The UFC’s four-pack of events in June begins on the first of the month with a return to the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, a venue that has played host to four of the five events held in the Swedish capital.
Over the years, some incredible performances, memorable moments and impressive debuts have transpired when the Octagon has been stationed in the Nordic metropolis, and next week’s return should add to that history as the card includes a handful of emerging talents, a couple choice matchups and a trio of bouts in the light heavyweight division that will both close out the show and shake up the standings in the 205-pound ranks.
Before turning our focus to what is on tap on June 1, let’s take a look back at some of the best performances from the first five events held in Stockholm.
This is The 10.
The main event for the inaugural event in Sweden was a coming out party for its most promising fighting son, as Gustafsson got a hero’s welcome as he made his way to the cage and sent the fans home happy by collecting a unanimous decision victory in what was the biggest fight of his career to that point.
Competing at home can bring challenges for the athletes, but it often creates electric moments as well because the roar from the crowd as one of their own makes their way to the cage is unlike anything those competitors hear when they’re competing abroad. The only thing that will top the ovation you hear when a local fighter strides into the Octagon is the deafening sound of an arena erupting in unison when those athletes emerge victorious.
Not only did this fight have that special moment as “The Mauler” made his way to the Octagon as the last fighter to enter the cage on the first UFC event held in Stockholm, but it also proved to be an important victory in the light heavyweight upstart’s career as well. Gustafsson entered on a four-fight winning streak, but facing Silva was a marked step up in competition and the 20-something talent handled it all with aplomb.
Two fights later, Gustafsson would push Jon Jones to his limits in a light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 165 that cemented his standing as one of the top competitors on the planet.
Conor McGregor’s historic UFC journey began with a preliminary card fight in Stockholm, one that was broadcast on Facebook.
Long before becoming an international icon, McGregor was a featherweight newcomer looking to prove himself on the biggest stage in the sport. There was no elaborate walkout, no raucous ovation and no animals tattooed on his chest — just a UFC newcomer walking to the cage in simple black trunks, eager to show that he could replicate the success he enjoyed under the Cage Warriors banner inside the UFC cage.
This was McGregor at his purest and it was a beautiful thing to watch. He was confident, but not cocky, sharp in his movements, quick with his hands and boyishly charming on the microphone after settling the TUF 14 alum in just over a minute.
It was a performance that kicked off a meteoric rise and sparked a change within the sport.
Siver was originally scheduled to face Robert Whiteford, but the Scotsman was forced to withdraw and replaced by Taylor Lapilus Five days before the bout, Lapilus was pulled from the contest, opening the door for Rosa to make his promotional debut.
So less than a week before the bout, Rosa made his way to Stockholm, made weight and then proceeded to give a Top 15 featherweight a serious run for his money in a wildly entertaining scrap that captured Fight of the Night honors.
Rosa, a tough kid from Peabody, Massachusetts, had been earning acclaim on the regional circuit as one of the best up-and-comers coming out of American Top Team. Although he took the loss — the first of his professional career — it showed that he belonged in the UFC.
Three months later, the combatants would land on the same card at TD Garden in Boston, with Rosa scoring a third-round submission win over Sean Soriano, while Siver fell to McGregor in what would be the Irishman’s last non-title fight in the featherweight division.
Five fights after Siver and Rosa nearly burned the house down, the current king of the featherweight division picked up a short-notice stoppage win that became part of the extended run of success that resulted in his rising to the top of the mountain in the 145-pound weight class.
A week before the event, an injury forced Chan Sung Jung to the sidelines, opening the door for Holloway to make a hasty return to the cage in search of a fourth straight victory. Fresh off an entertaining third-round finish of Clay Collard in August, “Blessed” booked it from Waianae to Stockholm and buried Corassani under a wave of offense.
While he had turned in strong outings prior to this one, Holloway’s short-notice, no-hassle drubbing of the rugged Ultimate Fighter alum was the first real eye-opening moment in what became a 10-fight march to championship gold.
When this one was booked, many onlookers expected it to be the moment Nelson ascended into contention in the welterweight division.
Entering on a four-fight winning streak inside the Octagon and sporting a 13-0-1 record overall, the rising star from Reykjavik had been thrust further into the spotlight because of his association with Conor McGregor and the SBG Ireland squad. After having little trouble with a quartet of solid veterans, Nelson was paired with Story in a bout designed to see where he stood in the welterweight hierarchy.
At the time, Story was in a funky spot in his career, having gone 4-5 over his previous nine appearances following a six-fight winning streak that included a unanimous decision win over then champion Johny Hendricks. He was a tough out, but he’d struggled against top competition in recent outings and many saw Nelson as a top contender.
Don’t let the split decision verdict fool you — Story won this fight, frustrating Nelson throughout much of the contest and halting his ascent up the divisional ladder. It was a competitive affair that highlighted the importance of having tenured veterans like Story hovering around the fringes of contention at all times and showed that Nelson still needed a little more seasoning before advancing into the upper echelon of the welterweight ranks.
Bektic was one of those up-and-coming fighters who garnered a lot of attention on the regional circuit and carried a lot of hype into his debut. His first UFC appearance against Chas Skelly was marred by Skelly landing a pair of illegal knees strikes, which clearly stunned the newcomer, though he was able to continue to secure the victory.
This was the version of Bektic everyone had heard so much about and the performance that would put him on everyone’s list of future title contenders in the featherweight division.
Watching the fight back, it’s inconceivable that two judges turned in 10-9 scores for all three rounds, even under the old scoring system, because Bektic mauled Redmond from start to finish. This was a 15-minute mugging that showcased the young Bosnian’s excellent top control and ferocious ground-and-pound.
Unfortunately, injuries have kept the 28-year-old out of the Octagon since last summer, when he edged out former title challenger Ricardo Lamas at UFC 225. When he returns, Bektic has the talent to insert himself in the title conversation in the deep featherweight ranks and this was the fight that first made that clear to the UFC audience.
There have been a lot of terrific debuts over the years, but four-and-a-half years later, this one still stands out.
Amirkhani was a relatively unheralded new arrival when he was added to this fight card opposite Ogle, a scrappy Ultimate Fighter alum who had come out on the wrong side of the results in a number of tough matchups since coming out of the house.
As soon as referee Kevin Sataki said, “Let’s fight!” Amirkhani walked across the cage and planted a knee in Ogle’s chest that sent “The Little Axe” stumbling backwards into the fence. A series of follow-up strikes came crashing home and the referee stepped in to halt the contest just eight seconds after it began.
The charismatic Amirkhani has gone 3-1 since his debut victory, continuing to deliver entertaining performances any time he steps into the cage. After more than a year away, he’s slated to return to action next week when the Octagon returns to Stockholm in an intriguing showdown with surging Brit Chris Fishgold.
Remember how earlier I talked about the roar you hear and the energy you can feel when a hometown fighter walks out and scores a massive victory? Well, this one showed that you could also make a massive stadium sound as quiet as a quaint church in the English countryside when you fell said local favorite.
The Tele2 Arena was in full throat during the opening stages of the fight, cheering every time Gustafsson offered any offense and buzzing as the two started slinging leather following a brief stoppage due to an accidental eye poke. But then Johnson landed a big shot that put “The Mauler” on skates and never let him recover, chasing him to the floor and finishing him with a series of clubbing blows.
The more than 30,000 people in attendance didn’t even really boo; they just kind of sat there wondering what happened, watching as Gustafsson struggled to get to his feet while Johnson celebrated the victory.
Oezdemir had debuted on short notice a couple months earlier, filling in for Jan Blachowicz opposite Top 10 fixture Ovince Saint Preux on the annual Super Bowl Saturday card in Houston, Texas. Even after emerging with a split decision win over “OSP,” no one was really sure what to make of the Swiss newcomer and this pairing with the surging Latvian-born Canadian Cirkunov was expected to answer a lot of questions about where he fit in the light heavyweight division.
It took less than 30 seconds for Oezdemir to make it clear that he was a contender.
After meeting each other in the middle to start the fight, Cirkunov backed the UFC sophomore into the fence behind a series of punches, looking to close the distance and get into grappling range, where he excels. But as he pressed forward, Oezdemir circled off the fence and landed a right hand right behind the ear that dropped Cirkunov to the canvas in a heap.
It was like someone pulled the electrical cord supplying his body with power out of the wall — the blow landed and Cirkunov was out.
While it took a similar effort in his follow-up fight with Jimi Manuwa before people got fully onboard with Oezdemir as a dangerous threat in the light heavyweight division, this is where his “No Time” nickname was born and his place as a top talent in the 205-pound ranks was established.
We started with a standout performance from Sweden’s favorite fighting son and it’s only fitting that we end that way as well.
The most recent UFC fight to take place in Stockholm might have been the best one to date as the light heavyweight war horses went to battle for 21 minutes and change, no quarter asked and none given, right up until Teixeira was unable to continue.
This was a huge bounce-back performance for Gustafsson, who had looked flat in his bout with Jan Blachowicz eight months earlier and was looking to find his way back into the title mix after coming up short in his second bid to claim the light heavyweight title at UFC 192. While he got hit with some big shots and had to work hard to get Teixeira out of there, Gustafsson looked crisp throughout, mixing up his strikes, moving well and eventually pulling away in the championship rounds.
The victory would propel Gustafsson into a long-awaited rematch with Jon Jones at UFC 232, where he once again fell short of his goal to claim the light heavyweight title.
On June 1, he returns home and fights for the first time since that contest, looking for his third victory in as many appearances at the Ericsson Globe when he takes on Jones’ last opponent, Anthony Smith, in what should be an explosive main event.