They’ve been here before, but they never stayed long. Whilst UFC has had a London office for some years now, UK fans were always left with a feeling that they came here once a year to provide a second rate Fight Night card, almost because they felt like they had to. UFC president, Dana White, would not be a guaranteed presence at the event, and even if he was, he would be on the first flight out, sometimes not making the entirety of the press conference. Saturday was different.
The first difference was the quality and depth of the card. Sure, it wasn’t pay-per-view quality, but the main card was easily UFC on FOX calibre. The main event featured Alexander Gustafsson who is not only a global fan favourite (as proved by his winning the fan vote to be on EA Sports’ new UFC game cover), but also the number one contender for Jon Jones’ light-heavyweight crown. Indeed, the last time UFC fans saw Gustafsson fight, it was in the best fight of 2013; a vicious war with Jon Jones.
The second, very noticeable difference was the presentation. No Bruce Buffer doing ring announcing, replaced by Englishman Andy Friedlander. The ring side commentary team were similarly swapped out for the English duo of Dan Hardy (ex-UFC fighter) and John Gooden. The main absence of the night was that of Bruce Buffer. Buffer, brother of infamous boxing ring announcer Michael, is so experienced and manages to generate an enormous amount of energy before fights. Friedlander did his best to follow in impossibly large footsteps.
The third difference was a big one. For the first time, a UFC event was provided to the British public on free to air TV by way of Channel 5 (C5). BT Sport are the UK’s official broadcaster for all UFC content, however C5 signed a one fight deal providing a platform to bring the sport of MMA at its most elite to the masses. C5’s coverage left a lot to be desired, but in UFC, the fights sell themselves and boy did the main event deliver!
The final difference was the feeling we, as fans, were left with after all was said and done. The feeling that we mattered. The feeling that after so many years of waking up in the early hours to watch this unbelievable sport, it was now coming to us! Dana White lead the press conference afterwards and a media scrum, the fights were sensational on the whole, and in an arena to match. The message from UFC EMEA CEO Garry Cook was, on to Abu Dhabi. There are fights scheduled across Europe this year and already another London fight in the books for February 2015. No longer will the UFC pack up and leave. They are here to stay.
In the main event Gustafsson knocked out previously undefeated Brit, Jimi Manuwa in the second round. Over two-and-half thousand Swedes had made the trip and the atmosphere was electric. The fight was back and forth until the fatal blows eventually came.
Europeans can rest assured, the future is bright. Notable performances came from Englishman Luke Barnatt and Icelandic Gunnar Nelson, who was returning from injury after over a year.
Celebrities such as Guy Richie, Niall Horan, David Haye and MC Hammer were all in attendance. To any fans who are yet to witness a UFC event live, I can’t recommend it high enough. The production is second to none and before the main card begins, A montage of UFC moments set to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” echoes throughout the venue. It’s spine tingling.
I wish that Bruce Buffer had been there, but all in all the UFC finally made its mark. As stated by Dana White so many times, “Fighting is in our blood. We know it and we like it”. As proven by the O2 arena selling out in four hours with not a penny spent on above board advertising, we don’t like it…. We love it.
FOLLOW ASHER SIMONS ON TWITTER, SPORTS AND MMA COLUMNIST FOR THE INDEPENDENT @ASHERSIMONS