UFC 120: My View From the O2 Arena in London

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UFC 120: My View From the O2 Arena in London
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Bisping triumphed at UFC 120

Following a Friday visit to Earls Court, for the first ever UFC Fan Expo in the United Kingdom, I, alongside thousands of other MMA fans, made my way to the O2 Arena in London.

Arriving around an hour before the first bout, we spent the majority of that time forcing our way through the queues to reach our seats. Quite simply, queuing at the arena is horrific, whether its for food, drink, or even entering.

However, after reaching our seats, complete with food and drink (despite the incompetence with which both are served), you can’t help but be excited for what’s to come.

The anticipation was building inside the arena, and it was disappointing to see so many empty seats despite the imminent beginning to the fight card.

James McSweeney vs. Fabio Maldonado

First on the bill was England’s own, James McSweeney, taking on the Brazilian, Fabio Maldonado, in a lightweight bout. Bruce Buffer, made the introductions, and got a fantastic cheer when he began to speak, and we were underway.

The crowd was firmly behind McSweeney, and he was excellent in the opening round. He punished Maldonado with some heavy shots, and had the Brazilian rocked a couple of times. Unfortunately he couldn’t put him away.

I have to say, the best moment was when Maldonado taunted McSweeney by pointing to his head, I assume to tell McSweeney to try and hit it. About a second later, McSweeney landed a head kick. Just golden…

Second round started, and the Brazilian landed a big body shot. McSweeney almost went down, and was in obvious pain, but didn’t give in. It looked to me like his rib was broken, but this hasn’t been confirmed.

Anyway, Maldonado worked over his ribs for the next two rounds, eventually getting the stoppage at 48 seconds of the third.

It was disappointing that McSweeney was injured, as the fight was shaping up to be a good one. After the body shot, it was very one sided. If his rib was broken, kudos to McSweeney for not quitting.

Maldonado didn’t look like anything special, but looks like he could put on some good fights as he just stands and trades. McSweeney, well, he’s likely to be cut. A good start to the card though, and some good action.

Kurt Warburton vs. Spencer Fisher

Lightweights next, and the first UK / US bout, with Warburton up against veteran Fisher. Both men came out to good responses from the crowd.

Not the most exciting fight. Most of it spent pressed against the cage in the clinch. Warburton definitely won Round 1.

The second round was less clear, I had Fisher winning, but it was close. Third round went to Fisher. All rounds saw the same format – clinched on the cage.

Fisher wins the unanimous decision (29-28 on all cards). I wasn’t surprised, but it could have gone either way. The fight wasn’t great, and it would have been good to see these guys do something other than clinch. Sadly, you can’t have it all.

Paul Sass vs. Mark Holst

Anyone who knows about Paul Sass, knows about his triangle choke. The Englishman held a 10-0 record going into the contest, with his first seven wins all courtesy of a triangle choke.

Sass was making his UFC debut in London, and got a great ovation from the crowd on his entrance; and people were looking forward to seeing the submission expert.

As for the fight, well, guess what? Sass wins in the opening round via triangle choke.

He looked decent on his feet, but tried to take the fight to the ground whenever possible.

Once on the ground, he dominated Holst. His control of Holst was outstanding, as he looked for submission after submission.

In the end, there was only going to be one outcome.

However, it looked like Holst tapped twice; the first time going unnoticed by Dan Mirgliotatta. Not sure how this played out on TV, but live, this is what it looked like.

Rob Broughton vs. Vinicius Queiroz

I must confess, this was our beer break. I intending on watching the fight though. Unfortunately, due to the previously mentioned incompetence of O2 Arena staff, this was impossible.

I returned for the final round, and saw Broughton get the win by rear-naked choke. I can’t tell you any more about the fight sadly.

Cyrille Diabaté vs. Alexander Gustafsson

First things first, Gustafsson has heavy hands! The Swede absolutely annihilated his opponent, and Diabaté was down twice in the first round.

The brutality continued into round two, when Diabaté hit the deck again. Gustafsson swarmed all over him, took his back, and looked for the finish. Between his failed rear-naked choke attempts, he unleashed more punishment on the Frenchmen, unloading on him until he finally locked in the submission for the finish.

Diabaté was bloodied up and unable to get back to his feet after the fight, and was helped from the Octagon. Never a pretty sight, but the dangers of the game I suppose.

Gustafsson looked great. Really great. He’s only 24, so could have a very bright future ahead of him, and it made for one hell of an exciting fight, so I would relish the opportunity to see more of his fights. A great MMA prospect; Watch this space.

Main Card

The O2 Arena was ready to go! The anticipation was killing us, and was only helped by an excellent video package of knockouts, submissions, and slams, to hype the fights a little bit more. Excellent production from the UFC – they really know how to get things going.

James Wilks vs. Claude Patrick

Wilks came out to a good reception, Patrick got the predictable boos for fighting against an Englishman.

For the record, I quite like Patrick. Not for his style, but because he attended the weigh-in on Friday, and was wearing his Y-fronts. Not the customary trunks, or boxers; his actual underwear. It gave us a good laugh anyway.

Patrick also sat down in the cage while Wilks entered. He seems like a very relaxed, carefree fighter, and we embraced this!

Anyway, that was as exciting as things got. Three rounds of Patrick dominated Wilks on the ground followed.

Quite a boring fight, but effective from Patrick; Unanimous 30-27 victory.

Wilks doesn’t look like he will achieve a lot in the UFC. I was surprised he beat DaMarques Johnson in the Ultimate Fighter, and I wouldn’t be surprised in he heads for the exit door if he fails to perform in his next fight.

A disappointing fight to kick off the main card, but the building was packed, and couldn’t wait for more action.

Cheick Kongo vs. Travis Browne

Turns out that Kongo is a huge favourite in the UK. Fighting out of the Wolfslair, the “Kongo” chants kicked off very early, and it was a surprise to see a Frenchman get so much support from the English. (On a side note, he might be the most ripped human being I have ever seen).

First round was good, with Browne coming out swinging. He was throwing wildly, but Kongo was avoiding his shots well. Definitely a 10-9 for Browne this round, and the crowd were enjoying it.

In the second, it looked like Browne was tiring, and there was a lot of time spent clinching on the cage. Kongo improved though, and landed some good strikes; in my opinion, he won the round despite a late takedown from Browne.

Third round was less exciting. There was a lot of time spent clinching on the cage, and Kongo was deducted a point for what we assumed was grabbing Browne’s shorts. This was confirmed by a quick text from a friend watching at home!

It didn’t stop Kongo though, and he held Browne’s shorts consistently through the fight.

An anticlimax to the fight, but decent action in the first two rounds. Watching Kongo, you can’t help but feel he is never going to realise his potential. If he just let his hands go, he would be a very difficult opponent in my opinion.

Fight was ruled a draw to our surprise, so Kongo’s affinity to Browne’s shorts cost him a win. The American remains undefeated.

I think most people in attendance had Browne winning the final round, so it was a surprise to know that all judges had Kongo taking two and three. Perhaps the fans backing of Kongo had an effect? Just sayin’.

John Hathaway vs. Mike Pyle

Mike Pyle played the part of pantomime villain to perfection. At the weigh-in he proudly unveiled his stars and stripes boxers, to a cacophony of boos, and at the O2 he made his entrance to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. Cue for boos.

Personally, I found it quite fun. Pyle did a fantastic job hyping the fight, improving his standing within the UFC in the process. Us Britons wanted to see him get beaten badly; but you couldn’t help but love his brash approach to the fight. I will admit that Pyle grew on me after his antics. If he was to fight Hardy, it would make for great entertainment in the build-up!

Hathaway came out to a great ovation, but he looked nervous. I mentioned a minute into the first round that he looked really nervous, and this didn’t change. His best chance of beating Pyle was on his feet, but he looked scared to trade blows.

This allowed Pyle to secure the takedown, and keep Hathaway pinned to the floor to give him the first round. Pyle achieved success in the second with the same game-plan.

This time, he made an even better job of it, securing a triangle hold around Hathaway’s head and unloading punches for close to two minutes on the unguarded Englishman. Hathaway did well not to tap, but I couldn’t help but feel the third round would see Pyle take Hathaway down and secure the unanimous win.

He did just that. It wasn’t pretty, but it was damn effective. Hathaway lost his unbeaten record, and Pyle secured a huge upset thanks to an excellent game-plan. Cue more boos.

I don’t doubt the nerves got to Hathaway. He looked like a fighter with the weight of the world (or England) on his shoulders, and he struggled to deal with it. However, I do think that if he were to fight in England again, he may be more comfortable, and this would allow him to put on a better performance, complete with a win.

Pyle, meanwhile, can now go somewhere else to wind up some other nation! I was very impressed with his ground game though, and having seen his repertoire of submissions [see UFN19 and UFC115 (you must watch the latter) for details], I have to say I like him. His pantomime villain production led to much more interest in the bout, and I found it very enjoyable and useful in hyping the bout.

Decent fight, but a disappointing outcome for the English crowd.

Dan Hardy vs. Carlos Condit

Next was the entrance of the second pantomime villain. However, Condit didn’t play the part quite as well as Pyle despite entering the cage to the US national anthem. He did get booed to the same level, though I suspect this was largely down to Hardy’s popularity more than Condit’s unpopularity.

Hardy’s entrance was fantastic. He knows how to work a crowd, and received a standing ovation for his entrance to “England Belongs to Me”.

The fight was shaping up as a classic, so it was a double disappointment to see it end early, and with Hardy’s defeat.

It almost fell silent in the O2 when Hardy hit the canvas. Everyone was shocked, as Hardy was seen in the eyes of almost all Englishmen as favourite to beat Condit.

There were then a couple of worrying moments when Hardy immediately wanted to get back to his feet with assistance, which saw him fall back to the canvas. Eventually, Hardy regained his feet to a huge cheer.

Condit was polite after the fight, and was given a round of applause for his post-match interview. Nobody could argue with the knockout. It was one hell of a punch, and very few men would have still been standing after taking a hit like that.

Hardy looked gutted in his interview, and apologised to the crowd. There was no need, but it showed how disappointed the Outlaw was. He looked close to tears, and the crowd really sympathised – it was a very disappointing end for us to a really well hyped and exciting fight.

Still, Condit looks dangerous, and could be closing in on a shot at GSP. It’d be good to see GSP beat someone he’s never beaten before…

Hardy promised a better 2011 than 2010. I hope he can deliver. Despite all his trash-talking and pre-fight antics, he does strike you as a genuinely good guy, and I challenge even his biggest haters to not feel some sympathy for him after the lost.

From my point of view, if Hardy was going to lose, he may as well have done it in style. The real disappointment was that the fight didn’t go on longer before the KO. I would have loved to see these guys go at it for three rounds before a finish – that would have been Fight of the Night for sure.

Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama

You just can’t not like Sexyama; it’s impossible. The Japanese star made a great entrance, showed real respect to the crowd, and received a good ovation for it; no boos here.

Bisping’s entrance almost took the roof off the O2. It was obvious the people wanted him to win, particularly after the Hathaway and Hardy defeats, but the crowd was very kind to Akiyama too.

Both men showed real respect too; say what you like about Bisping, but he talks trash to hype his fights, just like Hardy. He is very respectful, and really conducted himself well in the build-up to the fight. It was one of the most respectful bouts I have ever seen, full of glove-tapping, hand-shakes, bows, and hugs; very nice to see considering how many fighters act today (Bisping not excempt in other bouts).

We got underway, and there was immediately a worrying moment for the London crowd when Akiyama clipped the Count with his first punch of the bout. Bisping survived, and went on to dominate all three rounds. He got caught a couple of times, but there was no doubt in the outcome.

How Akiyama didn’t hit the canvas is beyond me; his chin must be made of granite.

Sadly, his testicles aren’t.

Having seen the replay of the low blow, I am not surprised Sexyama needed all five minutes to recover. However, the man behind me who shouted “Akiyama, has only got one ball!” easily won chant of the night!

His apology to the crowd for making them wait when he finally got back to his feet was a testament to the man. A true fighter, full of respect for the fans and his opponents alike. Plus, he puts on a great fight.

An excellent final bout, with both men putting on a show. A spinning-back fist from both fighters, some big kicks, some even bigger punches, and finally no clinching! A great effort from both men, and it was a fitting end to the night when Bisping was awarded the decision to a huge cheer.

Definitely fight of the night (although had Hardy-Condit gone longer, who knows?) and both men deserved their bonuses.

Final Thoughts

My first UFC event over was a good one. I’m sure there will be much better main cards than we saw at the O2, but the preliminaries, made good viewing too.

Hardy and Hathaway’s defeats were disappointing, but I expect both to bounce back, and it would be good to see Hardy fight in England next year too. Fans go crazy for him (maybe even more popular than Bisping).

In the end, Bisping winning put the icing on the cake. Earlier in the night, Sass’ jiu-jitsu skills were awesome, and Gustaffson looked like a future talent; brutal, aggressive, accurate, and sharp. Shame there weren’t more knockouts, but we can’t have it all!

I would highly recommend attending an event if you have the chance. A great night out, at a great event – the UFC knows how to entertain.

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