For years, the some of the UFC’s most exciting events have been held in the United Kingdom.
The vocal and charismatic crowd in places like the O2 Arena always made for an excticing atmosphere. Often, an event held in London didn’t even need a title attached to the main event because the crowd’s energy made every fight feel just as intense as a championship fight. Not surprisingly, the U.K. has hosted some of the best non-title fight main events in UFC history.
After three long years away due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC finally makes its return to the U.K. this Saturday with UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Aspinall. Heavyweights Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall will headline the O2 Arena, continuing the UFC’s tradition of delivering hard-hitting main events. Just shy of breaking into the top 10, Aspinall is looking for a big win over Volkov in his quest for gold, and after a decision win against Marcin Tybura, heavyweight veteran Volkov is looking to continue his momentum as he finds his way back to title contention.
Plus, Arnold Allen will welcome Dan Hooker back to the featherweight division in an exciting co-main event, and U.K. favorites Paddy Pimblett, Molly McCann, Gunnar Nelson, and Jack Shore will also be competing on Saturday’s card. But first, let’s take a look back at some of the most exciting main events the UFC has held in London.
On his road to the UFC middleweight championship, Michael Bisping would take on former champion Anderson Silva in his home country of England.
Silva, with his iconic hands-down approach, was met and tested early by the lead jab and combinations of Bisping. The former champion slipped and rolled with the combinations, but with the higher amount of activity between the pair, Bisping would find more success in the earlier rounds. Bisping would even drop Silva briefly in the second round.
The damage from Silva’s punches became more noticeable on the face of the British striker towards the later rounds. In the final moments of the fourth round, Bisping would lose his mouthpiece during a striking exchange with Silva. Bisping would attempt to communicate with referee Herb Dean about the mouthguard, leaving himself unguarded and unprotected. Silva proceeded to land a flying knee flush on the chin of Bisping.
The round-ending horn would blare as Bisping fell to his knees. Silva walked away thinking he won the bout and would even celebrate on top of the cage. As Silva’s team informed the former champion that the bout would be heading into the fifth, Bisping was sitting on the stool in his corner doing his best to shake off the cobwebs.
A confused Silva climbed down the cage as the fifth round was about to start. Clearly dazed and still affected from the flying knee, a bloodied Bisping would continue to land combinations and leg kicks on the Brazilian throughout the fifth round, en route to scoring a victory by unanimous decision.
After losing two decisions to Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson, UFC welterweight Jorge Masvidal knew something had to change. Entering the O2 Arena with a new attitude, Masvidal would meet top-ranked contender Darren Till. After an unsuccessful crack at welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, Till was looking to earn his way back to the title with a big win over Masvidal. Embracing the role as the bad guy, Masvidal was entering the Octagon with a new level of self-belief.
After an accidental low blow from Masvidal in the opening moments of the first round, Till would drop the Miami boxer with a straight punch almost immediately. Masvidal would quickly recover and find his way back to his feet shortly after. Once both fighters settled in, Till would get the better of the exchanges and landed heavier shots. As for Masvidal, his counterstriking, and boxing were slowly finding their target.
Towards the end of the first round, Masvidal found more consistency with the left hand. In the second round, Masvidal would blitz through the guard of Till to land a powerful left hook. As soon as Till crashed to the canvas, referee Marc Goddard called a stop the contest. Masvidal made the statement he was looking for, leaving the arena silent in shock.
In the main event of UFC Fight Night, 145-pound prospect Michael McDonald challenged the interim UFC bantamweight champion, Renan Barão. The 22-year-old McDonald was entering the bout against the champion on an eight-fight win streak. After beating UFC veteran Uriah Faber to become champion, Barão would look to establish his reign with a win against McDonald.
Both men had their moments in the first round. In the midst of a striking exchange, McDonald caught Barão with a punch that dropped the champion for a brief moment. Barão quickly recovered and found his way back into the fight.
In the second round, Barão was starting to land more with his kicks. Mixing in leg kicks with his combinations, Barão was able to land a hard front kick to the jaw of McDonald. McDonald was able to land solid counters multiple times throughout the second round, as well. As more time passed, Barão found his timing and landed more counters. In the fourth round, Barão secured the takedown and submitted the American.
After his hall of fame championship fight against Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson took on London’s own Jimi Manuwa in the main event. The undefeated Manuwa had scored 13 of his 14 wins by knockout, his other win was a first-round submission. Manuwa was skyrocketing up the rankings and quickly becoming a real challenger for Jones’s light heavyweight championship.
After competing against the very best that the 205-pound division had to offer, Gustafsson quickly proved that he was still a part of an elite class. The Swedish fighter would immediately challenge Manuwa with a takedown in the opening moments of the first round. Gustafsson would successfully secure the takedown and control Manuwa on the ground for the majority of the first round.
In the beginning of the second round, Gustafsson would go on the offensive and force Manuwa to be on the back foot. Once the Swedish had Manuwa against the cage, he was able to deliver a brutal knee in the clinch and immediately wobbled the challenger. Recognizing that the knee had hurt his opponent, Gustafsson followed up with uppercuts that would drop Manuwa to the canvas. Breaking Manuwa’s undefeated win streak in impressive fashion, Gustafsson did exactly what he needed to do to find his way back to the title.
At UFC 85, former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes was scheduled to take on top ranked 170-pounder Thiago Alves. Hughes had just lost to Georges St-Pierre in a fight for the championship, while Alves was on a five-fight win streak. The Brazilian knew that with a win over a former champion like Hughes, he could easily find himself as the next challenger for St-Pierre’s title.
It was evident early on that the game plan of Hughes was to wrestle. Failing to secure the takedown, Hughes would decide to pull Alves down into his guard, forcing the Brazilian to grapple. While Hughes controlled most of the round with his jiu-jitsu, Alves was able to land the more significant strikes.
Hughes would attempt another takedown in the opening moments of the second round but would be met by a hard knee in the process. Rocked and cut by the knee, Hughes attempted to get back to his feet and secure another takedown. In defense of the takedown, Alves would catch Hughes again with a knee. The Brazilian would finish the job this time, putting away the former champion by TKO.