Paddy Pimblett and the Real Winners and Losers From UFC Fight Night 209
Forget tea time.
The UFC's arrival in London on Saturday afternoon meant punch, kick, grapple and choke time for the English fans in attendance at the O2 Arena.
Local favorite Tom Aspinall headlined the 14-bout Fight Night card on ESPN against rugged American heavyweight Curtis Blaydes in a matchup of the sixth- and fourth-ranked contenders in the promotion's big-man division.
Six ranked fighters were part of the overall card as were seven fighters based in England, including trash-talking Liverpool lightweight Paddy Pimblett in his third octagonal appearance since arriving from a championship run in the London-based Cage Warriors promotion.
The B/R combat sports team was all-in on the action from the other side of the Atlantic and digested things while compiling a definitive list of winners and losers. Scroll through to see what we came up with and feel free to drop a thought or two in the comments.
Winner: Showing All Sides
Pimblett masterfully covered all the bases.
He was the clear heartthrob of the crowd during a raucous ring walk. He was a cold-blooded assassin during introductions as he stared down opponent Jordan Leavitt. And he was a multi-faceted MMA practitioner in securing a second-round victory.
Then, in an interview with Michael Bisping that followed his rear-naked choke triumph, he showed an authentically human side while mourning the recent death of a friend by apparent suicide.
"If you're a man and you're carrying a heavy weight, talk to someone," he said. "I'd rather have (my friend) cry on my shoulder than have to go to his funeral next week."
It was a compelling change in persona for the brash Liverpool native, who promised mayhem during fight week and delivered while improving to 3-0 in the UFC and 19-3 overall.
He was taken down and controlled for much of the first round but succeeded during tie-ups in the second and landed a hard knee to the temple that dumped Leavitt to the floor and left him vulnerable to the submission sequence.
Pimblett isolated Leavitt's right arm and subsequently seized his throat with little difficulty and finally prompted the tap-out at 2:46.
It was Pimblett's second straight UFC submission and the ninth of his career and the performance did nothing to alter the stardom arc he appears to be on.
"That's what I do," he said. "I'm very good."
Loser: Meaningful Main Event
It's not the sort of streak the UFC will celebrate.
For the second consecutive week, a Fight Night main event ended with an inconclusive result thanks to an abrupt non-submission injury.
This time around it was local hero Aspinall as the unlucky party thanks to a serious right leg issue that necessitated his exiting the cage in a thigh-to-ankle brace after just 15 seconds.
"It had all the makings of a classic heavyweight battle," Bisping said. "Sadly, injuries happen. It is awful. There's no other word."
Bisping said he'd spoken briefly with an attending cage-side physician who told him he feared it was an MCL injury to Aspinall's right knee based on the pain the fighter was in while being tended to after the fight ended.
The end came as Aspinall fired a kick that landed high on Blaydes' left thigh. Aspinall drew back the leg and stepped backward while eluding a counter jab, then instantly grabbed for the knee and crumbled to the mat in obvious discomfort.
Blaydes was awarded a TKO victory that stopped Aspinall's UFC win streak at five while boosting his own mark in the Octagon to 12-3 with one no contest.
One week earlier, a featherweight match between Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez ended in the first round when Ortega dislocated his right shoulder.
"It's almost like we didn't even fight," Blaydes said. "I wish the injury hadn't happened. We never really got an opportunity for either of us to showcase our skills. I've got stuff. He's got stuff. Neither one of us had a chance to show our stuff."
Loser: Returning to Fame
Alexander Gustafsson's UFC legacy is secure.
He's a three-time title challenger in the promotion and his 2013 scrap with Jon Jones at UFC 165 is in the fight wing of the octagonal hall of fame.
But at age 35, his best days seem long behind him.
A brief trip to the heavyweight division was aborted prior to Saturday's 205-pound duel with Nikita Krylov, but neither a drop in weight nor a respectful London crowd seemed to help once the cage door was closed and locked.
Krylov attacked immediately, stunned Gustafsson with his first punch attempt and had things all his own way before ultimately stopping the veteran in just 67 seconds.
A hard right hand drove Gustafsson to the fence and an inside left uppercut dumped him to the mat and prompted an intervention from referee Marc Goddard.
"Today I tried to punch and I came to do it like that," Krylov said. "There are so many emotions. It's the biggest name in my career."
Winner: Breaking the Monotony
To put it simply, the afternoon had gotten a bit stale.
Eight of the first nine bouts had gone to the scorecards after 15 minutes and the reasons for revelry in the crowd at the O2 Arena had been few and far between.
But Molly McCann changed all that.
Dubbed "The Meatball" and almost universally loved in her home country, McCann immediately fed on the in-house tumult and blew out American import Hannah Goldy in less than four minutes of the first round.
Goldy actually had success early with strikes and had good position in a clinch along the fence, but McCann was able to wriggle away from a takedown attempt and soon landed a counter right hand that changed the fight's momentum.
She began carrying the action soon after and eventually landed a hard right hand followed by a punishing spinning elbow that dropped Goldy to the floor. A follow-up barrage prompted referee Herb Dean's intervention at 3:52.
McCann climbed over the fence and celebrated with fans in the first few rows before returning for her interview with Bisping.
"It's the energy that you bring," she said to the crowd, "that's what gets you finishes. Everyone else on this card, they let you down. I will not let you down."
Winner: Playing It Safe
No one ever said fighting Paul Craig was easy.
The 34-year-old Scot is not only the eighth-ranked UFC light heavyweight, but he's also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu whose style Saturday was that of a bowling ball relentlessly rolling in ninth-ranked opponent Volkan Oezdemir's direction.
The Switzerland-born 205-pounder seemed tentative early on as Craig eschewed stand-up exchanges and chased a series of heel-hook submissions, but the pendulum swung in Oezdemir's direction across the final two rounds.
Those surges were more than enough to get him a unanimous decision in which all three judges awarded him all three rounds.
Indeed, Oezdemir had 108 strikes to Craig's 41, eluded each and every one of Craig's 15 takedown attempts while securing one of his own and simply kept himself safe while upping his record in the Octagon to 6-5.
It was Craig's first loss since 2019 and ended his 5-0-1 run.
"He went for my legs, but I was able to defend it, and I felt strong," Oezdemir said. "We went according to the game plan, and it worked out fine."
Winner: Protecting the House
Maybe home cooking was all Nathaniel Wood needed.
The fiery Englishman had dropped two of three fights since arriving to the UFC with three straight victories, but a supportive O2 Arena crowd appeared to change his momentum.
The 29-year-old got an audible pop from the preliminary show crowd and kept the buzz going throughout 15 violent minutes against Charles Rosa, strafing the American with punches and calf kicks on the way to a unanimous-decision victory.
It was his featherweight debut after he previously competed at bantamweight, and Wood nearly doubled Rosa's strike output, 102-54, directing 62 of his attacks to the head and 31 to the legs.
The judges scored it 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27, with the final tally matching the B/R team's numbers.
Wood was one of four England-based fighters to win on the preliminary card, joining Jai Herbert (who defeated Kyle Nelson by unanimous decision), Muhammad Mokaev (defeated Charles Johnson by unanimous decision) and Marc Diakiese (defeated Damir Hadzovic by unanimous decision).
Of the seven "home" fighters in the show, their win-loss record was 6-1.
Full Card Results
Curtis Blaydes def. Tom Aspinall by TKO (injury), 0:15, Round 1
Jack Hermansson def. Chris Curtis by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Paddy Pimblett def. Jordan Leavitt by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:46, Round 2
Nikita Krylov def. Alexander Gustafsson by KO (punches), 1:07, Round 1
Molly McCann def. Hannah Goldy by TKO (punches), 3:52, Round 1
Volkan Oezdemir def. Paul Craig by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Ludovit Klein def. Mason Jones by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Marc Diakiese def. Damir Hadzovic by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Nathaniel Wood def. Charles Rosa by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Jonathan Pearce def. Makwan Amirkhani by TKO (punches), 4:10, Round 2
Muhammad Mokaev def. Charles Johnson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Jai Herbert def. Kyle Nelson by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Victoria Leonardo def. Mandy Bohm by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Nicolas Dalby def. Claudio Silva by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)