After an 11 month absence the UFC returned to UK shores for UFC 120 with no less than eight British fighters, a mixture of established stars and newcomers, competing between the main and preliminary cards.
Below we’ll take a look back at those fights and discuss what it all means for British MMA going forward.
The evening started off on the wrong foot with the opening bout on the undercard as TUF 10’s James McSweeney ran out of gas mid-way through his fight with Brazil’s Fabio Maldonado and was eventually TKO’d early in the third, while Kurt Warburton had a tough first fight in the promotion against Spencer Fisher and came out second best on the judges scorecards.
The fans finally had something to cheer about next though when another newcomer Paul Sass claimed a first round triangle choke victory over Mark Holst. Remarkably that’s the eight victory by that submission in 11 fights for Sass who went on to claim the ‘Submission Of The Night’ award with a $50,000 bonus attached.
Momentum then continued to build when Rob Broughton, the third UK fighter to receive his debut on the night earned a submission win over Vinicius Queiroz.
So 2-2 in the prelims wasn’t terrible, but the real pressure was on the main card British stars to perform and send the UK fans home happy.
The first signs that this wasn’t going to be the case came in the opening bout of the televised card as TUF season 9 winner James Wilks was out-grappled by the Canadian Claude Patrick for all three rounds. It was a solid win for Patrick but a less than enthralling fight to get things started.
The sense that this wasn’t going to be the night UK fans had hoped for really started to sink in when highly touted young prospect John Hathway was schooled by US veteran Mike Pyle who took the fight to the Brit from the offing and showed that he’s not yet a major player in the stand-up realm, and can be exposed on his back.
It’s not the end of the world for Hathaway who’s still in his early 20’s and learning as he goes along, but this was undoubtedly a reality check and expectations for him will now be tempered.
Surely the ultra-confident Dan Hardy would give the fans something to smile about though? His enthusiastic pre-fight antics fired up the crowd to fever pitch, but Carlos Condit turned out to be the party-pooper when he stole the Brit’s signature move – his left hook, and used it against him late in the first round to produce a devastating knockout that stunned everybody watching.
In a relatively short space of time Hardy has gone from being just another new guy in the UFC to being the UK’s second biggest star and an instantly recognized fighter on the global stage, but this was a major setback, far more damaging than a five round loss to GSP. There may now be a sense that ‘The Outlaw’s’ bark is bigger than his bite and he’ll have to come back strong next time out.
So it was down to the UK’s biggest name, Michael Bisping to send the fans home happy. He certainly did his best to do just that, though things didn’t go to plan early as he got rocked by a powerful blow by Yoshihiro Akiyama. To his credit he showed a lot of heart to shake that off and come back strong as he did against Denis Kang previously, outstriking the Japanese fighter for much of the fight to secure a unanimous decision victory.
The Bisping fight may have given those in attendance at the o2 Arena something to cheer for, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that overall this was a bad night for the Brits.
They went 3-5 on the night which in itself is a disappointment, but the fact that two of their most significant fighters in Dan Hardy and John Hathaway were both handed convincing defeats is what will be of most concern.
That goes not just for UK fans, but for UFC execs as well. UFC 120 has been a big success at the ticket office with over 17,000 fans in attendance tonight, a European record for the promotion, but part of that is down to fighters like Hardy and Hathaway who have given fans someone to root for outside of just established star Michael Bisping.
Now it seems British MMA is regressing a little once again. Even outside of tonight’s event if you look at recent events, other promising UK fighters like TUF season 9 winner Ross Pearson, Terry Etim and Andre Winner and have also lost recently, while another potential star in Paul Daley was banished altogether earlier in the year.
That’s going to leave the UFC leaning more heavily on Bisping once again, and I suspect that the next time the promotion plans a UK event fans are going to be calling out for upper-level international stars rather than just mid-ranking homegrown talent.
All is not lost though. One plus point for the region is that fighters like Hathaway, Pearson and Etim for example are all still relatively young and have a solid foundation to build from. They are also getting the opportunity to test themselves at the highest level – something that just a few years ago was almost out of the question.
For the future I think it would be wise for more of the UK contingent to step out of their comfort zone and train outside of the UK to help broaden and evolve their skill-sets. It can surely only help in the long run.