UFC returned to the UK last night with another 17,000 sell-out of the O2 Arena in London's Docklands. Critics who have called the sport blood thirsty would have been pleased when the first fight was ended far too quickly. Fabricio Werdum took the Californian Brandon Vera to the floor and threw a slurry of punches, few of which hit.
The referee stepped in far too soon, with Vera on the floor but unbruised, unbloodied, and disgusted with the precipitous decision of a TKO for the Brazilian Werdum at 4 minutes and 40 seconds of the first round. It seemed the only spectator happy with the decision and not booing was a front-row Guy Ritchie, without his wife.
The bout had been billed as an eliminator for a shot at the UFC heavyweight crown, but neither fighter can be pleased with its outcome after having such little time to show their wares. The UFC doubters may also have been encouraged by the ludicrous split decision given to the Brazilian middleweight Thales Leites in the second fight.
His opponent, Nate Marquadt from Colorado, was deducted two points for infringements including elbowing to the back of the head, when he had clearly landed his blows to the side of Leites's head. Marquadt, bleeding heavily, barely made it to the final bell, only to be awarded a split decision.
The frenetic pace of MMA fighting can make it all-but impossible for a referee and judges to know exactly what they have seen, but more accurate results than these are expected by fans who travel a long way to see the them. However, the night took a major turn for the better as the third, welterweight, fight opened with Marcus Davis and Mike Swick circling, sizing each other up and sending out some stiff jabs as range-finders, with few landing.
Davis looked stronger than the wiry Swick and soon pushed him to the wire, then taking him to the floor with a trip. But Swick used his slighter frame to twist Davis and wriggle on top of him. A flurry of knees to Davis's midriff seemed to slip off the "Irish Hand grenade", but certainly told in later rounds as Davis's stand-up suffered.
The pummelling from Swick ended Davis's round with a cut over the left eye, bleeding profusely. The second round took the same pattern, but with Swick bringing muay thai headkicks into his stand--up attack, using his greater height. Davis ended the round, after another sustained floorshow and with neither fighter showing supremacy, with another cut, this time at the bridge of his nose sending blood down the centre of his fac and into his mouth.
Davis continued his back-trips of Swick in the third, but each time the rangy Swick hit the floor he managed to wrap up Davis or even turn him. The fight ended on the ground, with Swick strandled over Davis and sending a flurry of blows down on the Maine-based fighter to open up the cuts that the referee had been looking hard at all fight. But in the end Swick's inaccuracy allowed Davis to survive the fight, if not the decision. Unanimous to Swick, who moves to 12-3-0.
Michael Bisping entered the ring to Blur's Woo-Hoo, and a cacophany of screams from the sell-out crowd, for whom the 'Ultimate Fighter' winner is surely the best middlewight in the world (Matt Hammil excepted?) The Canadian Jason Day started well enough, standing mid-octagon with "The Count" and boxing, moving, staying away from Bisping's jabs and trying to counter with some muay thai thigh kicks.
But Bisping rewarded the crowd after just 3 minutes and 42 seconds by taking the more experienced fighter to the ground and pummelling him with blows from a standing then kneeling position, never letting up in the headshots that bounced Day's increasingly bloody face off the canvas. The referee had seen enough. Chants of "easy, easy" from the crowd showed their delight, while a bloodied and shell-shocked Day left the stage quietly. After Bisping's dubious decision against Hammil, a fighter many believe beat him at this venue last September, the Count seems to have come back into the reckoning in an increasingly tough middlweight division.
The main event began with the bigger Floridian Thiago Alves standing off Matt Hughes, waiting for the vastly more experienced man to make a move. Highes did, but his lunge for Alves's legs, to trip him backwards, failed and Alves skipped away. Alves then brought Hughes to the ground and opened a cut on the Illinois-based fighter with an elbow on the ground.
Hughes took Alves down and tried to work a grip as Alves kept his legs wrapped around his opponent to prevent a hold and eventually worked himself up against the wire as Hughes's blood mixed with that spilt by the evenings other fighters. The first ended with Alves pummelling a prostrate Hughes, with the hooter coming and allowing Hughes's corner to stem the blood.
Another attempted take-down by ened with a nkee to the face and blood running from a cut over his right eye. Huges struggled up, tried another take-down and was mercilessly dispatched with a flying knee from the still fresh Alves. The referee went in, stopped and allowed Alves a few more shots to a collapsed Hughes, but then, mercifully, ended the bout.
Hughes, a future Hall of Famer and veteran of 44 UFC fight, not to mention surely one of the most popular professionals in the world's combat sports, may now consider his future, although just 7 losses confirms him as an all-time great who will always be remembered as a UFC original. Alves, on the other hand, marches on to 21-4 with the most high-profile fight of his career. What's next, he was asked. "Give me a title shot. Please. Just give me a title shot." Look out for UFC 86.