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Monday MMA Round-Up: UFC’s fantastic London return

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Paddy Pimblett of England and Molly McCann of England celebrate his submission victory over Kazula Vargas of Mexico in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Hello, fight fans, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday MMA Round-Up, where we look back at the week that was in the world of mixed martial arts. There’s plenty going on, so let’s dive right into all of the happenings.

Looking back at UFC London

  • The UFC’s return to London on Saturday for UFC on ESPN+ 62 was absolutely electric all the way through, and one of the best shows of the last several years. It was the first Fight Night show to take place in front of an actual crowd (I’m not counting those APEX shows with less than 100 people or the two Abu Dhabi cards that had maybe 1,500 people there), and it couldn’t have been a better environment overall. The fighters seemed to pick up on the energy of the crowd, as there were nine finishes in the 13 fights, and it was a show worth going back and finding a replay of.
  • Tom Aspinall made a statement that he is going to challenge for the UFC Heavyweight Championship one day in the main event of Saturday’s show, as he ran right through Alexander Volkov, submitting him in the first round. Many thought this would be the big coming out party for Aspinall, which was a big reason he was put in the headline spot, but he was given a tough opponent in Volkov. Aspinall made it look easy as Volkov was never really in the fight, and Aspinall got him down early before submitting him with a straight armlock in just under four minutes. Aspinall should be right there in the mix when it comes to heavyweight title options (more on that later), and he’s ready for the best-of-the-best at heavyweight.
  • It is very hard to start a UFC career with a 9–0 record, but Arnold Allen has joined the list of fighters who have done so after a fantastic showing on Saturday when he finished Dan Hooker in the first round. This was an exciting fight during the 2:33 that it lasted and the win moves Allen into that upper echelon of the featherweight division where he could make a strong case for a title shot right now, and definitely so with one more win.
  • Paddy Pimblett is going to be a star for the UFC. He did everything they needed him to do on Saturday, and that was finishing Kazula Vargas in the first round. Pimblett did get cracked by Vargas early, which is something that often happens and a big hole in Pimblett’s game, but he overcame it to dominate once he was able to get his grappling going, submitting Vargas with a rear-naked choke. He got a gigantic reaction, which was to be expected, but everything about the fight and post-fight showed he’s going to be a big star going forward. There are some questionable things about him, and he probably should stay away from social media, but he’s everything you want in someone you want to market.
  • There were two “Knockout Of The Year” contenders to open the main card. First, Ilia Topuria overcame a first round where he was in trouble against Jai Herbert, then ended it in the second round with a big right hand that sent Herbert to the canvas and out cold. Then, in the following fight, Molly McCann was putting on a career-best showing, but she didn’t want to go to the scorecards, so she landed a spinning elbow in the third that connected flush with the chin of Luana Carolina, knocking her out cold. McCann got a gigantic reaction for her knockout and it was an incredible moment. These are finishes worth going back and watching again-and-again.
  • Paul Craig is someone to never count out in fights, ever. Saturday was another example of Craig being dominated in the early stages of a fight, only for him to pull out a submission out of nowhere to get a win. He was getting dominated from the top by Nikita Krylov, but Krylov decided to play with Craig on the mat, which is something you don’t really want to do, and Craig was able to find a triangle choke and get Krylov to tap in the first round. It was the fourth straight win for Craig, and he’s unbeaten in his last six. He called for a main event slot in Glasgow, Scotland against Anthony Smith next, and that is really the perfect fight to make.
  • Two prospects who remain undefeated following Saturday after scoring wins are bantamweight Jack Shore and flyweight Muhammad Mokaev. Shore scored a decision win over Timur Valiev in a tough fight, which moved Shore to 16-0 overall and 5-0 during his UFC career. Mokaev made quick work of Cody Durden, submitting him in 58 seconds to move to 7-0 in his UFC debut. Both are names to keep an eye on as far as future title contenders and future potential champions. It’s time for Shore to get a high-profile fight against a ranked opponent as well.
  • UFC ended up giving the $50,000 performance bonuses to all nine fighters who scored wins by stoppage on the show, which is really something that should become standard going forward as they can easily afford it. It shouldn’t just happen in situations where everyone is in a good mood because of several things, so they just decide to give out more money. It would also motivate more fighters to go for that finish.
  • Dana White said afterwards that they would do whatever they could to get back the U.K. as quickly as possible, even though they had no current plans to return this year. That’s different than what I have heard, as I heard there were holds on several venues in England and other countries in the event they decided to run more cards overseas this year. They should, and I think they’ll return to Europe several times this year, including holding an event in France.
  • If there is one thing Saturday’s event in London showed, it’s that, as I’ve said multiple times, they need to get out of the UFC APEX as quickly as possible. Having all of these shows in front of full crowds just brings a different kind of energy and environment for fight night, and it brings out the best in the fighters and everyone involved. I don’t know the plans past May 7, but they’re still the only sporting event still running events without crowds (I know they let fans into the UFC APEX, but never more than about 150, so it really doesn’t count), and the time is right to get back to normal.
  • As I noted two weeks ago was in the plans, UFC 274 on May 7 had another title fight added to the card, as it will officially be UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas defending against Carla Esparza. It is a rematch of the inaugural UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship bout, which took place in December 2014 and was won by Esparza. It is also the right fight to make in the division, and both are far better than they were the first time they fought.
  • Francis Ngannou officially underwent knee surgery this past week, with repairs to his torn MCL and damaged ACL. He had no meniscus damage. He’s expected to be out for nine months. Dana White was talking about an interim heavyweight title over the weekend due to the injury, with Jon Jones likely involved. I have heard there is talk of Jones vs. Stipe Miocic for an interim title in July. White does seem confident that Ngannou will be signing a new deal, and they are scheduled to meet sometime in the near future to discuss a new contract.
  • Two title fights that look likely for July are UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya defending against Jared Cannonier, and UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman defending against Leon Edwards. There are two pay-per-view events taking place in July, with UFC 276 on July 2 in Las Vegas, and UFC 277 on July 30 in a location to be determined. It is possible both fights could end up on UFC 276 if they want to go with a massive fight card, but that would also be an expensive fight card on top. If I were to guess, they end up with one on each show, though I personally would put them both on the UFC 276 card and make it the special event worthy of headlining International Fight Week.
  • UFC 281 was officially announced as taking place on October 22 at the Etihad Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. It is part of the yearly deal between UFC and Abu Dhabi. It is unknown if it will be a pay-per-view event or just a special numbered ESPN+ event like in 2021, but it will have at least one title fight on the card.
  • Contracts are starting to be sent out to fighters for this upcoming season of Dana White’s Contender Series. It is expected to return in July, which will be the sixth season of the show.

Playing matchmaker

Here are the fights I would make next for those who fought at UFC On ESPN+ 62 on Saturday:

  • Tom Aspinall vs. Tai Tuivasa
  • Alexander Volkov vs. Sergei Pavlovich
  • Arnold Allen vs. Calvin Kattar
  • Dan Hooker vs. Shane Burgos
  • Paddy Pimblett vs. Matt Frevola
  • Gunnar Nelson vs. Li Jingliang
  • Molly McCann vs. Jessica Eye
  • Ilia Topuria vs. Giga Chikadze
  • Paul Craig vs. Anthony Smith
  • Jack Shore vs. Ricky Simon
  • Muhammad Mokaev vs. Malcolm Gordon

Fight announcements

Here are the fights that were announced over the past week:

  • Dricus Du Plessis vs. Anthony Hernandez — UFC 273 — April 9
  • Pat Sabatini vs. TJ Laramie — UFC Fight Night — April 16
  • Yancy Medeiros vs. Emmanuel Sanchez — Bellator 279 — April 23
  • UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza — UFC 274 — May 7
  • Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas — UFC Fight Night — May 14
  • Chidi Njokuani vs. Dusko Todorovic — UFC Fight Night — May 21
  • Andreas Michailidis vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov — UFC Fight Night — June 4
  • Brendan Allen vs. Jacob Malkoun — UFC 275 — June 11
  • Miesha Tate vs. Lauren Murphy — UFC 276 — July 2

Coming up this week

Here are the notable MMA events taking place this week:

  • UFC On ESPN 33 takes place on Saturday, March 26 from the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The entire card airs on ESPN and ESPN+. The main card airs at 7:00 p.m. ET and the prelims air at 4 p.m. ET. Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus is the main event.
  • PFL Challenger Series 6 takes place on Friday, March 25 from Orlando, Florida, airing at 9:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.
  • LFA 127 takes place on Friday, March 25 from Commerce, California, airing at 10:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.
  • Fury FC 59 takes place on Sunday, March 27 from Houston, Texas, airing at 8:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.

This week in MMA history

UFC 36: Worlds Collide, 2002

On March 22, 2002, the Octagon ascended upon the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for just the second time for UFC 36: Worlds Collide. It was before the boom brought upon by The Ultimate Fighter, but the show still drew a respectable 10,000 fans for a gate of $898,850, as well as 55,000 buys on pay-per-view.

The show is notable for featuring nine past or future UFC champions, the most on a single UFC event in promotion history, including one in each of the eight fights on the card. The show was headlined by Josh Barnett scoring a second-round TKO over UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture to become the new champion. However, the reign would be short-lived, as Barnett was stripped months later following a failure of his mandatory post-fight drug test for steroids.

In the other title fight on the show, UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes would have a successful defense, scoring a fourth-round TKO of Hayato Sakurai. Hughes was originally supposed to fight future UFC legend Anderson Silva, but Silva opted to sign a contract with PRIDE Fighting Championships, and his UFC debut would have to wait four more years.

The rest of the card saw future UFC champions Evan Tanner, Frank Mir, Matt Serra and Sean Sherk score wins, while future UFC champion Andrei Arlovski would suffer a third-round knockout loss to Pedro Rizzo. Former UFC champion Pat Miletich would suffer a first-round knockout loss to Matt Lindland.

You can watch UFC 36 on UFC Fight Pass here.

In The Clinch

This week on In The Clinch, myself and Paul Fontaine will look back at UFC On ESPN+ 62 and the great show it was. We will also look ahead to UFC On ESPN 33, take a look at all of the news and happenings taking place in MMA. In The Clinch is part of The Fight Game Media Network of podcasts, which are all available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and our Patreon page.

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