From Tom Aspinall to Arnold Allen to Paddy Pimblett, the UFC’s return to London produced a sensational card — and a watershed moment for mixed martial arts in the UK.
The sporting culture in the British Isles is far from wounded. Ditto for its combat sports culture in particular — in the UK and Ireland, boxing is a conduit of religious-level fervor from legions of fans willing to travel to roughest edges of the planet to support their fighting men and women.
And while Saturday’s UFC Fight Night at London’s O2 Arena didn’t award any belts, it was a bang-bang affair that saw British fighters produce win after win and highlight after highlight, leaving plenty of analysts ready to declare it the single best UFC card of 2022 and one of the best non-pay-per-view events in recent memory.
It was nothing short of a breakthrough for mixed martial arts in Great Britain, and what the future holds for rising stars (and potential title contenders) like Tom Aspinall, Paddy Pimblett, and Arnold Allen will be the spiciest kind of thing to witness — on par with a plate of extra-hot Nando’s chicken with a double order of chips.
All told, British fighters went 7-3 on the night, with six of those wins coming via knockout or submission. That is simply not something you see every day — so much so that the UFC decided to reward every stoppage winner with a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus, a distinction that typically goes to just two fighters per card.
The night was just different. Something changed. And we might just be witnessing the dawn of the Golden Age of British Mixed Martial Arts.
With all this in mind, take stock of the night’s big winners. (Aside from U.K. fight fans, of course.)
Britain’s Winning Fighters at UFC London
Paddy Pimblett (Liverpool, England)
Result: Def. Kazula Vargas by submission (rear naked choke)
Record: 18-3 (2-0 UFC)
Say what you want about Paddy Pimblett, otherwise known as “Paddy the Baddy.” But the guy knows how to sell a fight during the week, institute delirious belligerence inside the cage, and cut a wild promo after the violence is all done (he even called out Mark Zuckerberg). In no time at all, he’s already staking his claim as one of the most colorful, marketable figures in the UFC.
Paddy Pimblett’s ceiling may not be that of a UFC champion, but the absolute groundswell of buzz surrounding the mop-headed Scouser’s thunderous start in the world’s biggest MMA promotion recalls that of another former Cage Warriors featherweight champion: Conor McGregor.
If his earning potential is even a fraction of the brash Irishman’s, the game can consider itself changed.
Molly McCann (Liverpool, England)
Result: Def. Luana Carolina by KO (spinning back elbow)
Record: 12-4 (5-3 UFC)
She may not be a breakout star per se, but “Meatball Molly” is still one of the biggest winners following Saturday night in London. Embracing the role of fellow Liverpudlian Pimblett’s officially unofficial big sister all week long, McCann delivered the knockout of the night — and perhaps the year to date — with an absolutely thunderous spinning elbow against Luana Carolina.
Her beloved Everton FC weren’t exactly able to manage something similar on Sunday in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace, but McCann can’t say she didn’t do her part to enhance the sporting aura on the blue half of Merseyside. And she should never have to pay for her own cheeky Nando’s ever again.
Arnold Allen (Felixstowe, England by way of Suffolk)
Result: Def. Dan Hooker by TKO (punches/elbows)
Record: 18-1 (9-0 UFC)
The last time Arnold Allen lost? Back in 2014 by decision in a Cage Warriors scrap. Since joining the UFC the following year, he’s 9-0.
And he’s only 28.
After bulldozing a tough Dan Hooker in half a round, “Almighty” Arnold is on a title shot trajectory at 145 pounds.
Paul Craig (Coatbridge, Scotland by way of Airdrie)
Result: Def. Nikita Krylov by submission (triangle choke)
Record:16-4-1 (9-4 UFC)
You know jiu-jitsu, but do you know Bear Jew-jitsu? Scotland’s Paul Craig is now the owner of four stoppage victories in a row, and his ground game remains as dangerous as it is entertaining.
Jack Shore (Abertillery, Wales)
Result: Def. Timur Valiev by unanimous decision
Record: 16-0 (5-0 UFC)
The men’s bantamweight division might just be the deepest and most singularly stacked in the entire world, but even its best operators will ignore undefeated Jack Shore, another Cage Warriors alum making good on MMA’s biggest stage, at their own peril.
Muhammad Mokaev (Manchester, England by way of Buynaksk, Russia)
Result: Def. Cody Durden by submission (guillotine choke)
Record: 6-0, 1 NC (1-0 UFC)
Sure, the Liverpudlians would have their spotlight by the end of the evening, but another fighter representing the northwest of England was the very first winner of the night — Muhammad “The Punisher” Mokaev — who announced his UFC debut with a first-round submission win over Cody Durden.
The men’s flyweight division isn’t the deepest in the game. Mokaev and his dangerous, opportunistic wrestling could rise up the 125-pound rankings in a hurry.
Tom Aspinall (Liverpool, England by way of Greater Manchester)
Result: Def. Alexander Volkov by submission (straight armbar)
Record: 12-2 (5-0 UFC)
In his entire 14-fight professional MMA career, Tom Aspinall has had:
- Zero fights go to the judges’ scorecards
- Zero fights make it past Round 2
- One victory that took more than a single round
The heavyweight division tends to be an older man’s game, relatively speaking. But 28-year-old Tom Aspinall closed the show making such quick work of hard-hitting contender Alexander Volkov that it’s got more than a few of us wondering if he’s on the fast track to championship heights.
If you’re looking for the single biggest winner of Saturday’s card at the O2 — and quite possibly the second British fighter ever to wear UFC gold — this is your man.
Think British fight fans got the memo?