London got themselves a nice little treat of a card
European Fight Pass cards are an odd thing.
For starters, we often get bouts that allow the UFC to save money by keeping local and regional fighters busy and placate the live audiences with very little else in terms of major names or large divisional consequences. Yet sometimes – like in the case of this past London event – we end up with a card that ends up being a fair bit of fun and with a vivacious live atmosphere that resonates with viewers at home. London crowds are pretty rabid sometimes, and they add to the big moments of an event. Even if the card itself wasn’t the biggest or best, at least there were some exciting moments and great showcase performances for some of the fighters.
So while it may not have been the biggest marquee setup for the European crowd, it was decent enough and had fighters doing themselves some big favors moving forward. A nice little card to drift off into a hiatus until the next event in April.
Jimi Manuwa – Undoubtedly the biggest winner in this event was Manuwa, a fighter that not too long ago was seen by many as not much else but a one-dimensional striker. Manuwa entered this fight ranked at #4, and the next two in line are Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira, who are set to fight each other in May. It’s not unrealistic that if the winner of that bout can’t make it to fight the winner of the Daniel Cormier/Anthony Johnson rematch, Manuwa would be a shoe-in to get that shot. It’s worth mentioning that Manuwa’s only losses are to Gustafsson and Rumble, and he’s shown great improvements in his striking and wrestling defense. So here he is, standing just outside of the sweet spot to get a crack at the belt with two consecutive monster knockouts to his name. Sure, he hasn’t beaten the major names of the division, but light heavyweight only has a handful of those. Plus, the gulf of talent between the elite in that division and everyone else is rather broad. I can’t predict what his chances are against any of the four men ahead of him right now, but he’s riding high on some serious momentum right now, and it’s a great bounceback from that crushing loss to Rumble in 2015.
Gunnar Nelson – Oh, you thought he was just a grappler, huh? Nelson’s striking has gotten better with time, but even though he eats too many leg kicks and maybe doesn’t use enough head movement, his timing has gotten scary good. Cracking Jouban with the right hand and finishing with true killer instinct made for a great highlight reel moment. Nelson’s only losses in his professional career were to Demian Maia and a then-rejuvenated and somewhat reinvented Rick Story, but his performances continue to show one of the best ground games in the sport with durability and a relentless degree of pressure once everything clicks together. This fight doesn’t move him up much in the rankings, considering Jouban wasn’t in the top 15 coming into the bout. Also, there’s still a bit of a logjam with the top 5-6 at welterweight that needs to be sorted out. Still, it doesn’t look like Nelson is in any kind of hurry to move up or ahead, but only aims to improve. So far, he’s looking great doing that.
Marlon Vera – This one’s tricky. He missed weight, didn’t look that great with his striking, and his BJJ game still doesn’t look as well-adapted for MMA as it could be (at least in his UFC performances). His boxing doesn’t look that great, and his shot selection seems odd. However, his kicking arsenal saved the day here, using body kicks, attacking the legs and the massive kick that led to the end of the fight in the final round. He missed weight and had some odd lapses and clunky moments with his striking. That and the fact that he continues to forget rules like upkicks to a grounded opponent in this fight. The good news is that for a late replacement opponent that didn’t adapt well to the time difference and didn’t get much sleep due to a hotel evacuation the previous night, he still did a lot of damage. Pickett was clearly winning, but he ate a fair amount of punishment, and the end was a shocker for the local crowd. So, while a decision win would have put him in the “neither“ category, the win over a name like Pickett (especially in that fashion) is big enough to boost him into this category and bring him to 3-2 in the UFC. He saves his spot on the roster in a big way, and was gracious to both Pickett and the home crowd on the way out. Good on him for undoing a lot of things that worked against him.
Marc Diakiese – If no one else will do it for him, he’ll do it himself. Diakese will let you know how good he is, and how bad he wants to get to the top of the sport. A sensational performance despite the brevity of it, he absolutely nailed that beautiful shot under Packalen’s arm. Still undefeated, and still must-watch MMA, expect a big bump up for this man, because it’s well deserved.
Arnold Allen – I still wish they’d let him wear the classic “Arnold Is Numero Uno” shirt, but at least Allen continues to put on some fun scraps in the cage. Amirkhani is a hell of a wrestler, something that perhaps gets overlooked by virtue of him being a European fighter. Allen was able to reverse position or negate takedowns in some pivotal moments, and even when he lost control was able to keep himself together enough to work his way out of bad spots. His striking was a bit wily, but some of the stuff that perhaps shouldn’t have worked… well, it kind of did. A five-fight win streak is on record for him now, and he continues to be a ton of fun to watch. At age 23, it would be nice to see the UFC put some of the same kind of promotional muscle behind someone like Allen as they have with Sage Northcutt, but hey – I don’t run a company purchased for $4billion. Can he be a champion? It’s ridiculous to try to predict that now. Can he be a big deal that could help advance the image and profile of the sport in the UK and Europe? Wouldn’t hurt to try.
Joseph Duffy – After a big takedown in the first round Duffy took control and didn’t even look back. Various exchanges on the feet looked like target practice, with Duffy superstyling on Madadi and bloodying up his face. He may not have gotten the finish, but he took on a very durable opponent, improves to 4-1 under the UFC banner, fought out his contract, did so in front of a (sort of) home crowd and could stand to negotiate his way into a nice new deal for himself.
Lina Lansberg gets her first UFC win in what was probably the most brutal fight on the card. Nice to see any signs of life at women’s bantamweight at this point, so it’s refreshing to see someone with that kind of determination and pressure in the division. Brad Scott ends up with a gritty performance and ends up evening out at 3-3 in his UFC run. That was a brutal and fun fight that showed both participants eager to get into dogfights later on, and was a good bit of Just Bleed action for the fans. Leon Edwards got a decent decision win in a fight that wasn’t as much fun, but gets the job done and extends his win streak to three. Timothy Johnson outworked his opponent to notch another win as well in a grinding heavyweight bout that was an inelegant affair, and that’s putting it nicely. Francimar Barroso gets another crack at Darren Stewart after their first bout was a no-contest, ending it with a controlling win in which he stayed a step ahead with his grappling for a good portion of the fight.
Honorable mention goes to referees Grant Waterman and Leon Roberts. Waterman stopped that Pickett/Vera fight a the perfect moment as soon as Brad’s arms went limp, preventing further damage. Roberts jumped in as Anderson’s body shut down, although he got some help from Manuwa who walked away like a gentleman. So big ups to Jimi again, I suppose. Much respect for Neil Hall for stopping the Diakiese/Packalen fight, too. Reffing is hard, and I try not to bag on the officials too much, but this sort of thing (especially in the Waterman example) deserve some praise when it’s done well.
Corey Anderson – Anderson walked into this bout ranked at #6 (I know, right?) after beating Sean O’Connell (yes, this was a thing). He got staggered off the takedown attempt by Manuwa’s left hand, then circled to his right to get slept after that shot to the temple was uncorked. He’s still 6-3 in the UFC, so he’s not in any danger of getting cut. Also, the only other fight where he got finished was against Gian Villante, so it’s not like he’s getting bludgeoned frequently. What does worry me at this point is the possibility that he’s hit his ceiling as a fighter, hard. Maybe this was just a bad matchup or too soon for him, but he had a lot of promise coming in, so here’s hoping he can pick things back up and continue to do well in his career. At least light heavyweight is enough of a mess that he won’t take too hard a hit in the rankings for this one, plus he lost to a fighter ahead of him.
Alan Jouban – Jouban’s really impressed me for fighting smart and outworking opposition while improving his technique in each outing. His stock doesn’t get hurt too badly here, considering he wasn’t in the top 15 coming into this bout and had a three-fight win streak as well. The fight game is a cruel mistress, and even at age 34, Jouban can still work on some elements of his game and have a decent run.
Scott Askham – This one hurts, because he’s put on some really fun fights in the UFC. His fights against Magnus Cedenblad and Krzysztof Jotko (both losses) were simply nuts. He’s also 2-4 in the UFC, which means he’s probably getting cut here. At 28, he could still rack up some wins and come back, especially as a short notice replacement, but for now this looks like his run has come to an end.
Daniel Omielanczuk had a simply ugly fight. He’s now 3-4 in the UFC, and will likely be cut after that outing. Vicente Luque doesn’t take much of a hit since he had a four-fight win streak, but it halts his momentum in a division where he seemed like he was making some legit progress. Reza Madadi now stands at 3-3, and that puts him on thin ice. Don’t be surprised if he gets cut due to how badly he got outworked here. Teemu Packalen drops to 1-2 in his current run, and while he has the potential for exciting performances, he might also get cut. Personally, I’d love to see him get another shot. UFC management doesn’t seem to be to charitable these days, though. So don’t bank on that.
Makwan Amirkhani – After a one-year layoff, Amirkhani came back and had a wild fight against another up and comer. Despite losing, he was riding a four-fight win streaks and his first two UFC fights were sensational finishes. His stock also takes a minor bit of damage here, but not enough to land him in the losing category. There’s still plenty of upside to Mr Finland.
Lucie Pudilova – Currently 6-2 in her overall career, her only losses are to the same person – one of the hardest and craftiest hitters in her division. Can’t be mad at that, and losing your UFC debut doesn’t always spell doom. That was a hell of a fight that should keep her within management’s good graces, even with the recent downsizing efforts we’ve seen. But when you give it as much as you take it and really push forward the way Pudilova did, you lose absolutely nothing. Big ups to her, even if it doesn’t land her in the “winners” category.
Darren Stewart – Rough night at the office, but it’s only his first professional loss, and he had some decent exchanges as well. Still some good things ahead for him if he bounces back from this.