One of the things that makes MMA great as a sport is that anything can happen, and that even in the face of overwhelming mathematical odds, things that should never happen somehow do.
Demetrious Johnson’s last-second win over Kyoji Horiguchi three years ago at UFC 186 was the first of its kind, and it hasn’t been duplicated. With that one exception, there was never a UFC fight that was stopped in the final second of the last round of a fight. That’s 432 shows over more than 24 years. What exactly would be the odds of it happening twice on the same night?
Yet, it did on Saturday at the O2 Arena at UFC London.
The first time was one of those moments that lead you to do a double take. Light heavyweight prospect Magomed Ankalaev was an undefeated fighter and a 7-to-1 favorite over Paul Craig. Ankalaev’s performance was better described as workmanlike than spectacular, but either way, he was cruising to a win.
Ankalaev won the first two rounds, and was on his way to an easy decision win. With about five seconds left in the fight, Craig clamped down on a tight triangle. Immediately the thought was that Ankalaev would have been in a lot of trouble if the move had been locked in 10 seconds earlier.
Perhaps Ankalaev didn’t realize that he only needed to avoid tapping for a few seconds for an easy win. But with three-tenths of a second left, he tapped, changing the result of a contest that seemed like a foregone conclusion.
The second time, in Leon Edwards’ win over Peter Sobotta, was a referee stoppage. There’s nothing much to say other than it happened. It’s not the referees job to play the clock and let it go to a decision when a fighter is taking a pounding late. It was not a controversial call, and Edwards was going to win the decision either way. But it was historic nonetheless.
Meanwhile, UFC London’s main event established something the heavyweight division badly needed, which is getting some highly-ranked younger stars.
Alexander Volkov (30-6), who came in at No. 7 in UFC’s heavyweight rankings, should move up a few spots after his fourth-round knockout win over No. 3 ranked Fabricio Werdum (23-8-1). Volkov and Curtis Blaydes are the only two fighters in the top 10 who are under the age of 30. Werdum, a few months from 41, looked slower than in the past. He still got his takedowns early and won the first two rounds before getting his right eye busted in the third round. That seemed to be the turning point in the fight, as it appeared to do some damage to his vision on that side, and he was fading.
You never know, but it felt like this was a fight that the younger Werdum would have taken. The loss, his second since dropping the heavyweight title to Stipe Miocic, is a huge blow for Werdum getting a title rematch.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed and what the future could hold for five of the biggest stars of the show.
ALEXANDER VOLKOV — With his fourth UFC win in a row — the last three over name fighters Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve and Werdum — Volkov should be ready for a major contender. The best fight for him at this stage would be Francis Ngannou (10-2), since a win over someone who had been promoted heavily would put him in serious contention for a championship fight.
Ngannou has been talking about fighting Derrick Lewis and Brock Lesnar in recent days. The Lesnar fight is the one every top heavyweight should want, because it’s instant notoriety and being part of a big promotion.
Volkov could also face the winner of the June 9 fight between Alistair Overeem (43-16) and Curtis Blaydes (9-1), or Junior Dos Santos (18-5) when he returns from a potential USADA suspension. Either way, he should be one win from serious title talk.
FABRICIO WERDUM — Win or lose, and it would have been far better had he won, Werdum’s next fight should be with Cain Velasquez (14-2). Ever since Werdum beat Velasquez in Mexico City, where the altitude led to the unthinkable — a Velasquez loss due to exhaustion — there has been interest in seeing a fight at sea level.
Velasquez’s run with injuries have prevented it from happening. For Werdum, it’s a way to use a fight that was supposed to happen before, and still should, to keep him in a spotlight situation and give him another shot at fast-tracking himself back to the big boys.
JAN BLACHOWICZ — Blachowicz (22-7) scored the biggest win of his career in winning a decision by outstriking Jimi Manuwa (17-4), who has long been considered one of the light heavyweight division’s best stand-up fighters.
The win avenged an April 11, 2015, decision win by Manuwa.
The two had the fight of the night and the first reaction was how quickly can we see it again.
It’s rare, unless it’s a title change or a big grudge or a close call for the UFC to bring a fight back immediately. Blachowicz could face Glover Teixeira (27-6) as something new, but the fight that would intrigue fans the most would be a Manuwa rematch.
JIMI MANUWA — Aside from the rematch, a fight to book him in would be Ilir Latifi (14-5). It looks exciting on paper and in particular could be a major fight for a show in Europe.
LEON EDWARDS — With five wins in a row, Edwards (15-3) immediately asked for Darren Till (16-0-1). Till was already announced as headlining the UFC’s May 27 debut in Liverpool. If that doesn’t work out, interesting next opponents for Edwards would be Yancy Medeiros (15-5), Alex Oliveira (17-5-1) or Max Griffin (14-4). Although Griffin is coming off a big win over Mike Perry, while Medeiros and Oliveira both lost in their last fight, a win over Medeiros or Oliveira will do more for Edward’s career than Griffin.