Saturday's UFC show from London set records in a couple of ways. The $1.3 million live gate was the all-time record for any event ever held at Wembley Arena, a 79-year-old building that has featured nearly every major recording act from the last 50 years from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones. But one can argue that's not as impressive as it sounds, since UFC was regularly doing bigger numbers for previous shows in the city at the larger O2 Arena.
The second record set, was for the most decisions, with nine in 12 fights. Normally one would hear that stat and think of a dull show, but that wouldn't be accurate here. The show was hardly as eventful as UFC's show two weeks earlier in Las Vegas. And it's certainly not going to be as memorable or historic as this coming Saturday's show in Anaheim, Calif., featuring the first women's bout in UFC history.
Still, the majority of fights were entertaining with two standout bouts. Local favorite Tom "Kong" Watson's come-from-behind win over Stanislav Nedkov (12-1, 1 no-contest) had the locals going crazy, and put 100 grand extra in his pocket with the best bout and best knockout bonuses. And the fight many pegged ahead of time as the show stealer, Cub Swanson's
win over Dustin Poirier, lived up to expectations.
The theme of Saturday's show were fighters coming in with impressive won-loss records being given tests.
Nedkov, moving down from light heavyweight to middleweight, wasn't successful as he picked up his first loss although that's somewhat misleading. Nedkov was moving down after losing via submission to Thiago Silva
at light heavyweight, but the loss was expunged from his record when Silva tested positive for marijuana metabolites.
was the loser against interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao
in a battle of fighters who had only lost once previously. Gunnar Nelson
and Jimi Manuwa
remained unbeaten, but still have questions if they have to face a higher level of competition.
In looking at the fortunes changing for five of the key fighters on the show, you have to start at the very top.
RENAN BARAO -
It's hard to not give someone their due when they came into a fight with a 31-1 (1 no-contest) record in this sport and is coming off a dominant win over Urijah Faber
in their previous outing.
Barao's 33-fight unbeaten streak which dates back to his debut loss at the age of 18, is the longest in the history of the sport of anyone who has reached the championship level in a major promotion. Yet, of all UFC's champions, he is clearly the one with the least marquee value. Part of it is size. Part is that he doesn't speak English. Part is that he comes from the same camp and has the same style as Jose Aldo Jr., who has had more time in the spotlight.
Barao proved to be one of the best fighters, regardless of weight class in the sport, as he finished the division's top challenger, McDonald, with a head and arm choke in the fourth round. Barao, never in any trouble, showed the same superior all-around game that fans have seen for years from Aldo. In doing so, the bantamweight division now has Barao and injured champion Dominick Cruz
appearing at a different level than everyone else.
Cruz (19-1), who has been out 16 months after two major knee operations, will face Barao as soon as he recovers. Dana White noted that he hoped the match could be put together this summer, but it all depends on Cruz's recovery time. If Cruz won't be ready, Eddie Wineland
(20-8-1), coming off impressive wins over Scott Jorgensen
and Brad Pickett
, would appear to be the most logical opponent. But right now it doesn't appear there is anyone who is going to seriously test him until Cruz returns. And Cruz will be the one filled with questions, having a style dependent on speed coming back after reconstructive surgery, and facing such a legitimate test coming off a long layoff.
MICHAEL MCDONALD -
At 22 years old, McDonald (15-2) had the chance to become the youngest champion in the company's history. But even being healthy for the first time in a UFC fight after years battling hand problems, Saturday showed the difference in quality between the old guard that dominated the division, Miguel Torres
, who he went through quickly to make his name, and the skill level of the current elite.
The week before the fight, McDonald noted that he had never wanted to rush into a championship match, feeling when he got the fight he wanted to be ready for a decisive win. Saturday's fight was not one that can be excused by a bad break, or any excuse other than he is not yet where he needs to be to win a title.
But in just getting to the top contender spot, he was ahead of the career path of virtually every major star in the history of the sport. McDonald should improve, but while a hard hitter when it comes to the championship level in his division, Barao and Cruz, they are faster than he is, and it's a speed-driven division. McDonald has the chance for a long career as a top fighter, but he also clearly has a long way to go before he's likely to win the championship.
CUB SWANSON - Swanson (19-5) picked up his fourth win in a row, beating Poirier on 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 scores. The first two rounds were both close, and Swanson appeared tired in the third. But he got two takedowns and dominated the ground game in round three to clinch the win.
What's notable in Swanson's wins over the past year is that all came against strong competition. He scored knockout of the night honors over Ross Pearson
, a former Ultimate Fighter lightweight winner, and then did the same with Charles Oliveira
The featherweight division has an interesting logjam right now. The top guys who have been in the weight class have taken a back seat, first to Frankie Edgar
, and now to Anthony Pettis
, better known lightweights moving down and getting title chances.
, who has a prior win over Swanson and defeated Erik Koch
on a higher-profile show, along with Chan Sung Jung
"the Korean Zombie", are ahead of him. The winner of the Chad Mendes
(who defeated Swanson in 2010) vs. Clay Guida
fight on April 20 would also likely be ahead in the line. So Swanson is likely in the mix with Dennis Siver
and Nik Lentz, probably needing two more wins to be in consideration.
But just getting there is something for a fighter who in his early WEC days lost in 35 seconds to Jens Pulver
and eight seconds to Aldo before Aldo had become the division's star.
GUNNAR NELSON -
In his second UFC fight, the 24-year-old native of Iceland, did enough to beat veteran Jorge Santiago. Nelson (11-0-1) garnered significant attention before debuting due to his success in Jiu Jitsu and grappling. He got even more the way he toyed with the significantly-larger DaMarques Johnson
on the ground in his debut.
But in this fight, questions have to be asked. Nelson was only able to get the fight to the ground in the second round, which he dominated. As a stand-up fighter, he's unorthodox. He fights with his lands low, stemming from a karate background. He nearly paid for it, as he was hurt with a big right just as the fight was ending. And it's a flaw that will need to be worked on if he's going to be successful against a higher level of competition.
JIMI MANUWA - The former top star and light heavyweight champion of the BAMMA promotion in the U.K., Manuwa moved to 13-0. He has finished every opponent, 12 via stoppages from punches or injuries, one via submission, before the start of the third round.
His opponent, Cyrille Diabate
, was unable to continue after round one due to an apparent calf injury that left him unable to stand.
But even with that sparkling record, the big questions on Manuwa weren't answered here. Manuwa throws with so much power early that there are questions as to what would happen in a longer fight. He seemed to be fading in the second round against Kyle Kingsbury
in his UFC debut on the Sept. 29 show in Nottingham, England, which he won when Kingsbury eye was closed and the fight was stopped after the round ended.
Here, in facing a 6-foot-6 kickboxer, he changed from looking for a knockout early to taking Diabate down when the French fighter would throw his dangerous knees. The strategy proved sound as he was in control, and against a fighter with a huge height and reach edge, and strong kickboxing credentials, he was never in trouble.