It had been four years since the UFC last touched down in Manchester, England for a night of face-punching action, but on Saturday night, the biggest promotion in MMA returned for UFC Fight Night 30.
While the card was originally slated to feature the poster boy for British MMA Michael Bisping against Mark Munoz, an eye injury suffered in training put "The Count" on the sidelines. In addition to the fight having an immediate impact on the title hopes of both men, the bout had built solid steam in the grudge department, with each fighter jabbing at the other in interviews and social media.
Nevertheless, the former The Ultimate Fighter winner's injury knocked him off the card, and the UFC tapped former light heavyweight champion-turned-middleweight Lyoto Machida to step in against Munoz. "The Dragon" had been preparing to make his official 185-pound debut on Nov. 6 against Tim Kennedy, but the open spot in the main event for UFC Fight Night 30 needed addressing, and the gifted Brazilian striker took it without hesitation.
This put Munoz and Machida on a collision course for Manchester, where—despite their friendship—it was all business when the cage door closed at the Phone4U Arena on Saturday night.
That said, the business didn't take too long to wrap up as Machida knocked out Munoz with a head kick in the opening round. After peppering the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler with several body kicks, The Dragon went upstairs with a left leg that crumpled Munoz to the canvas.
While the main event was absent of a British fighter, the co-main featured heavy-handed Englishman Ross Pearson mixing it up with Melvin Guillard. "The Real Deal" had made his first showing after winning the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter when the UFC last visited Manchester in 2009, defeating Aaron Riley at UFC 105. On Saturday night, he was looking to put on a similar performance against "The Young Assassin."
Unfortunately for all parties involved, the bout didn't deliver.
In the lead-up, Pearson vs. Guillard was figured to guarantee fireworks, but the scrap proved to be anti-climactic. The fight was stopped just south of the two-minute mark and ruled a no-contest.
The 30-year-old Louisiana native unloaded a series of knees as Pearson was pressed against the cage, but the second strike landed as the Brit's hand was touching the canvas, which made him a downed opponent. That knee opened a gash on Pearson's forehead that was severe enough for the cageside doctor to wave off the fight.
With the bout ending as the result of an illegal strike, the no-contest ruling went into effect, and the highly anticipated fight came to a sputtering halt.
While the majority of the promotion leading up to the event focused on the biggest names sitting atop the card, the event included plenty of solid action and a rich amount of strangeness up and down the lineup. The British love a good row, and they were treated to loads of ruckus as fighters from all corners of the UFC roster went after it in Manchester.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night 30.
Lyoto Machida is one of the most difficult puzzles to solve in mixed martial arts. The former light heavyweight champion's karate-based style and mastery of spatial difference have given fighters fits since he joined the UFC in 2007.
The Dragon parlayed that success into a light heavyweight championship and made himself a perennial contender in the 205-pound fold even after he lost his title to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 113 in 2010. While he has suffered setbacks and faced adversity since his time as champion, his unorthodox attacking style has kept his elite status intact.
That said, after being edged out by Phil Davis at UFC 163 in August, the 35-year-old Team Black House fighter looked to re-ignite his career by dropping to middleweight. On Saturday night, the former titleholder made his official debut at 185 pounds against Mark Munoz.
And what an impressive debut it was.
Machida is notorious for an extensive feeling-out period when he fights, but that wasn't the case against Munoz. From the opening bell, he set about walking down Munoz and landing powerful body kicks. The strikes had an immediate effect, and once Munoz was forced to lower his hands to protect his midsection, it was only a matter of time before Machida went high.
In proper Machida fashion, it only took one kick to lay Munoz flat on the canvas. With his opponent defenseless on the mat, Machida hovered over top and waited for the referee to wave off the fight. He didn't want to dish out any unnecessary punishment to his friend and sometimes training partner.
With his victory over Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30, Machida becomes a major player in the middleweight title picture.
Many critics and media believe he should have been competing at 185 pounds all along, and his performance on Saturday night validates that notion. Yet, with close friend and teammate Anderson Silva at middleweight, Machida had steered clear of competing at 185 lbs. But with all signs pointing to "The Spider" being at the tail end of his career, the door is opening up for Machida to make a serious run at the middleweight title.
While the majority of challenges in the upper tier of the division are booked up with scheduled matchups, Machida has two interesting options for his next bout. With red-hot contender Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza also being a friend and teammate, a tilt between the two could prove difficult to make, but the matchup would make sense.
Outside of the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, the opponent who would make the most sense is Michael Bisping. Machida replaced The Count against Munoz when an eye injury forced the brash Brit out of action. With the Brit returning to action early next year as a staple of the upper tier at 185 pounds, a matchup between him and The Dragon would not only determine title contention but be an interesting stylistic clash as well.
While the Brazilian karate master may have exited the light heavyweight ranks for the time being, one fighter who is making big waves at 205 pounds is Jimi Manuwa. The "Poster Boy" has been a force of nature since joining the UFC in late 2012, and he kept that momentum by defeating Ryan Jimmo on Saturday night.
The 33-year-old picked up his third victory under the UFC banner when Jimmo suffered a leg injury in the second round and was unable to continue. With the win, the British knockout artist keeps his undefeated record intact and guarantees his next bout will come against an opponent with name recognition.
While it feels strange to use "powerful" to describe a 125-pound fighter, there is no better term to use for John Lineker. The 23-year-old Brazilian put Phil Harris away with a brutal body shot in the first round, picking up his fourth consecutive victory in the process. While four in a row would normally be enough to evoke title talk, Lineker failed to make weight for the second consecutive fight and for the third time in five bouts under the UFC banner.
If he can get the issue under control and make the weight limit, he could make a legitimate case for title contention in 2014.
No fighter on the card for UFC Fight Night 30 needed a win more than Alessio Sakara. The 32-year-old Italian had battled his way back from a year-long layoff due to injury and was hoping to get his career back on track against Nico Musoke. In addition to his time away, Sakara held the burden of a three-fight skid on his shoulders, which made his tilt in Manchester a make-or-break situation.
Unfortunately for "Legionarius," a reversal of fortune wasn't in the cards as Musoke submitted him via armbar in the first round. While the fight opened with several action-packed exchanges that wobbled both fighters, Musoke was the one to capitalize. He picked up a victory in his official UFC debut, and Sakara will most likely be staring down the cold reality of life outside of the UFC.
His loss on Saturday night makes it four consecutive setbacks for Sakara and brings his overall UFC record to 6-8-1. Throughout his time competing inside the Octagon, he has battled injury, particularly from 2009 to 2011, when he was only able to compete once a year.
In addition to his inability to remain healthy, Sakara's attempts to re-invigorate himself at a new weight class have produced mixed results. He made the full commitment to compete at middleweight in 2008 and has only found victory in three of his eight showings at 185 pounds.
He simply hasn't been able to get the job done. And with UFC president Dana White frequently addressing the organization's crowded roster, it would be difficult to make a case for keeping the veteran.
With some cards, things go pretty much as planned and the beautiful violence inside the cage plays out in rhythm. But then there are events like UFC Fight Night 30, where a giant cloud of strange settles over the arena and the fighters involved fall victim to its odd powers.
This was certainly the case in the co-main event between Ross Pearson and Melvin Guillard.
When some matchups are put on paper, they seem to be a no-fail guaranteed ticket for ruckus. With the high-powered fighting styles of Guillard and Pearson, collision promised to steal the show on Saturday.
That said, the live-fire environment of combat inside the cage can produce some wacky results, and that is what transpired when the two lightweights squared off in Manchester.
After trading a few heavy shots, Guillard pressed the former TUF winner into the cage, where he unloaded two crushing knees to the head of the British fighter. While the first strike was clean, Pearson's hand was touching the mat as the second knee landed, which technically made him a downed opponent.
The severity of the cut opened by the second knee forced the doctor to call an end to the fight, and the most anticipated scrap on the card ended in unmemorable fashion.
While the finish in the bout between Guillard and Pearson was uneventful, Luke Barnatt did his best to get as many finishes as he possibly could against Andrew Craig. The TUF alumnus unofficially scored both a TKO and submission victory over Craig during their tilt on the preliminary portion of the card in Manchester.
While the 25-year-old's performance was impressive, it was the fashion in which the action played out that earned "Bigslow" entry into this particular category. Midway through the opening frame, he flushed Craig with a combination that sent the Texan toppling backward to the canvas. Rather than swarm in for the kill, the British fighter raised his arms in premature celebration.
The break in action gave Craig just enough time to recover, and he managed to survive the round. As action got under way in the second frame, Barnatt once again put Craig on the canvas, and just like he did in the first round, he threw his hands up in the air to celebrate what he believed was the end of the fight.
Nevertheless, while Craig escaped again, his luck wouldn't last to a third time, as he fell victim to a rear-naked choke soon after. The victory over Craig adds a solid name to Barnatt's resume and makes him undefeated in two fights under the UFC banner.
When the bout between Canadian striker Ryan Jimmo and brick-handed Brit Jimi Manuwa was announced, the anticipation for a slugfest with the likelihood for a knockout was set in motion. With both men having love to chin check inside the cage, it was all but a given that the fight would end with one of them napping on the canvas.
While the fight did end via stoppage in Manuwa's favor, it was the fashion in which the bout ended that made it a sure-fire entry into this category. After Jimmo took a knee to the forehead in the middle of the cage, he took several steps back in order to create space and avoid Manuwa's attack. As he was in the process of backing up, his legs went wacky, and he puddled to the mat in pain.
Despite the heat of the moment, confusion got the better of the Poster Boy, and Manuwa hovered over Jimmo without firing off on a defenseless opponent. When the referee stepped in to bring an end to the action, the smile on the face of the undefeated Brit was proof he had no idea what had just happened.
As a result of the strange turn of events, Manuwa keeps his undefeated record intact and has been successful in all three of his showings under the UFC banner.
The final entry into this category comes with a case of mistaken identity. While Irish featherweight Conor McGregor has wasted no time in grabbing as much spotlight as he possibly can, it appears he may have a doppelganger in the UFC ranks. At least, Cole Miller thinks so.
Following his victory over Andy Ogle, the American Top Team fighter used his post-fight interview time with Joe Rogan to unleash some pent-up venom in the scrappy Irish fighter's direction. Miller suggested "Colin McGoober" couldn't beat him and stoked the fires of a potential rivalry at 145 pounds.
Whereas McGregor has won both of his showings under the UFC banner, "McGoober's" stats were unavailable to be located.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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