The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the England this Saturday night with one of the United Kingdom’s best fighters headlining the card when Darren Till aims to get a win back on his record against 11th ranked Jorge Masvidal. All of the action will be available of BT Sport 1 Saturday night with no UFC Fight Pass prelims! Therefore the prelims will get underway at 6pm with 8 great fights scheduled to showcase some of the greatest up and coming talent around Europe! It’s Arnold Allen who will see the prelims into the main card when he faces off against Jordan Rinaldi aiming to continue his 4 fight UFC unbeaten run. Immediately following this the main card featuring 6 fights will get underway but it’s the co and main event which people are excited for with a mini welterweight tournament taking place with Leon Edwards faces off against Gunnar Nelson before Darren Till once again headlines a UK card against Jorge Masvidal.
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Darren Till was desperately searching for an opponent for UFC London, hoping to bounce back from his first professional loss – social media was the catalyst for his search which saw him call out numerous top welterweights in the hope of getting himself quickly back into title contention. Unfortunately for ‘The Gorilla’ many of his foes within the division were booked or unavailable, but one man was also searching for a fight and it just made sense that these two met in the octagon. So with one tweet between Darren and Jorge the fight was made and it’s one that promises fireworks – these are two of the best strikers within the division and it offers to be a stand up war between two fighters who only average 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes combined. Jorge Masvidal will know what a big opportunity this is due to Till being ranked 3rd, a win against him on his home soil would boost him right up the rankings and after Woodley recently losing the Welterweight Championship there is lot of new match ups available that he will be eyeing. Till will also know this, after falling short to Woodley he knows with a new champion a good performance will certainly put him back into contention and he’ll hope to deliver that in front of a home crowd.
Not many fighters stay undefeated in mixed martial arts due to the unpredictability and threat that comes with each fight but Darren Till is a fighter that went 18 fights without tasting defeat once. Since entering the UFC he had gained 5 wins and drawn one fight which showed just how impressive he was against world class opponents. However once he met one of the greatest welterweights of all time, Till was neutralised and he tasted defeat for the first time – so this will be the first time we’ve seen the English man trying. Before facing off against Woodley, Till earned notable victories against Donald Cerrone and Stephen Thompson which showcased his power, finishing Cerrone and dropping Thompson. His performance against Donald Cerrone gained the attention of the world but it was his victory over Wonderboy that showed just how good Till was. Having shot up the rankings following that victory he was awarded the title shot which just didn’t go to plan for Till with him failing to through one strike throughout the fight, despite his reach and height advantage. Darren will be looking to put that performance behind him but he faces a tough stand-up war to do that with Masvidal being extremely active on the feet. Therefore although Till needs to utilise his striking, he needs to use his physical advantages in the fight to utilise the grappling exchanges and try to tire Masvidal for if this fight enters the later rounds.
Masvidal is a veteran in the mixed martial arts game, fighting primarily in the lightweight and welterweight divisions he has earned numerous victories over top opponents however since returning to welterweight in 2015 the American hasn’t had the greatest run. After overcoming a two-fight loss streak following his return, he successfully overcome Ross Pearson, Jake Ellenberger and Donald Cerrone which showcased his striking and knockout power within this division. Some could say that Masvidal was unlucky in his next bout which saw him face Demian Maia and lose via split decision however that soon became a two loss streak after losing a three round fight against Stephen Thompson. Masvidal didn’t look bad in these defeats although the decision did not go his way in the bout against Maia he showed that he is an elite fighter within this division and that his striking along with takedown defence can be problematic for any fighter. However against Thompson he just came up against a better and more unique striker in what was a great fight. Against Till he’ll want to utilise all his skills if he wants to be successful, although Masvidal averages 4.1 significant strikers per minute he also absorbs 4.24 – against a fighter with power like Till this won’t be beneficial as those strikes could end the fight. One thing that can’t be underestimated is Masvidal’s wrestling, he’s showcased it throughout his career and although he rarely likes to take this fight to the ground it could be crucial for him winning this bout.
This fight has great implications for both fighters with Masvidal sitting on a 2 loss streak and Till coming off his first defeat, another defeat for either fighter would push them far back in the division whilst in win will earn either fighter a big fight. Masvidal has tools to be successful in this bout, he is a great striker and wrestler however as we’ve often seen he prefers the stand-up bouts where a fighter will go toe to toe with him. However he has great wrestling and to win rounds he could utilise that if he wants to fight smart and progress up the rankings. Till often has had a huge reach and size advantage over his opponents but against Masvidal he faces a fighter of similar height and reach which will be a challenge especially in the striking exchanges if he wants to avoid Masvidal’s striking however Till is way too big for this division and should have a significant power strength. Masvidal is unlikely to want to take this to the ground, favouring a stand up war for the English fans so we like Till to win this bout however we don’t see it going the five rounds due to only 29% of Till’s fights going to a decision therefore our main tip is fight not to go the distance!
In the Co-Main Event we see the first fight of the mini-welterweight tournament take place with the 10th ranked welterweight Leon Edwards taking on the 13th ranked welterweight Gunnar Nelson. This fight will be seen as a homecoming for both fighters, Leon Edwards a fighter from Birmingham has been homegrown here and will be looking forward to fighting infront of a home crowd. Whilst Gunnar Nelson will see this as home due to his roots at SBG in Ireland, Nelson has regularly competed in the UK since making his UFC debut fighting in: Nottingham, London, Dublin & Glasgow where he has been the favourite on multiple occasions. However in this fight he may not receive the support he receives but that will never both the ice cold Icelandic fighter who never shows any emotions in his bouts. A win for either of these fighters could see them face off against the winner of the main event depending on the nature of the outcomes and that will give these fighters great motivation as they hope to break into the top 10 of the division. After the recent title change, the welterweight division is in transition and a win for either of these fighters could grant them a great opportunity to become within a title shot, which they will be away of and gunning for.
Gunnar Nelson is a man who expresses very little in the build-up to fights, he’s a man who likes to get in the octagon and let his fighting do the talking which is exactly what he will intend to do this Saturday night when he returns to the octagon just a few months after his submission victory over Alex Oliveria which has been slated one of the most brutal finishes of 2018! The last time Nelson thought in the UK there was some controversy regarding the fight that saw him take over a year away from the octagon – Nelson lost via first round knockout to Ponzinibbio in 2017 however it appeared as though an eye poke in an early exchange affected the Icelandic and ultimately had some part in him suffering the defeat. That defeat set Gunnar back in the rankings after previously securing 2 straight finishes, therefore after gaining a win back on his record he will be aiming to continue that and make amends for his recent misfortune. This is a match up that once again for Gunnar showcases him against striker in Leon Edwards. Although Leon Edwards averages 1.26 takedowns per 15 minutes, he only has a 29% success rate and whilst his defence looks strong at 70% he’s yet to race a wrestler or Jiu Jitsu artist like Gunnar Nelson who has finished 71% of his fights by submission with the other 24% coming by knockout. Against Oliveira he highlighted how good his grappling he was getting into a position to brutalise Oliveria with elbows before taking the back and securing the choke – in this fight Gunnar needs to do what he always does, take his opponent down and work for the submission because once on the ground it’s his world fighters are entering.
Since debuting in the UFC in 2014 Leon Edwards have stayed very active, competiting in 10 bouts under the company and going 8-2 within those. However it can be argued that Edwards has been fairly untested throughout those, when looking at his opponents within the UFC the two fighters that stick out are Kamaru Usman and Donald Cerrone. Kamara Usman recently captured the UFC Welterweight Championship and is the most recent fighter to defeat Edwards in the octagon, however that defeat shows Edward’s hole against wrestlers. He did recently though defeat Donald Cerrone over five rounds and although that bout wasn’t against a wrestler he has shown he can strike with some high level opponents. Gunnar Nelson however represents a different style of opponent and one of his hardest opponents to date – therefore Edwards will need to make sure he has worked on the holes in his wrestling. Although he has submission victories they have been against opponents who are nowhere near the skill level of Gunnar Nelson which should make Edwards try to keep this fight standing. Gunnar has a strange style so from the first bell, Edwards needs to figure that out so that he can utilise his reach advantage to try and keep this fight on the feet where he can effectively strike, otherwise it could be trouble for the Englishman.
This bout is a contrast of styles, when you look at Nelson’s record he has never struggled with strikers outside of Ponzinibbio which had some questions surrounding it. He has been able to regularly takedown his opponents and once the fight gets to the ground there is no escaping due to how good Nelson is on the ground, his ability there has seen him finish his last 5 wins by submission which only emphasises this. Edwards isn’t a power puncher so it’s hard to see how he troubles Nelson as over 3 rounds he won’t be able to hurt Nelson enough to stop him getting into the grappling exchanges especially when he has been taken down by wrestlers of a lower calibre. Therefore we think Gunnar Nelson takes this fight and likely by submission.
The main card of UFC Fight Night London is full of fighters who are known for ending fights however none more so that Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes who just happen to be facing off against each other in what could be the people’s main event on Saturday night. Throught their professional careers these two fighters have only been to the judges for 20% of their victories, with 73% of Oezdemir’s being finished by knockout and 60% of Reyes by that method. These fighters both sit just outside of the top 5 and with a lack of contenders for Jon Jones currently a big performance by either fighter could put them back in the mix due to Gustafsson and Smith recently being matched up against each other. These fighters will know that a big opportunity could lurk and they’ll be aiming to shut each other’s lights out on fight night.
Mystery still surrounded Oezdemir following being signed to the UFC, the swiss fighter quickly notched up an impressive five fight win streak taking his record to 15-1 after back to back knockout victories over Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov; he has catapulted up the rankings quickly in his UFC career and it’s his explosive knockout power that has helped him do so. However once he got the opportunity to fight for the championship Daniel Cormier did what he does best which was completely neutralise his opponents with his great wrestling which saw him finish Oezdemir on the ground, it hasn’t got better for him since then either with him getting submitted by Anthony Smith in his latest bout. Against Anthony Smith who was a power puncher too Oezdemir showcased his striking by landing 59% of his strikes and managing almost 70 most than his opponent however despite only being taken down twice he was unable to defend the submission attempts. Reyes is a fighter that likely won’t attempt the takedown but Oezdemir for his best chance of winning needs to avoid the ground as when Reyes has gone there he’s searched for the submission and Oezdemir’s defence seems questionable.
Much like Volkan Oezdemir when he first joined the UFC there is a lot of questions surrounding Dominick Reyes, having only had 6 professional fights he joined the UFC and has continued his unbeaten run finishing his first three opponents before recently earning a unanimous decision over Ovince Saint Preux, his toughest opponent yet. Now Reyes aims to continue climbing up the rankings when he faces a fighter who has a very similar striking style in what will be a chest match and also a bout that tests Reyes own chin rather than him testing his opponents! In this match up Reyes will have a slight reach advantage which he should aim to utilise early on as his opponent will likely want to close the distance early and finish his opponent to make a statement however Oezdemir absorbs 4.84 significant strikes per minute so if Reyes can establish the distance early he may be able to put his opponent away with suffering any damage. It’s not often that the American has took the fight to the ground but given his opponents struggles there he may look to take the fight there having finished 20% of his fights by submission already.
The main prediction for this fight has to be for it to not go the distance, more specifically under 1.5 rounds due to Oezdemir’s average fight time being 7:31 and Reyes’ 5:31 showing just how good they are at putting their opponents away within the octagon. This is a very intriguing fight as they are both power punchers capable of ending the fight and this fight will play out on the feet, however confidence is with Reyes’ he’s on a 10 fight win streak whilst Oezdemir enters this content off back to back losses and not has to overcome a guy who’s running through his opponents. One punch can always end this fight however with Reyes’ physical advantages alongside confidence and youth we fancy him to come out with another win on his record.