‘The Highlight’ is preventing … and he is not No. 1

The UFC first visited London in 2002 for an occasion dubbed “The Brawl at the Hall.” The corridor was hallowed outdated Royal Albert Hall, which previous to Matt Hughes defending his welterweight title in opposition to Carlos Newton that evening had been greatest identified for appearances by tenacious fighter Sir Winston Churchill and fast-hands Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Since then, the UFC has been again within the English capital 11 extra occasions, producing huge moments with essential fights. In 2007 on the O2 Arena, there was a champion-vs.-champion fundamental occasion pitting UFC mild heavyweight titlist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in opposition to Pride belt holder Dan Henderson. The satisfaction of Manchester, England, the bubbling Michael Bisping, twice headlined exhibits on the O2 — though each occurred earlier than he grew to become UFC middleweight champ.

And that highlights what the UFC has not delivered to the banks of the Thames till this weekend. UFC 286, the promotion’s thirteenth go to to London, will deliver to city for the primary time a homegrown champion.

Leon Edwards, who grew up from age 9 in Birmingham, England, lower than 200 kilometers from London, will likely be making the primary protection of his welterweight championship when he rematches the person he dethroned, Kamaru Usman, in the principle occasion on Saturday on the O2 Arena (ESPN+ PPV, 5 p.m. ET fundamental card).

Edwards (20-3, 1 NC) is unbeaten in his previous 11 fights. Three of his wins throughout that run got here on the O2. He hasn’t misplaced since a 2015 assembly with Usman (20-2), who was making his UFC debut and wrestled his technique to a unanimous choice.

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They met once more final August, and late in Round 5 of a struggle he was on the verge of shedding, Edwards pulled a rabbit out of a hat. His last-minute head kick landed flush, placing a sudden finish to a 19-fight Usman profitable streak that prolonged all the way in which again to 2013.

Their rubber match headlines a card loaded with native curiosity. Edwards would be the seventh fighter from England to step into the cage Saturday. There are three from Scotland on the cardboard and one from Wales. Great Britain, symbolize!

Whether a showcase for a neighborhood hero or a matchup imported from abroad, there’s rather a lot happening Saturday. Here’s a rating of probably the most important fights to look at … plus one to only fantasize about.

1. Leon Edwards (c) vs. Kamaru Usman



UFC crowd, announcers in disbelief after Leon Edwards wins title

The Salt Lake City crowd and the announcers cannot imagine what they’re seeing after Kamaru Usman is knocked out chilly by Leon Edwards.

A title struggle. A hometown champ. The completion of a trilogy during which every man has defeated the opposite. The vitality contained in the O2 goes to be excessive voltage, particularly if by the point the principle occasion comes alongside it has been a gangbusters evening for British fighters. But whereas the world’s locale will ramp up the ambiance, this struggle might happen on the moon and nonetheless be one large leap for MMA. Usman was a dominant champion proper up-to-the-minute final summer season when he was out chilly. And Edwards was on a run of success that was going largely unnoticed till he authored a end that might not be ignored. Here they go once more.

2. Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev



Fiziev outlasts Dos Anjos in shut matchup, celebrates after Fifth-round knockout

Rafael Fiziev heads into the championship rounds with Rafael Dos Anjos and celebrates his knockout win on the UFC APEX.

I’m fairly certain I’m violating a promise I made to myself to at all times, underneath any circumstances, rank a Gaethje struggle at No. 1. He’s often known as “The Highlight” for good purpose; he at all times straps us in for a thrill journey. And likewise, Fiziev is incapable of placing on a boring efficiency; the 12-1 light-weight has earned postfight bonuses in every of his 5 most up-to-date appearances. As quickly as these two begin strolling to the cage and I really feel my heartbeat quicken, I absolutely anticipate experiencing a pang of remorse for disrespecting my Gaethje vow.

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3. Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O’Neill

This is a homecoming of kinds for O’Neill, who was born in Scotland and moved to Australia along with her household when she was 10. More importantly, it is a comeback struggle, because the 9-0 flyweight prospect has been out for over a 12 months recuperating from ACL surgical procedure. O’Neill is not precisely easing her approach again in, both, as Maia is a little bit over two years faraway from a feisty title problem in opposition to Valentina Shevchenko. Questions abound right here. Is the 34-year-old Maia, having misplaced two of her final three, nonetheless at contender degree? And is O’Neill, 25, absolutely healed, rust-free and able to resume her rise within the ranks?

4. Marvin Vettori vs. Roman Dolidze



Roman Dolidze opens Fight Night with a bang with 1st-round KO

Roman Dolidze catches Kyle Daukaus with a knee, then finishes him off with a flurry of punches.

In March Madness phrases, it is a mid-major on a sizzling streak in opposition to a Big Dance common that does not shrink in opposition to its convention’s elite. Dolidze has hit his stride with 4 straight victories, the latest three by knockout. Vettori has misplaced two of his final three, however the defeats got here in opposition to two of the easiest middleweights on the planet, Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, each within the ESPN pound-for-pound high 10. Vettori is at all times in huge fights, and Dolidze is prepared for one.

5. Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jafel Filho

Remember when males’s flyweight was having shovelfuls of filth piled on high of its tiny grave? Then the division was resuscitated by a struggle between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo and its Rocky-sized sequence of sequels, plus the emergence of an array of legit contenders. Among them is Mokaev, who’s 9-0, 1 NC. The Dagestan-born Englishman is a grappling whiz with submissions in two of his previous three fights. Let’s see how his floor recreation is examined by Filho, a 14-2 UFC debutant with finishes in all however considered one of his wins (eight submissions, 5 knockouts). And lengthy stay 125 kilos.

And here is a bonus “fight” to ponder …

Chris Duncan vs. Christian Duncan

No, this isn’t an actual matchup, however sure, these are two totally different fighters each making UFC debuts on the prelims. Christian, who truly goes by Christian Leroy Duncan, is an undefeated middleweight from Gloucester, England, who’s relinquishing his Cage Warriors title to step into the Octagon in opposition to Dusko Todorovic. Chris, who has no center title that we all know of however does have a nickname (“The Problem”) not shared by his namesake, is a former Bellator light-weight from Scotland who has a date within the cage with Omar Morales. Stay tuned after the fights for our pound-for-pound Chris Duncan rankings.

The full UFC 286 struggle card

ESPN+ PPV, 5 p.m. ET
Welterweight championship: Leon Edwards (c) vs. Kamaru Usman
Lightweight: Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev
Women’s flyweight: Joanne Wood vs. Luana Carolina
Welterweight: Gunnar Nelson vs. Bryan Barberena
Middleweight: Marvin Vettori vs. Roman Dolidze

ESPNews/ESPN+, 3 p.m.
Men’s featherweight: Lerone Murphy vs. Gabriel Santos
Lightweight: Chris Duncan vs. Omar Morales
Men’s featherweight: Jack Shore vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Lightweight: Sam Patterson vs. Yanal Ashmoz

ESPN+, 1 p.m.
Men’s flyweight: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jafel Filho
Middleweight: Christian Duncan vs. Dusko Todorovic
Men’s flyweight: Malcolm Gordon vs. Jake Hadley
Women’s flyweight: Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O’Neill
Lightweight: Jai Herbert vs. Ludovit Klein
Women’s flyweight: Juliana Miller vs. Veronica Hardy
(c) = defending champion