The UFC is back across the pond!
For the second time this year, the world’s premiere MMA promotion returns to England for UFC London, headlined by a heavyweight matchup between rising star Tom Aspinall and divisional stalwart Marcin Tybura.
When last we saw Aspinall, he was writhing in pain on the octagon floor after tearing his MCL and meniscus just 15 seconds into his fight with Curtis Blaydes at the previous UFC London event. That injury resulted in the first loss of Aspinall’s UFC career and sidelined the English heavyweight for nearly a year. Now Aspinall is finally ready to return and the 30-year-old is hoping to get back in the win column and resume his march towards a heavyweight title shot.
Welcoming Aspinall back to the octagon is one of the most veteran names in the division in Tybura. A UFC heavyweight since 2016, Tybura had an up-and-down run to start his promotional career, going 4-5 in his first nine bouts. However, since then, the Polish heavyweight has come on strong, winning seven of his past eight fights and moving up to No. 10 in the UFC’s divisional rankings. A win over the highly-touted Aspinall is exactly the sort of signature victory that could catapult Tybura into the title conversation.
In the co-main event, England’s favorite daughter, Molly McCann, makes her return to London when she takes on Julija Stoliarenko in a flyweight clash that is sure to tear the roof off the O2 Arena. “Meatball” is currently 3-0 when competing in this arena, so it’s a tall order for Stoliarenko, particularly as the Lithuanian fighter is making her 125-pound debut.
The rest of the UFC London card is filled with U.K. fighters looking to defend the homeland from foreign invasion as Nathaniel Wood, Paul Craig, Jai Herbert, Lerone Murphy, Davey Grant, Danny Roberts, and Marc Diakiese, among others, are all in action this weekend.
Tom Aspinall vs. Marcin Tybura
Prior to the sudden and meteoric arrival of Jailton Almeida, Aspinall was almost universally regarded as the best heavyweight prospect in years. Big and athletic, Aspinall is a a BJJ black belt with extremely quick hands and dangerous striking. That combination allowed him to bulldoze right over his first five UFC opponents in a combined 14 minutes and 44 seconds. Now the question is, will that same speed and explosiveness still be there coming off a blown out knee?
While Aspinall breezed through his UFC competition thus far, Tybura took a much more languid way to the top of the division. Seven of Tybura’s 11 UFC wins have come by way of decision, and that’s a feature not a bug for the big heavyweight out of Poland. Tybura is a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none, competent as both a striker and grappler, and willing to mix the martial arts up to his own advantage, but he isn’t a big finisher and largely relies on out-working opponents. That’s a tough ask against someone as dangerous as Aspinall, and frankly, I don’t think Tybura is up to it.
Pick: Tom Aspinall
Molly McCann vs. Julija Stoliarenko
This is McCann’s first fight since getting demolished by Erin Blanchfield last November and it will be interesting to see how “Meatball” reacts. Blanchfield was able to run over McCann with vastly superior grappling, so will McCann have worked to improve her defensive wrestling? She certainly needs it as she’s statistically one of the worst in the division, and facing a much larger woman intent on taking the fight to the floor. If McCann can keep things upright though, she’s got a great chance.
The question for Stoliarenko in this fight is simply, why? A former Invicta FC bantamweight champion, Stoliarenko was never undersized at 135 pounds, in fact, the 30-year-old has historically struggled to make the weight, taking multiple catchweight bouts early in her career and then passing out while trying to make weight for a fight against Julia Avila in 2021. Now she’s cutting an extra 10 pounds? There’s a good chance this fight doesn’t even happen.
If it does happen though, I still favor McCann. The 33-year-old Liverpudlian has never quite has the skills to live up to her popularity, but she’s a bulldog and one that never stops coming. If Stoliarenko can somehow make the weight, I expect her to be badly compromised, particularly as the fight goes into the later rounds.
Pick: Molly McCann
Nathaniel Wood vs. Andre Fili
In quite possible the best fight on the whole card, British prospect Nathanial Wood looks to make it three in a row since moving up to featherweight. Wood is definitely a little undersized for featherweight, but he makes up for it with a decided speed advantage since jumping up. He’s also a volume monster, pushing a high pace with his striking and takedowns to simple out-work his opponents.
Only 33 years old, this is Fili’s tenth year inside the octagon and it’s starting to show. The Team Alpha Male product has always been a bit of a mercurial fighter, capable of exceptional feats of violence and terrible collapses, but “Touchy” has had a particular rough go of things lately. The question in this fight is whether he will be able to use his range effectively and limit the wrestling of Wood — and I’m not sure he can. Bryce Mitchell was able to score takedowns on Fili almost at will, and Wood is too fast and too aggressive not to manage the same.
Pick: Nathaniel Wood
Paul Craig vs. Andre Muniz
UFC London might as well be nicknamed “Changing Weights,” because there sure are a lot of folks jumping around between divisions on this one. Case in point, Paul Craig is currently ranked No. 9 on the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings, but the Scottish fighter is nonetheless opting to bump down and try his luck at 185 pounds. It will be interesting to see what Craig looks like in his first attempt at the weight class, and should the cut go smoothly, it could be a great move for the cagey grappler who has struggled with some of the monstrous hitters at 205.
Two years ago, Muniz had a lot of heat as a dark horse in the UFC’s middleweight division. Oh, how the times have changed. The Brazilian fighter dined out on his submission win of BJJ world champion Jacare Souza for some time, but has looked listless in his previous two performances, including his upset loss to Brendan Allen in February. A high-level black belt and quality striker, Muniz has all the tools for success, but has lately struggled to employ them effectively, which could be a problem against one of the most focused, albeit limited, fighters in the UFC.
Pick: Paul Craig
Jai Herbert vs. Fares Ziam
A former Cage Warrior lightweight champion, Jai Herbert has struggled to make much of an impression inside the UFC. A rangy kickboxer by trade, Herbert has still consistently run into problems facing bigger power punches and people who can take him down and exploit his ground game. Fortunately for Herbert, Fares Ziam is not one of those people. Unfortunately for Herbert, he is still the better striker.
Like Herbert, Ziam is a rangy kickboxer, but Ziam is the much better defensive fighter, which is probably enough to give him the edge. There’s a chance D1 wrestler Herbert makes an appearance on Saturday, but Ziam should be good enough to keep this standing and outpoint him.
Pick: Fares Ziam
Lerone Murphy vs. Joshua Culibao
If the featured featherweight fight isn’t the best bout this weekend, the main card opener may be it. Lerone Murphy is an undefeated British prospect who has won four in a row inside the UFC. A rangy striker, Murphy has this far struggled with his defensive wrestling in the UFC, giving up five takedowns in each of his previous two fights, but that doesn’t figure to be an issue against Culibao, who has never completed a takedown in the UFC.
Similar to Murphy, Culibao is a rangy striker, but one who has been a bit more able to keep fights on the feet. The Australian fighter is also a dynamic finisher, using power shots to make up for his relatively low work rate. That will ultimately be Culibao’s undoing though, as Murphy is the more adept striker and he’s defensively sound enough to avoid getting clipped with anything major.
Pick: Lerone Murphy
Davey Grant def. Daniel Marcos
Danny Roberts def. Jonny Parsons
Joel Alvarez def. Marc Diakiese
Mick Parkin def. Jamal Pogues