Bisping's Destiny, Hughes' Ascent and Cro Cop's Fall: UFC's Great British Brawls

To get you in the mood for UFC London, here are the best British Octagon outings
06:55, 19 Mar 2022

The UFC returns to the UK this weekend after an absence of three years. It’s been a long road back to our shores for the MMA giant, one paved with a pandemic, global uncertainty and the gradual return of normality. As we eagerly await seeing the likes of Tom Aspinall, Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett and Arnold Allen in the cage, here’s a look back at some of the greatest UFC fights to take place on British soil.

Matt Hughes vs Carlos Newton - UFC 38

The fight where it all began, this UFC Welterweight Championship showdown headlined the UFC’s first ever UK card. Hughes had beaten Newton eight months earlier in controversial circumstances. Hughes had claimed the title by knocking out Newton with a spectacular slam, but later admitted he had passed out in a chokehold while executing it. That confession led to a rematch at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Hughes asserted his superiority in the second fight, stopping Newton with a barrage of punches in the fourth round. It was an explosive start not only to the UFC in the UK, but to Hughes’ dominance of the division. He would go on to carve out a legendary career in the Octagon, with his nine victories in title fights putting him fifth on the all-time list.

Gabriel Gonzaga vs Mirko Cro Cop - UFC 70

MMA aficionados had dreamed of the day they would get to see the destructive Croatian, Mirko Cro Cop, in the Octagon. A staple of Japan’s legendary PRIDE promotion, the former special forces officer was MMA royalty before he even joined the UFC.

After knocking out Eddie Sanchez in a single round on his debut, UK fans would get a close-up look at the legend when he fought Gabriel Gonzaga in Manchester. Gonzaga hadn’t read the script though. Fans came expecting to tick seeing Cro Cop off their bucket list, and left having seen a huge upset.

Gonzaga knocked out Cro Cop with a head kick in the first round, the very technique the Croatian had used to rack up so many of his victories over the years. This was like throwing a Batarang at Batman, a stunning moment of poetic justice.

Mirko was never quite the same fighter. His UFC tenure failed to launch, and he amassed a drab 4-6 record in the Octagon before leaving in 2011. However, he would return to the UFC once more in 2015, with the sole aim of getting revenge. Cro Cop stopped Gonzaga in the third round of their rematch, finally getting the taste of that bitter Manchester defeat out of his palette.

Dan Henderson vs Quinton Jackson - UFC 75

Perhaps the most historic fight to take place in Britain, these two legendary fighters met in a unification bout in 2007. Henderson was the reigning PRIDE Middleweight champion, while ‘Rampage’ held the UFC Light Heavyweight title. 

Both had been PRIDE staples before UFC bought their competition, but had never met in Japan. It took all five rounds to separate them. Henderson got the better of the wrestling exchanges in the early going, before Jackson began to find his striking range in the third. 

The fifth round featured a grandstand finish from both, as Henderson started the better before getting knocked down by a barrage of punches. It was this late flurry that allowed ‘Rampage’ to take the decision, and walk out as the one true champion.

Michael Bisping vs Anderson Silva - UFC Fight Night 84

Manchester’s ‘The Count’ had been chasing Silva for years, while the Brazilian was UFC Middleweight Champion. The fight had never materialised while ‘The Spider’ was champion, but Bisping got his chance in front of a home crowd at the O2 Arena in London in 2016.

It was to be a dramatic, career-making night for the Brit. After an encouraging start, Bisping was dropped heavily by a flying knee at the end of the third round. He looked out, but the buzzer sounded to end the round. Silva celebrated as if he had won, but was made to return to his corner. This one wasn’t done yet.

The languid Brazilian attempted to coast for the next two rounds, while Bisping was steeled by an unwanted taste of his own blood. The Mancunian battled back brilliantly and at the end of five rounds his hand was raised. It was an exciting turnaround, and one that would earn him a successful shot at the UFC title he had long craved in his next outing. 

Jorge Masvidal vs Darren Till - UFC Fight Night 147

From a dream night in front of home fans to a nightmare. Darren Till was earmarked as Britain’s next MMA superstar after winning five of his first seven Octagon outings. For his grand homecoming, he was pitted against a struggling Jorge Masvidal. 

‘Gamebred’ was coming off two losses, and believed to be on the slide. Unfortunately for Till, he was about to run headlong into the Californian’s career resurgence. Till knocked Masvidal down early, but was knocked spark out by a monster of a looping left hook in the second round. 

The fight would send the pair in opposite directions. Till has won one of three fights since, as his UFC aspirations appear to be getting away from him. Masvidal went on to beat Ben Askren and Nate Diaz, earning a shot at the UFC Welterweight championship.

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