. I wouldn’t be surprised if Allen fights for the title someday either. But outside of the Poirier fight, Hooker was finished in the first round of each of those contests. Throw in his win over Nasrat Haqparast doesn’t look like the highest quality of win either and I think it’s time to stop including Hooker in the elite of the division, whether it’s at featherweight or lightweight.
Best Newcomer: There was only one newcomer on the card, but Mokaev had a special enough debut that it’s worth highlighting. The youngest fighter on the roster, Mokaev hit Durden with a switch knee that stunned the American. Durden went for a takedown while he was still woozy and Mokaev latched on a guillotine. Durden fought the submission valiantly, but eventually was forced to tap. All that happened in the span of 58 seconds. Mokaev’s debut couldn’t have gone any better. I would say it’s too soon to say he’s a future title contender, but he’s done everything right to get those words on the tip of the tongue of viewers.
Start Typing a Resume: There was a large contingent rooting for Mike Grundy given he was fighting in front of his ill father for what is likely to be the last time, but sentiment can’t do the job alone. Grundy didn’t respect the submission abilities of Makwan Amirkhani, diving into a guillotine choke that Amirkhani adjusted into an anaconda choke. At 35 and on a three-fight losing streak, there’s no reason for the UFC to keep Grundy around in a featherweight division that won’t have a problem finding younger blood to fill his shoes.
I have a feeling it’s dependent on his contract situation, but I would expect Shamil Abdurakhimov to be cut loose. The burly Russian has never had any fan appeal, is now 40-years-old, and is on a three-fight losing streak. I’m sure there are wins out there for him to pick up, but his current role as a sturdy test for fighters looking to enter the rankings has now been obliterated. You can only lose so many times before no one takes the UFC promoting him in that manner with any degree of seriousness.
Some may put Jai Herbert on the chopping block given his UFC record is a subpar 1-3, but look at who his losses have come against: Francisco Trinaldo, Renato Moicano, and now Ilia Topuria. All of those fighters are either in the current UFC rankings or were not that long ago. Herbert isn’t a world-beater, but he is a fun striker who has been dealt a tough hand. If he drops his next fight against a lower level of competition, I understand cutting him loose. But as it currently stands? That would be stupid.
Saved Their Job(s): He may not be the fan favorite he was a few years ago, but Amirkhani did appear to have a level of maturity that had been missing from the days he was. Losing three in a row often has the effect of sobering someone up on their career possibilities. Amirkhani isn’t young at 33, but he has had a lot of extended breaks during his UFC run and should be able to squeeze out a few more years if that maturity extends beyond this fight.
Biggest WOW Moment: I felt sure there wasn’t going to be a KO that topped Topuria’s brutal one hitter quitter of Herbert. One fight later, McCann delivered a spinning back elbow that put Carolina to sleep and blew the roof off the O2 Arena. There usually aren’t too many women’s KO’s that enter the conversation for KOoTY. This one not only entered the conversation, it entered the fray as one of the frontrunners at the very least.
Best Callout(s): I get so frustrated by fighters not making callouts, I feel it necessary to give kudos to fighters when they make awesome callouts. Well, that and all three of the callouts I’m going to highlight were so freaking awesome that I struggled to narrow it down to just one.
Paul Craig didn’t exactly surprise anyone when he caught Nikita Krylov in a triangle choke. He’s done that on several occasions. However, if Craig is to stick to his own mandate of retiring by 35, he needs to move fast if he wants to make a title run. Asking for Anthony Smith in June is the perfect step up to justify a realistic run for the belt. Smith indicated he’s down, so here’s hoping it happens.
After Allen blasted through Hooker, he was asked who he wanted. While I wouldn’t feel confident throwing him against the likes of Max Holloway or Brian Ortega, I would love to see what he can do against Calvin Kattar... and that is exactly who Allen asked for. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait for that to happen until 2023. Given Allen’s history of fighting once a year, that feels like a strong likelihood if it is to happen.
Lastly, Aspinall obliterated Alexander Volkov. The last fighter who merely beat Volkov received a title shot. However, rather than call for a title fight, Aspinall asked for Tai Tuivasa to throwdown with him. With the likes of Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones still floating around out there – not to mention the feud between Francis Ngannou and the UFC – it seems like a title shot would be a longshot for Aspinall. Rather than push for an unlikely scenario, Aspinall went for the fan favorite fight. Great call by the rising star.
Biggest Rock Star: Pimblett has always been a divisive figure. That’s all part of his schtick. Love him or hate him, you’ll pay attention to him. He’s been fortunate enough the UFC has been setting him up to win in his first two contests and even more fortunate the have the UFC set him up to fight in their return to England. Though the crowd was rowdy from start to finish, there’s no denying their reaction to Pimblett was by far the most voracious. Pimblett has a lot of work to do in the cage if he hopes to achieve the heights he espouses, but he’s got the charisma and mouth to get the job done elsewhere.
Most Overlooked Performance: The most competitive contest on the evening was by far the bout between Jack Shore and Timur Valiev. The first two rounds were incredibly close, but Shore separated himself in the final round with a pair of knockdowns in the final round to take the judges’ decision. However, it seems as though Shore was punished for having an entertaining and competitive contest as he was one of the few winners on the car who didn’t get a Performance Bonus. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from anyone else on the card – especially a bonus – but Shore’s performance as a whole was more impressive than some of those who walked away with money they weren’t assured of. Regardless, Shore isn’t going to be talked about much, but he should be.
Best Non-PPV Event... Ever: When stakes are at their highest, it does add to the drama and emotion of an event. Thus, UFC London isn’t quite on the level of some of the greatest events in UFC history. However, it could very well be the best non-PPV event in UFC history. The energy of the crowd was something that could be felt through the television screen, also a reminder of why the UFC is doing the right thing in ramping up its efforts to get all their events in front of a live audience. Regardless, I went through several events in my mind and walked away believing UFC London was superior. I acknowledge recency bias should be taken into account, but even if someone disagrees with me, it shouldn’t take away from how great the event was.