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The Red Corner: UFC London recap — a smashing return

For European MMA fans, the three-year drought of live fight action seemed like an eternity. Fortunately, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s roaring return to London Saturday night rewarded these patient fans with one of the greatest events in the promotion’s history. 

The O2 Arena was properly rocking from bell to bell. The card was stacked, and with purpose, for it featured 10 fighters who called England, Wales or Scotland their home. Charged by thundering chants emblematic of a British crowd, the hometown favorites delivered with flashy finishes of all sorts. 


In the prelims, Scottish submission wizard Paul Craig (16-4) faced an early helping of ground and pound from Nikita Krylov (27-9), and seemed all but knocked out by the middle of round one. As Krylov continued to cement his dominant first frame with a barrage of punches from the top, Craig flashed his submission sorcery and fatefully snared the Ukrainian’s neck in his patented triangle choke. Craig’s win was eerily similar to his 2018 buzzer-beater triangle of Magomed Ankaleav (17-1), which also took place in the O2. 

Liverpool’s own Molly McCann (12-4) met Luana Carolina (8-3) later in the second fight of the main card, and delivered one of the most jaw-dropping KOs in the sport’s history. After a pair of dominant rounds, McCann didn’t shy away from the fray in round three. While tied up in the clinch in the center of the Octagon, McCann looked to escape and deal damage on her way out. In one slick motion, McCann spun out of Carolina’s grasp and rocketed her elbow backwards into Carolina’s chin. The blow put Carolina out on her feet, and as she collapsed to the canvas, McCann was already clambering up and out of the Octagon celebrating. 

Fellow skyrocketing Scouser Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett (18-3), who fought two bouts later, is quickly becoming the face of English MMA. His opponent, Rodrigo “Kazula” Vargas (12-5), looked to quiet the London faithful, who had broken out in a deafening anthem in favor of Pimblett. Vargas did exactly that in the early moments of round one when he socked Pimblett with a right and followed up with a takedown. Vargas unloaded ground and pound, but Pimblett was able to get back to his feet. 

Pimblett then deployed his own ground game after executing a clever judo throw from the clinch that brought Vargas to the floor. Pimblett proved he was the superior jiu-jitsu practitioner, and quickly took Vargas’ back. From there, Pimblett tucked his arm under Vargas’ chin and forced the tap, which brought the crowd to the umpteenth fever pitch of the evening. 

Up next was the co-main event, which featured a featherweight clash between Arnold Allen (18-1) and Dan Hooker (21-12). In his return to 145, Hooker looked to revitalize his career after recent struggles at lightweight. Welcoming Hooker back was Allen, who rode into London on an 11-fight winning streak. 

The bout was fireworks, with Allen finding early success with a furious striking output. Hooker was able to fire back amidst the frenzy with a short left hook that dropped Allen to a knee, but this was his only bright spot. The blitz seemed to freeze Hooker, who found himself backpedaling away from Allen’s onslaught, up until the referee saved “The Hangman” from further damage. With the win, England’s Allen notched yet another victory for the Brits on the night. 

The heavyweight main event of Alexander Volkov (34-10) and Tom Aspinall (12-2) had finally arrived. Aspinall was clearly unfazed by the pressure of continuing the night’s trend of English dominance, and was sharp in both the stand up and ground game. Aspinall struck Volkov with clean headshots and flawlessly implemented a double leg takedown. After a heavy dose of ground and pound elbows, Volkov mustered the strength to get back to his feet. 

This would be a short-lived victory for “Drago,” however, as Aspinall kept up his lighting pace and continued to land strikes. Another striking combination-into-takedown sequence had Aspinall again in a dominant position on the ground. Aspinall fished for Volkov’s arm from side control and began to wrench a painful straight armbar that prompted a tap from the Russian. 

Aspinall’s main event victory alone may have been enough to deem the night a success for British MMA at large. Instead, the emphatic wins from hometown fighters across the card, coupled with the fiery London crowd, made for a clear and resounding statement — the British Isles are a MMA powerhouse, and the best is still yet to come. 

Be sure to follow @TheRedCornerDFP on Twitter for live-fight results, card predictions and more. 

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