Over five years since the UFC returned to the United Kingdom in 2007 and began an ultra-successful series of events overseas, the organization is back for February 16th’s UFC on FUEL TV event in London. But before the doors open at Wembley Arena, it’s time to look at the top ten UK UFC moments.
10 - Etim shows what he’s made of against Buchholz
As one of the UK’s top prospects, Liverpool’s Terry Etim has been paying his dues while growing up in public in the Octagon. That means that he’s won some and lost some, but he’s still improving and showing glimpses of his top-notch talent. This was never more evident than in his UFC 99 bout against Justin Buchholz, where he rebounded from a broken nose and some rough moments to finish his opponent. It was the display of heart you expect to see before you stamp a fighter a prospect instead of suspect, and Etim passed that major test with flying colors.
9 - The Music
Considering that The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, and Led Zeppelin all hail from the UK, it’s not surprising that British fighters have entered the Octagon to some memorable tunes. And whether it’s Mike Bisping with Blur’s “Song 2” and The Clash’s “London Calling,” Dan Hardy with Cock Sparrer’s “England Belongs to Me,” John Hathaway with the Stones’ “Paint in Black,” or Paul Kelly with the Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” the mood is always perfectly set for a good ol’ fashioned throwdown by the time the bell rings.
8 - Weir KOs Jackson in 10 seconds
There were a host of memorable moments on the UFC’s first UK card in 2002, including Ian Freeman’s upset of Frank Mir, Matt Hughes’ title defense win over Carlos Newton, and an appearance from the always entertaining Genki Sudo. But one moment that definitely earns a place in that group was Mark Weir’s ten second knockout of Eugene Jackson. A UFC mainstay who had compiled a 3-3 Octagon record that included two KO and one submission win, “The Wolf” was certainly the favorite against Gloucester’s Weir, who ran off eight wins after a loss in his first pro fight. But it was Weir who delivered a spectacular finish of his opponent and got the MMA world buzzing. Four months later, Weir was back in the Octagon to face Phillip Miller, and when I spoke to him before the fight, he was clear with his intentions: “Hopefully I want to be the first British fighter to get a title shot and then actually win the UFC middleweight title.” It was not to be, as he lost to Miller and to David Loiseau, but no one can ever take away his night of UFC glory in London.
7 - Hathaway Upsets Sanchez
With a first round blast out of Tom Egan in his UFC debut, and subsequent decision wins over solid competitors Rick Story and Paul Taylor, there was no question that unbeaten John Hathaway had a pretty substantial upside in the UFC’s welterweight division. But when his UFC 114 bout against veteran Diego Sanchez was announced, the phrase “too much too soon” was thrown around a bit. Well, so much for conventional wisdom, as Hathaway took his big moment in the spotlight and embraced it, taking Sanchez out of the fight immediately en route to scoring a shutout three round decision win.
6 – Hardy makes statement with win over “The Irish Hand Grenade”
It started out innocently enough, but by the time Dan Hardy and Marcus Davis stepped into the Octagon at Cologne, Germany’s Lanxess Arena, the bout and it’s heated barrage of trash talk made it the talk of the MMA world and the most highly-anticipated bout on the UFC 99 card. And while it was close throughout, Hardy emerged victorious via split decision. It was the biggest win to that point for “The Outlaw,” and made it clear that there was plenty of substance behind the style and flash.
5 - Pearson, Wilks Win TUF 9
As fighters like Bisping and Hardy made their way up the ranks, it was clear that the British Isles had the potential to produce world-class talent. But the aforementioned dynamic duo had already paid plenty of dues on the local circuit years before their UFC debuts, which brought up the question, “Is there any up and coming talent being produced in the UK?” The Ultimate Fighter season nine answered that question in the affirmative, and with Bisping coaching a team of his countrymen, three of the four final spots were filled by Brits, with Ross Pearson and James Wilks emerging as the season’s winners, and two more cast members, Andre Winner and Nick Osipczak, also seeing Octagon action after the show’s conclusion.
4 - Freeman beats Mir
4-0 as a pro, with two wins already in the UFC, 23-year-old Frank Mir was the UFC’s golden boy at heavyweight heading into the organization’s initial trip to the UK for London’s UFC 38 event. 32-year-old Sunderland native Ian Freeman was three years into his pro career and had lost four of his previous six bouts. In other words, he was a stepping stone for Mir, a nice name to have on the resume. But Freeman was fighting for more than just a paycheck. The father of “The Machine” was fighting cancer, and as it turned out, he passed away the day before the bout. Freeman, who dedicated the fight to his father, didn’t know of the death, and he poured his heart into the Mir match, stopping the highly-touted prospect at 4:35 of the first round in one of the most emotional wins you will ever witness.
3 - Bisping Wins TUF3
Considering his status as a UFC mainstay and a legit middleweight title contender, it’s hard to believe that back in 2006 Michael Bisping was hoping that The Ultimate Fighter reality show was going to be his ticket from the local fight circuit to the big time. And while few in the States knew who he was at the time, he made sure that situation changed rather quickly while he was in the TUF house, as he beat Kristian Rothaermel and countryman Ross Pointon en route to the finals, where he halted Josh Haynes and opened the door to the UFC for himself and his fellow UK fighters.
2 - Hardy becomes first UK fighter to compete for a UFC title
Shy and unassuming, Dan Hardy quietly made his way through the UFC ranks…okay, we know that wasn’t the way things played out for the brash and charismatic “Outlaw,” and his ability to sell a fight and then deliver in the Octagon may have helped move him up the welterweight ladder even faster. But regardless of how he did it, Hardy’s four UFC wins over Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, Marcus Davis, and Mike Swick certainly made his case for a title shot a compelling one, and while he didn’t pull off the upset of Georges St-Pierre in their UFC 111 title bout in March of 2010, Hardy made history as the first Brit to fight for a UFC title and he gained a boatload of fans for his refusal to give in to a number of GSP submission attempts in the process.
1 - Bisping delivers at UFC 70
Want pressure? It couldn’t get any more stressful than this for Michael Bisping in the UFC’s first show in the UK in nearly five years. Not only was “The Count” trying to establish a foothold in the organization in his second fight following his Ultimate Fighter win, but he was without a doubt the man spearheading the MMA revolution in the UK, so a loss would have been catastrophic. But from the second Blur’s “Song 2” hit the speakers, the crowd was into it, the atmosphere was electric, and with the exception of a near-Kimura by opponent Elvis Sinosic in round two, Bisping was on, stopping his foe in the second round and kick starting a new era for British mixed martial artists.