The UFC returns to England at the weekend for UFC Fight Night as a trio of British welterweights look to make a statement in the UFC’s crowded 170lb division.
The division now has a brand new champion, thanks to Kamaru Usman’s total domination of Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 a fortnight ago. And with the division getting something of a reboot with a new man on top, the opportunity is there for new contenders to break from the pack and offer a set of fresh challenges for the world title.
And this weekend’s event at The O2 Arena in London offers a big opportunity for three British welterweights to make a big impression and further their respective claims as they look to move towards the top of the UFC’s 170-pound division.
The big name, of course, is the Gorilla, Darren Till. The former world title challenger lost out to Tyron Woodley in his title tilt last time out. But that wasn’t the real Darren Till, and you can bet he’ll be all fired up to make amends in Saturday night’s main event. He’s facing American Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal who, on paper at least, should offer the perfect style matchup for Till to showcase his full striking arsenal.
Masvidal has excellent submissions but is first and foremost a striker, and that should play to Till’s strengths perfectly.
And with the pair showing a healthy level of respect for each other during a recent head-to-head interview with BT Sport, the story of this fight won’t be about trash talk – it’ll be about two bona-fide warriors eager to test themselves against the other.
It should make for a spectacular fight, with the winner likely to be thrust right into the world title picture. Till made a lot of noise on his way up, and after his lopsided loss to Woodley in his first title fight, he’ll be looking to ensure he is still in that world title conversation after Saturday night’s fight. One thing’s for sure, you can expect an electric atmosphere inside The O2 when Till makes his walk to the octagon to Sweet Caroline.
While Till has been something of a media darling over the last 12 months or so, Birmingham welterweight Edwards has flown largely under the radar when it comes to big-time media attention. Indeed, he’s coming into this bout with a chip on his shoulder after feeling like he’s been passed over for the Till fight.
But that doesn’t mean the 10-fight UFC veteran isn’t a worthy contender. He’s 8-2 in the UFC, with his only losses coming via split-decision on his UFC debut and a unanimous decision loss to the man who now holds the title, Usman, back in 2015.
Like Usman, Edwards is a significantly better fighter now than he was back then, and he’s since gone on a six-fight winning streak, defeating respected names like Albert Tumenov, Vicente Luque, Bryan Barberena and, most recently, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone.
⏱ 4:59 on the clock in the final round…
…@Leon_edwardsmma gets the stoppage! ?
Every. Second. Counts! ?#UFCLondon pic.twitter.com/IzlgP9lvWK
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) March 17, 2018
In all of those fights, Edwards showed that he has the all-round skillset – and big-fight temperament – to be a threat against any fighter at 170lbs.
And on Saturday night he’ll face another contender in the form of Icelandic grappling ace Gunnar Nelson. Nelson is renowned for his submission skills, but has vastly underrated striking, and will pose the biggest threat to Edwards that we’ve seen since the Usman fight. If he passes this test, a possible Battle of Britain against Till may well make sense next.
Till and Edwards may be the fighters who have taken the bulk of the attention from a British standpoint ahead of this weekend’s event, but don’t sleep on Danny Roberts.
The London-born, Florida-trained welterweight sharpens his skills alongside some of the best in the world at the acclaimed Hard Knocks 365 gym in Fort Lauderdale, and the Brit is one of the most exciting fighters to come from these shores in many a year.
After compiling a five-fight winning streak in Cage Warriors, Roberts got his shot in the UFC in 2015 and he quickly developed a reputation as a fighter who always delivers exciting performances, even when his back is against the wall. His last outing – a split-decision win over last-minute replacement David Zawada – tested Roberts to the limit as he faced a gritty, in-form opponent he’d barely had the chance to scout beforehand. But “Hot Chocolate” battled through to get the win.
Now he’ll face dangerous London-based Brazilian Claudio Silva, who is undefeated in his last 12 fights but has only competed once since 2014. Roberts returns to London looking for a repeat of his last performance in the capital when he starched Swedish prospect Oliver Enkamp with a sledgehammer of a right hand in the first round on the preliminary card last year.
Lights = out!
You don't get up from that! ??
A huge left hand gets @DanHotChocolate the KO! ?pic.twitter.com/ivG9ylYmQe
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) March 17, 2018
UFC London Full Fight Card
Main Card (Kicking off @ 8pm)
Darren Till vs Jorge Masvidal – welterweight
Leon Edwards vs Gunnar Nelson – welterweight
Volkan Oezdemir vs Dominick Reyes – light-heavyweight
Nathaniel Wood vs Jose Alberto Quinonez – bantamweight
Danny Roberts vs Claudio Silva – welterweight
Jack Marshman vs John Phillips – middleweight
Preliminary Card (Kicking off @ 5pm)
Arnold Allen vs Jordan Rinaldo – featherweight
Marc Diakiese vs Joseph Duffy – lightweight
Nick Negumereanu vs Saparbek Safarov – light-heavyweight
Tom Breese vs Ian Heinisch – middleweight
Danny Henry vs Dan Ige – featherweight
Molly McCann vs Priscilla Cachoeira – women’s flyweight
Mike Grundy vs Nad Narimani – featherweight