It's no secret that the UK is yearning for a champion it can call it's own. British fighters have steadily improved over the years in the Octagon, but there still doesn't seem to be a fighter that can be deemed 'world class'. Dan Hardy famously battled Georges St Pierre for the welterweight strap but looked scarily outmatched as the Canadian had his way with him for 25 minutes. Other guys like Michael Bisping, Paul Daley and Brad Pickett look like contenders but so far, they have all fallen when they have stepped on to another level.
MMA is as popular as it has ever been in the UK, with British promotion BAMMA frequently selling out arenas and doing good numbers on TV despite having few recognisable names on their roster. Popular fighters on the local scene such as Jimi Manuwa, Tom Watson and Phil Harris have debuted for the UFC over the last couple of years, and Watson in particular brings with him a strong following. Also in thanks to BT Sport's commitment to the UFC, MMA is more accessible than ever to the British public and it's easy to notice an increase in popularity for the sport in the British Isles.
What British MMA has going for it is the abundance of characters that populate the scene. Everybody is aware of Bisping's personality and ability to talk with the best of them and that's what makes him a valuable asset to the UFC and its middleweight division. Bisping draws money, especially in the UK and matching him up with any top middleweight makes him a must-see talent, and adding to that, very rarely are his fights boring. Dan Hardy is another fighter with a loud personality as everything from his Mohican to camaraderie with Bruce Buffer during his entrance has enamoured him with MMA fans worldwide. Hardy is also a very exciting fighter who has no qualms about standing and trading for the entertainment of the fans. It's that exciting style that kept him his job after going on a devastating losing streak. The top British fighters like Bisping, Hardy and Pickett are notable personalities who people want to see, and Bisping and Hardy in particular have the ability to play the villain to attract attention in the US.
The upcoming UFC event in Manchester now headlined Lyoto Machida and Mark Munoz will be a good indicator of where MMA is right now in Britain. Gareth A Davies and Simon Herd give excellent coverage of the sport in the Telegraph and Mirror respectively, but MMA needs outlets like Sky and BBC to start taking the sport seriously and granting it the coverage it deserves. An array of British fighters are featured on the bill, most notably Ross Pearson in the co-headlining slot against Melvin Guillard, a fight that would be a good indicator of his place within the division. Ross is a good fighter, capable of putting on a show, but to progress up the division, he has to be taking out men like Guillard who have struggled mightily of late.
The UFC relies on its stable of British fighters for international dominance and the better the fighters, the more attention is paid to the sport. British MMA needs that one superstar that can take it to the next level, that one fighter who is supremely dominant and capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best in the world. Only then, I think, will you see a real difference in reception to MMA.
There's no denying British MMA is in a good place right now, and even though Terry Etim, Paul Sass and Che Mills were let go by the UFC earlier in the year, there is no shortage of fighters with the ability to compete at world level. Progress takes time and the UFC has taken great strides over the last decade to increase the popularity of MMA in the UK and you only have to hear the response Michael Bisping gets every time he walks out to the cage to know MMA is going in the right direction.