The fight card for the UFC’s return to London is starting to take shape. And, d’you know what? It’s actually shaping up rather nicely.
There have been eight confirmed bouts reported for the event at The O2 Arena, with a host of local fighters, plus a sprinkling of international names, set for action under the big dome on March 16.
Here’s a quick run through the key fights we’re looking forward to so far:
Liverpool’s Darren Till is heading back to home soil to reignite his charge back to a world title shot following his defeat to welterweight champ Tyron Woodley last year.
Many believed his loss to Woodley would prompt Till to move up to middleweight, where he’ll be at his more natural weight class, but the Liverpudlian has opted to stick around at 170lbs, at least for now.
Till is all set to face off against American Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal, who will happily stand and trade with the Scouse striker in the night’s main event.
It should be a cracker of a contest, and one that should allow Till to showcase his striking skills once again.
2. Jack Marshman vs John Phillips
Sometimes you want to sit and marvel at super-technical displays of striking precision or grappling excellence.
Other times you just want to see two heavy-handed warriors throw down for bragging rights. This fight is definitely the latter.
Jack Marshman and John Phillips don’t know how to take a backward step, and both love nothing more than a stand-up war.
The fact that they’re both Welsh and are facing off for the honour of being the top middleweight from Wales is simply the icing on a (probably bloody) cake.
Someone call Jim Ross. This one will be a slobberknocker.
3. Volkan Oezdemir v Dominick Reyes
It’s a bout that doesn’t feature a British fighter in either corner, but it’s a matchup that will see an established light-heavyweight contender face off against a dangerous and exciting rising prospect.
Dominick Reyes fits the upstart category, and he looks like he has the skills to make it all the way to the top. But, against Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir it’s a fair bet his chin will be tested early on.
It could deliver another banger of a contest – and probably a knockout finish – but this one might also end with the winner calling for a shot at Jon “Bones” Jones.
4. Leon Edwards v Gunnar Nelson
Leon Edwards has quietly moved into a contender’s spot in the UFC welterweight division, and now he faces arguably his toughest test in years.
“Rocky” is riding a six-fight win streak, and outpointed Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in Singapore in his last outing to prove that he’s more than capable of mixing it with the very best in the world.
Now he faces elite grappler Gunnar Nelson, who is also vying for a shot against one of the top contenders after finishing Alex Oliveira via rear-naked choke at UFC 231 in December.
It’s a fascinating all-European clash, and one that the hardcore MMA fans will be marking down as one of the most intriguing match-ups on the card.
5. Tom Breese v Cezar Ferreira
I’ve followed Tom Breese’s career from the domestic scene in England to the UFC, and now he’s moved up to middleweight I reckon we could be about to see the big Brummie at his very best.
Breese absolutely smoked Aussie Dan Kelly last May on his middleweight debut, and he’ll be looking to repeat the feat against Cezar Ferreira.
Also on the card…
The always-entertaining Danny “Hot Chocolate” Roberts faces off against London-based Brazilian Claudio Silva at welterweight, while former Cage Warriors women’s flyweight champ Molly McCann will look to claim her first UFC win on home soil against Priscila Cachoeira.
Finally, fans of heavy-handed striking will be keen to see former K-1 kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki, who will arrive in London with a point to prove after his shocking knockout loss in his last outing.
He’ll face combat sambo specialist Saparbek Safarov, who is chasing his first UFC win at the third attempt.