UFC London Taking Shape
By Keith Turrell
The UFC will return to London’s O2 Arena on March 16th for its annual trip to our sunny shores. Over the New Year period a number of fights were announced for the card and have helped to build excitement for the event among British fans. Before the full list of fights are finalised I wanted to take a look at some of the confirmed bouts and fighters set to take to the cage and check out some of the rumours circulating around the community.
The Main Event
While a headline fight for the event has not yet been officially confirmed, the biggest bout announced so far, at least in terms of rankings is the light-heavyweight scrap between Volkan Oezdemir (#6 ranked, 15-3 record) and Dominick Reyes (#9 ranked, 10-0 unbeaten record). ‘No Time’ Oezdemir is looking for a return to form after back-to-back losses against Daniel Cormier and Anthony Smith respectively. These were well-earned big fights for Volkan and there is no shame in losing to either but the last thing the former contender wants is a couple of headlining losses to become a long-term skid.
Reyes on the other hand is in the opposite position. He is coming off a big win against Ovince Saint Preux in what was undoubtedly his strongest test to date last October at UFC 229 in Las Vegas, a fight that went to decision even though he had clearly knocked out Saint Preux in the seconds before the horn sounded. His star is clearly rising in the aftermath given that the event is thought to be the biggest selling pay-per-view in UFC history and featured Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov in the now infamous headline slot. There is still a long way to go for the rising contender and a statement win over a name like Oezdemir in a main event bout would go a long way to pushing him into the title picture at 205 pounds.
While Oezdemir vs. Reyes is an interesting contest it’s not the kind of banner fight that British fans are wanting from the UFC’s return. Criticism of the MMA leader’s cards in the UK have persisted over the last few years and fans will be waiting with crossed fingers for a fight with more star power to be announced and rumours are never-ending that link well-known local fighters such as Jimi Manuwa to another hometown main event.
Among the biggest rumours this year though is a purported return to London for surging Brit Nathaniel Wood (15-3). ‘The Prospect’ has gone 2-0 in the UFC since his debut last June after storming through a Cage Warriors run that saw him finish every fight by either KO or TKO and take the promotion’s bantamweight title. His highly impressive performance against Andre Ewell in December in which he grabbed a submission win for his efforts has launched his name into the minds of every British MMA fan looking for a new, exciting homegrown fighter to rally behind. He is currently ranked #27 according to MMA statistics website Tapology and will be looking to break into the top 15 this year which makes his social media back and forth with #10 ranked Rob Font very intriguing. This fight could headline the event given the right promotion and easily serve as a strong co-main if bigger names are soon to be announced.
Other names in the rumour-mill for Wood are Marlon Vera and Tom Duquesnoy which would be strong fights and provide opportunities for him to further raise his profile but it’s the Font fight that is the most eye-catching. If it’s made it could catapult Wood up the rankings and bring a title shot a lot closer than it seemed heading into the new year.
The Battle of Wales
In what is likely a first time for the biggest MMA show on earth two Welshmen will square off as Jack Marshman (22-8) takes on John Phillips (21-8) in one of the first fights announced for the event. They bring similar records to the cage for this one although Marshman is the more UFC tested veteran and both had been long time stalwarts of the regional British MMA scene as well as Cage Warriors alumni before making the jump to the big stage. Both have struggled of late, heading into the fight each with two straight losses but with a bumper crowd expected in the arena these familiar faces could be buoyed by the support and give us a great British scrap for the ages.
Springtime with a Chance of Meatballs
A popular addition to the card; ‘Meatball’ Molly McCann (7-2) will return to the Octagon for her second UFC fight, facing Priscila Cachoeira at flyweight. The tough-as-nails scouser had entered the promotion with a run of six straight wins in domestic competition, a streak which saw her earn the Cage Warriors flyweight title. Her debut didn’t go as planned however as she took a submission loss to Canadian Gillian Robertson back in May of last year. Given Molly’s highly determined personality there’s no doubt she will be hungry to get the loss back and her hard-charging aggressive style is sure to entertain a crowd that will be behind her from the first bell.
Cachoeira meanwhile, comes in with similar motivations after suffering a brutal loss to current champion Valentina Shevchenko in her own UFC debut, a fight that many complained had been allowed to run too long. It was the first career defeat for the Brazilian whose record currently stands at 8-1 and it will be interesting to see if her confidence has been damaged coming into this one and if she will struggle with the partisan crowd. Set to be a battle of two prospects looking to get back on track it will certainly be a fight British fans will have their eye on.
Further Reading: Fight Post’s Leigh Dent caught up with McCann late last year as she discussed her career so far and her thoughts on this upcoming battle.
Elsewhere on the Card
British veteran Danny Roberts (16-3) returns for his first fight since July, 2018 as he takes on Brazilian Claudio Silva (12-1). This will be Roberts’ eighth UFC fight and comes off the back of two straight wins for the 31-year-old.
Dagestani brawler Saparbek Safarov (8-2) faces Turkish kickboxing legend Gökhan Saki (1-2 in MMA). Saki has had a rocky start to his UFC career, beating Luis Henrique da Silva but then being finished quickly by Khalil Rountree at UFC 226.
Rumour and Innuendo
Heavyweight veteran Ben Rothwell (36-10) is set for his first UFC fight since 2016 and will take on Blagoy Ivanov (16-2) in a contest confirmed by the promotion. Though it’s scheduled to take place in March it has not yet been stated if this means it will be added to the London card though that seems the most likely outcome at present.
Exciting British striker Marc Diakiese (12-3) recently announced on social media that he has started a training camp for his next fight but did not state the date or opponent. It would make sense for his return to be in London and after suffering three straight losses a night in front of a supportive home crowd would be hugely beneficial as he tries to get back to winning ways.