It was a night that began in turmoil for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but in the end, the company was glad to have preserved the contender status enjoyed by their most marketable U.K. fighter.
The group’s problems began on Saturday afternoon, when management, media, and competitors alike were left stranded in England’s capital city, when the drivers chauffeuring them to the O2 Arena failed to account for the closure of the Blackwall Tunnel. Ultimately, none of the scheduled fights had to be canceled as first feared.
In the end, though, hometown hero Michael Bisping triumphed over Yoshihiro Akiyama by unanimous decision (all three judges scored the bout 30-27) in the main event, the worst-case scenario had been avoided, meaning he remains in the mix for a shot at UFC welterweight champion Anderson Silva.
Michael Bisping was bruised but victorious after his UFC 120 victory.
The first round of the main event was largely Bisping’s, his boxing sharper and quicker off the mark, although he was caught with a left hand at the beginning of the round that he later admitted had him seeing double.
Despite being out-pointed, Akiyama, to his credit, didn’t appear to be in any danger, and in the proceeding five minutes he retaliated aggressively, catching Bisping consistently with short right hooks, rocking him again in the final 30 seconds before the bell.
The final round threatened to be marred by a brutal Bisping kick which caught the Japanese in the groin, but after several minutes of recovery, Akiyama built on his second-round performance, throwing wild hooks that his opponent evaded and countered with jabs, but it still wasn’t enough to keep Bisping from winning on all cards.
“Ultimately it’s up to the UFC, but I feel like I’m really maturing, and everything is coming together,” said Bisping of his career and future fights. “I’m ready. I feel now is my time. I want to fight the best out there, and I think with one more win against a credible opponent, I should get a title shot.”
Prior to the co-main event, to say that the ovation for Nottingham’s Dan Hardy was rapturous would be an understatement, and remarkably, the reaction remained the same even after he was knocked out in devastating fashion by Carlos Condit.
Hardy had initially done a good job of countering Condit’s strikes as he entered into range, even if a spinning backfist on the part of the former WEC welterweight champion hit the Briton’s chin hard. After 4:27 of the first round, though, both men went for simultaneous left hooks, with Condit planting his perfectly on Hardy’s chin at the very moment that “The Outlaw” over-shot by three or four inches. Hardy was knocked down and out, although Condit did sneak in a couple of punches on the ground to officially claim the victory.
“I feel comfortable on my feet,” said Condit after being asked if it was his gameplan to stand with Hardy. “But if it had gone to the ground, I would’ve done well, too.
“We (at Greg Jackson’s training camp) were worried about his left hand,” he added. “We trained for that quite a bit.”
When Hardy, who had just returned from hospital and remained quiet throughout the post-fight press conference, was asked what was next for him, he jokingly replied: “A headache.”
Mike Pyle found the element of surprise to be irresistible as he went for takedowns at the start of the first and second rounds in his match-up with the undefeated John Hathaway, whose own wrestling had dominated Diego Sanchez back in May. The benefit of the surprise really came in the second round, when Pyle had the Englishman trapped in a quasi-triangle from a side position, using the manoeuvre more for control as he rained down punches and elbows. Up until that point, Pyle’s stand-up had been sweeter, too, but in repeating in the third round the grappling dominance that he had in rounds one and two, he had Hathaway beaten on all counts, with each judging agreeing a 30-27 verdict.
Travis Browne’s good defensive footwork, by comparison at least, seemed to befuddle Cheick Kongo in the opening round of their bout, so much so that the Frenchman was tentative in spite of his usual strike-heavy style. Browne’s own punching, however, was a little wild, throwing down with so much intent that his agility was all but absent in the second round, a large portion of which saw both men battling for position against the cage. Kongo was docked a point for holding his opponent’s shorts in the third round, but even that didn’t seem to stir the Wolfslair fighter, and he was extremely lucky to escape from the fight with a rare draw.
Claude Patrick clearly had a huge strength advantage, muscling Ultimate Fighter 9 champion James Wilks to the canvas in three copycat rounds, but there was more damage done to Wilks’ ego in this unanimous decision (a 30-27 loss across the board) loss, than there was to him physically.
Cyrille Diabate and Alexander Gustafsson clearly came in with the intention of ending their bout decisively. Knocking Diabate down with a big shot in the first round, he immediately jumped on his opponent to attempt to finish, but was unable to strike there with anything like the same type of ferocity. Diabate survived that onslaught, but Gustafsson finally one via tapout at 2:41 of round two.
Known on the UK scene for his brawling brand of boxing, Rob “The Bear” Broughton did nothing to dismiss that opinion in the early going of his bout with Vinicius Queiroz. Ultimately, though, Broughton got the best of the jiu-jitsu specialist at his own game, as Broughton almost got an armbar submission, before getting the hooks for a rear naked choke, 1:46 into the third round.
Paul Sass’ first-round submission victory over Mark Holst was notable for the busy ground work of both fighters. Sass consistently looked for the triangle choke, which has become his forte on the UK scene. He eventually locked the move on, and reminiscent of Fabricio Werdum’s victory over Fedor Emelianenko in June, no amount of struggling by Holst could free him, with Sass getting the tapout with just 15 seconds remaining in the first round.
Low kicks were the order of the day for Spencer Fisher and Kurt Warburton at the beginning of their encounter, though Warburton was clearly using those to throw his opponent off-guard before attempting the takedown, which he duly got, almost finishing Fisher with a guillotine choke with two minutes remaining in the round. After some trading of knees in the second-round clinches, Fisher looked for the rear naked choke on two occasions in the third, perhaps concerned about the outcome of any judges’ decision. He needn’t have worried however, as he emerged with 29-28 scores across the board.
In the evening’s opening contest, London-born James McSweeney made his intentions for Fabio Maldonado clear in the first round, swinging wildly with punches and spinning back-fists, in addition to throwing a series of leg kicks. Unsuccessful in his attempt to grab a highlight reel finish, however, he was clearly drained come the second round, allowing Maldonado to take control, in particular using his superior grappling to good effect. Sensing his opponent’s fading cardio, Maldonado took the fight to McSweeney in at the beginning of the third round, after just a further 48 seconds, referee Marc Goddard was compelled to stop the contest after a series of hard punches against the cage