Last year’s return to London in March was so incredible and such an outstanding night that the UFC opted to make a return in the summer, with the July show proving once again that the fans in the United Kingdom bring the ruckus every single time, from the opening bout of the night through to the final contest.
This weekend, those raucous supporters get the opportunity to cheer through a pay-per-view event headlined by one of their own, as UFC 286 touches down at The O2 Arena with Leon Edwards defending his welterweight title in the main event against former champ Kamaru Usman in a rematch of their thrilling clash at UFC 278.
Here’s a look at the fight card and a breakdown of what to expect from each matchup this weekend in London.
Main Event: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman
Location: The 02 Arena — London, England
Where to Watch: ESPN+ PPV
Other Main Card Matches:
- Justin Gaethje vs Rafael Fiziev
- Gunnar Nelson vs Bryan Barberena
- Jennifer Maia vs Casey O’Neill
- Marvin Vettori vs Roman Dolidze
- Jack Shore vs Makwan Amirkhani
- Chris Duncan vs Omar Morales
- Sam Patterson vs Yanal Ashmoz
- Muhammad Mokaev vs Jafel Filho
- Lerone Murphy vs Gabriel Santos
- Christian Leroy Duncan vs. Dusko Todorovic
- Jake Hadley vs Malcolm Gordon
- Joanne Wood vs Luana Carolina
- Jai Herbert vs Ludovit Klein
- Juliana Miller vs Veronica Hardy
Main Event: Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman 3
After the way things ended between these two last time they shared the Octagon together, you knew an immediate rematch was in order.
Edwards pulled off the stunning final-minute finish at UFC 278, landing a left high kick that sent Usman down and out, turning what was set to be a unanimous decision win for the champion into one of the most “Can You Believe It!” moments in recent MMA memory.
Edwards did well in the opening frame, surprising Usman with a takedown early to get out of the gates quickly, but “The Nigerian Nightmare” steadied himself and controlled nearly every second of the next 19 minutes of the fight. Edwards seemed beaten, resigned, as Din Thomas, Joe Rogan, and Daniel Cormier suggested, to losing a unanimous decision, only for Jon Anik to suggest “but that is not the cloth from which he is cut” a fraction of a second before Edwards went high and put Usman out.
What makes this fight so fascinating is that how things ended in Salt Lake City left a heap of questions lingering over these combatants and this contest, and they’re likely to be answered on Saturday night in London.
We have no idea how Usman will respond to being knocked out and knocked from the welterweight throne, not to mention having had his lengthy unbeaten streak snapped. And for as outstanding as the finish was, will Edwards build off that historic moment or slip back into the rhythm and pattern that had him down on the scorecards heading into that final minute?
And what impact will fighting in London have on each man? Will the partisan crowd pick up Edwards and push him to be the best version of himself we’ve seen to date? Will Usman thrive on being the “road team” looking to send the home supporters off with a loss?
This is a compelling contest even without the UFC welterweight title hanging in the balance, and it should be tense and captivating from the very start.
Other UFC 286 Main Card Fights
Co-Main Event: Justin Gaethje vs Rafael Fiziev
Now here’s a fight that has the potential to earn Fight of the Year honors, even though it’s only slated for three rounds.
Gaethje returns for the first time since losing in his second championship bid at UFC 274, and the last time he was in this position — facing a fellow contender after a loss in a title fight — he paired with Michael Chandler at UFC 268 to turn in the 2021 Fight of the Year at Madison Square Garden. Fiziev has been calling out everyone ranked ahead of him for some time and finally gets his wish to share the cage with someone on in the Top 5. The charismatic and talented striker has won six straight, picking up a bonus in each of his last five outings.
This is a certified banger and you are not going to want to miss a second of this one once the strikes start flying.
Gunnar Nelson vs Bryan Barberena
Local favorite Gunnar Nelson makes his second straight London start on Saturday, welcoming battle-tested Bryan Barberena across the pond for a scrap this weekend.
Coming off a more than two-year layoff and having lost back-to-back outings, Nelson returned to action last March and collected a unanimous decision win over Takashi Sato, showing the same unique, technical skills that made him a long-term presence in the Top 15 prior to those losses and his hiatus. “Bam Bam” picked up quality wins over veterans Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler in his first two 2022 appearances, but couldn’t complete the hat trick in December, suffering a second-round submission loss to Rafael Dos Anjos in Orlando.
Jennifer Maia vs Casey O’Neill
Jennifer Maia and Casey O’Neill square off in a clash of ranked flyweights on Saturday’s prelims. Flyweight has been front-and-center the last couple weeks with Erin Blanchfield’s big win and Alexa Grasso dethroning Valentina Shevchenko, so it’s going to be interesting to see which of these ladies looks to ride that wave of attention to a bigger opportunity later this year.
Marvin Vettori vs Roman Dolidze
The main card gets underway in the middleweight division with Marvin Vettori taking on Roman Dolidze in a battle of ranked talents.
Vettori dropped his lone appearance of 2022 against Robert Whittaker, but is entrenched in the Top 5 in the 185-pound weight class, having only lost to Whittaker and Israel Adesanya in the last five years. Dolidze broke out last year, posting three wins in seven months to catapult himself into the rankings, capping off the run with a short-notice stoppage victory over Jack Hermansson.
Jack Shore vs Makwan Amirkhani
Welshman Jack Shore moves up to featherweight and gets an instant test against London fight card fixture Makwan Amirkhani.
Chris Duncan vs Omar Morales
It’s a battle of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) grads as Scotland’s Chris Duncan makes his promotional debut opposite Venezuelan veteran Omar Morales at 155 pounds.
Sam Patterson vs Yanal Ashmoz
It’s a clash of lightweight newcomers as Walford’s Sam Patterson faces off with Israeli newcomer Yanal Ashmouz.
Muhammad Mokaev vs Jafel Filho
Rising flyweight star Muhammad Mokaev makes his third appearance in London and looks to remain unbeaten as he welcomes Jafel Filho to the Octagon for the first time.
Lerone Murphy vs Gabriel Santos
Unbeaten featherweight prospect Lerone Murphy remains on the card despite losing his original dance partner, welcoming former LFA champ Gabriel Santos to the Octagon on Saturday’s prelims.
RELATED: Lerone Murphy Fighter Focus
Christian Duncan vs Dusko Todorovic
Former Cage Warriors middleweight champ Christian Leroy Duncan gets a home game for his UFC debut when he takes on Dusko Todorovic this weekend.
Jake Hadley vs Malcolm Gordon
Jake Hadley and Malcolm Gordon meet in what should be an entertaining flyweight battle for as long as it lasts.
Joanne Wood vs Luana Carolina
After taking a one-year sabbatical, Wood returns looking to snap a three-fight slide, while Carolina aims to erase the memory of her knockout loss to Molly McCann last year when the UFC first made its return to London.
Wood was a fixture in the Top 15 for a number of years, but has struggled mightily over her last seven starts, posting a 2-5 record. While she’s exclusively faced ranked competition during that stretch — most recently losing to new champ Alexa Grasso — her overall lack of results is difficult to overlook. Carolina had won consecutive outings prior to facing McCann at The 02 last March, beating Poliana Botelho and Loopy Godinez on the card before getting caught with a spinning back elbow in the third round last March.
Can Wood rebound or will Carolina exorcise her London demons?
Jai Herbert vs Ludovit Klein
British favorite Jai Herbert looks to secure a second straight victory as he returns to London to take on Ludovit Klein this weekend. “The Black Country Banger” is just 2-3 in five UFC appearances, but things are moving in the right direction after Herbert collected a unanimous decision win over Kyle Nelson. Entering last year on a two-fight slide, Klein bounced back with a pair of victories to push his record to 19-4 overall ahead of this one.
Juliana Miller vs Veronica Hardy
TUF 30 winner Juliana Miller and returning veteran Veronica Hardy meet in Saturday’s opener in the flyweight division. The 26-year-old Miller battled her way to the finals against Brogan Walker where she collected a third-round stoppage win to join Julianna Pena, Carla Esparza, Tatiana Suarez, Nicco Montano, and Macy Chiasson as female winners of the reality TV competition. Hardy makes her return to competition following a three-year absence, hoping to start fresh after going 1-4 in her first five UFC appearances.