Well, that’s your lot for another year, UK fans.
Last night, a sold out O2 Arena in London, England played host to UFC Fight Night 37, or UFC London as it became more commonly known, and save for just the one or two fights (I’m looking at you Melvin), the show delivered; especially when it came to the main event.
Fighting for our amusement at the top of the card was the #1 UFC-ranked light-heavyweight, Alexander Gustafsson and London’s own, Jimi Manuwa.
With a healthy invasion of Swedes, the like of which not seen on these shores since the Viking raids, and a sizeable level of support for the home favourite Manuwa, the crowd certainly had a part to play in proceedings.
Heading in to the bout, the common thought was that Gustafsson would prove too much for Manuwa in most areas, but that if the fight was to end in an instance, it may well have been the heavy handed Manuwa delivering the telling blow on the night. But as ever, a fight is not fought on paper and we would have to wait to see how this one panned out.
Once the music had stopped, the rules had been read and the gloves had been touched, it was time to start. After a very brief feeling out process with few strikes being thrown more for distance control than with any real intention, Gustafsson shot in for, and secured a takedown that would have him controlling Manuwa for the majority of the first round.
Manuwa would find his way back to his feet in powerful fashion by the time the klaxon sounded, throwing Gustafsson off him in the scramble, and once the action was back on its feet, Manuwa would enjoy some success landing with a knee to the head of Gustafsson after the Swede attempted another takedown, as well as registering a glancing blow to the body of Gustafsson. While these were promising signs for Manuwa, make no mistake about it, Gustafsson had taken the round.
Entering the second stanza, it was clear that Gustafsson’s plan had changed and that the takedown was no longer a priority, with the Swede seemingly content to strike with Manuwa. With many commentators suggesting before the fight that this would be Manuwa’s best route to victory, at first glance this appeared to be a risky strategy.
With both Gustafsson and Manuwa seeking to gauge the distance of their opponent with pawing jabs, Gustafsson’s open hand would inadvertently poke Manuwa’s eye, a sight that had become familiar in many of the evening’s previous bouts.
Once Manuwa had been checked out by the cageside physician and given the OK, the action resumed, just not for very long.
With the striking exchanges going back and forth, Gustafsson would grasp the nettle, backing Manuwa up to the fence with a searching uppercut; setting up a clinch that would allow Gustafsson to land a solid knee that had Manuwa wobbled. Gustafsson followed up with some short, sharp shots that dropped Manuwa, and it was then that Gustafsson swarmed on a prone Manuwa to bring an end to a night’s worth of fights.
In the lead up to this bout, many of the questions put to Alexander Gustafsson surrounded a potential rematch with UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion, Jon Jones, after Gustafsson had fallen just short in their first encounter. It was said that Gustafsson would need to make a statement in order for him to ensure that he would secure that second date with Jones, and in stopping a feared striker like Manuwa at his own game, he did just that.
Dana White confirmed that Gustafsson will face the winner of the Jon Jones-Glover Teixeira matchup at UFC 172 in the post-fight press conference and barring quite the upset, we are likely to see the Jones-Gustafsson rematch that people have been clamouring for.
For Manuwa, it’s quite likely that we will see quite the drop in competition. While Manuwa was undefeated at 14-0 prior to last night, it is fair to say that he had not taken on anyone of the calibre of Gustafsson before this event. Manuwa should stay in and around the top ten of the division and we could see him face off with the loser of the Henderson-Shogun 2 bout if the UFC is feeling ambitious, if not maybe the loser of St. Preux-Krylov. Matched appropriately, it’s not inconceivable to see Manuwa as the man to lead the charge of the next wave of British fighters, as while he is 34 years in age, Manuwa is still relatively new to the sport and is not as battle worn as many of his peers at this age.
In terms of where the UFC and the UK go from here, it is very interesting to note how last night’s event was carried out.
From Octagon girls to in-cage announcers to the commentary team, this was a very different look and feel for the UK and is indicative of how the UFC will approach the UK events, as well as those across Europe and Asia, or the ‘Fight Pass’ events if you will.
While this is not the UFC we are used to or grown accustomed to, this is the price we must pay for regular events on these isles as the UFC continues its ambitious expansion plan. It is of course one worth paying, but you can’t help but feel that this is very much a low fat UFC we are being fed, rather than the usual production complete with all the trimmings.
It has already been announced that the O2 Arena will hold another event in London this time next year and while we may not be experiencing the halcyon days of the UFC’s first UK invasion, this renewed level of commitment from the UFC towards the UK is surely well received no matter the packaging.
Make no mistake about it, this is a time to savour for the UK UFC fan.