Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will make its long-awaited return to England as the promotion is gearing up to stage UFC London from inside O2 Arena later today (Sat., March 19, 2022). Headlining the event will be a Heavyweight tussle between Alexander Volkov (No. 6) and Tom Aspinall (No. 11). In the co-headlining act, Dan Hooker will return to Featherweight to battle Arnold Allen.
It seems like I’m always saying this, but it’s simply true: The Heavyweight division is wide open for the taking. As it stands, Francis Ngannou will be out for the remainder of 2022 with a knee injury. Beyond that, there is no telling if “The Predator” will re-sign with the promotion given his unhappiness with the lack of multi-million dollar paychecks coming his way. Jon Jones could be returning later this year for a potential 265-pound interim title fight, so there’s that, but there is no sense in holding our breath. That’s why the looming big man match up between Volkov and Aspinall is crucial for both men, as well as the division.
Volkov has lingered around the Top 5 for quite a while now, but he has yet to breakthrough to earn his first-ever shot at the title. That said, he is 3-1 in his last four outings so a win over Aspinall could get him that much closer. As for Aspinall, the man is simply on a tear at the moment having won seven straight, which includes his first four fights inside the Octagon, all via stoppage, three in the very first round. That means “Drago” has to be on his “A” game because while Aspinall carries the power that most big men have been blessed with, he can also twist you up like a pretzel. But let’s not get it twisted, this fight is more than likely going to play out on the feet, and that’s where it will get interesting.
While Volkov is towering above most big men at 6’7,” Aspinall isn’t too far behind, standing at 6’ 5.” “Drago” may have a slight weight advantage come fight night and packs just a tad bit more power, but Aspinall’s jiu-jitsu and wrestling are levels above that of the Russian big man’s. If it does happen to hit the canvas, it’s advantage Aspinall all day. For Volkov, using his slight reach advantage to keep his foe at bay will be key, though I just don’t see him being able to utilize his jab enough to get the job done.
Not much to complain about here other than the early start time. But, that’s to be expected since the event will be taking place in London. It’s a healthy line up of intriguing fights all the way around that should make for a good day.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Umar Nurmagomedov was inexplicably pulled from his scheduled fight against Jack Shore and replaced by Timur Valiev, who is on an impressive eight-fight win streak. Also, Mike Davis withdrew from his fight against Jai Herbert and was replaced by Ilia Topuria. Herbert will be looking to capitalize off his big technical knockout victory over Khama Worthy in Oct. 2021, his first win inside the Octagon after dropping his first two fights with the promotion.
As a result of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Liudvik Sholinian — who hails from Ukraine — was unable to make his fight against Nathaniel Wood. Vince Morales agreed to step in to take the fight. However, Morales was not medically cleared and his fight against Wood was canceled.
Jack Hadley suffered an undisclosed injury and was forced to withdraw from his scheduled fight against Allan Nascimento. Claudio Silva was forced out of his scheduled fight against Gunnar Nelson. As a result, Takashi Soto stepped in to take the fight against “Gunni,” who will be making his return after more than 2.5 years away from the fight game.
The last time Nelson competed was in Sept. 2019, suffering a unanimous decision loss at the hands of Gilbert Burns. Prior to that, Nelson suffered a razor-thin split-decision defeat to current No. 1 contender, Leon Edwards, so it’s not like he’s losing to chumps off the street. That said, the jiu-jitsu ace needs a win in the worst way because he is just 1-3 over his last four fights inside the eight-sided cage. He has a tough challenge ahead of him in Sato, who is trying to climb back into the win column himself after he was submitted by Miguel Baeza 16 months ago. It will be interesting to see if either man suffers from ring rust after such lengthy layoffs.
Muhammad Mokaev will be making his UFC debut against Cody Durden in what is sure to be a competitive Flyweight bout on the undercard. Mokaev is undefeated (6-0) with all of his fights going down under the BRAVE CF umbrella. He does, however, have a 23-0 record as an amateur. As for Durden, after starting his UFC career with a draw, then a loss, he eventually picked up his first win inside the Octagon by defeating Qileng Aori in Nov. 2021.
How The ‘Prelims” Look:
Ilia Topuria will attempt to keep his record in mint condition as he goes for consecutive win No. 12. He is 3-0 so far under the UFC umbrella and is coming off back-to-back first-round knockout victories over Damon Jackson and Ryan Hall. Topuria is quickly becoming a star in the division and taking a short-notice fight against Jai Herbert only raises his stock. The Georgian has finished 10 of his 11 opponents, so missing one of his fights isn’t the smartest thing to do if you’re into seeing non-stop, push-the-pace action.
Valiev is 2-0-1 so far inside the Octagon. As for his opponent Jack Shore — the former Cage Warriors 135-pound champion — he is undefeated at 15-0, going 4-0 thus far in his young UFC career. Both of these men are rising studs in the stacked Bantamweight division and a win for either of them will go a long way in helping them crack the Top 15.
Luana Carolina will attempt to pick up her third straight win when she battles Molly McCann in women’s Flyweight action. McCann recently snapped her two-fight skid by defeating Ji Yeon Kim in Sept. 2021. Also, the women’s Strawweight division will be represented when Cory McKenna battles Elise Reed, who suffered the first loss of her MMA career against Sijara Eubanks in July 2021.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
After starting off his UFC career with three straight wins, Makwan Amirkhani has been as inconsistent as they come. In his next five fights after going 3-0, he went 3-2 before losing three in a row. In his last outing at UFC 267 in Oct. 2021, he was knocked out by Lerone Murphy with a vicious knee, giving him the longest losing streak of his career in the process. Staring down the barrel at a possible four-fight losing streak, Amirkhani is in desperate need of a win against Mike Grundy who, let’s face it, hasn’t fared much better in his last two fights, losing them both. When we really break it down, it’s a must-win for both men if they want to keep their spot on the bloated roster.
Interest Level: 6.5/10
Dan Hooker will be making his return to Featherweight after an extended stint at Lightweight to take on the streaking Arnold Allen, who has won 10 straight fights. Since making his UFC debut in 2015, Allen has been on a tear, going undefeated inside the Octagon while racking up big wins over Gilbert Melendez, Nik Lentz and Mads Burnell. Now, he will attempt to move up the rankings by scoring a huge win over Hooker, who hasn’t been on the best streak over his last four fights. Going 1-3 since June 2020, Hooker is coming off a tough loss against Islam Makhachev, which was preceded by a big win over Nasrat Haqparast. Despite his recent skid, Hooker is still a game opponent and is out to prove he has plenty left in the tank when he drops back down to 145 pounds.
Paddy Pimblett made his successful UFC debut by knocking out Luigi Vendramini in Sept. 2021. While many see Pimblett as the second coming of Conor McGregor, I am not quite sold on him just yet. Sure his debut was stellar, but let’s see what he does in his next few fights before we start crowning him the heir apparent. UFC’s public relations machine is already behind him, so he has to do his part and deliver inside the cage. As expected, UFC is bringing him on slowly, but Kazula Vargas is out to show that he is no one’s stepping stone. The crazy thing about it is, even if Vargas knocks out or submits “The Baddy” in impressive fashion, he won’t steal his shine and UFC will still — more than likely — keep pushing the Paddy wagon.
In the Heavyweight division, Shamil Abdurakhimov will face off against Sergei Pavlovich. Abdurakhimov is in a must-win situation here after losing his last two fights against Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus. Prior to that, he had gone an impressive 5-2 in his first seven fights inside the Octagon. As for Pavlovich, he is trending up because he has won his last two fights and a third straight win will really raise his stock while likely kicking his foe out of the promotion.
In the Light Heavyweight division, Paul Craig will battle Nikita Krylov. Craig has a nice streak going for him, going 4-0-1 over his last five fights which includes big wins over Mauricio Rua and Jamahal Hill. As for Krylov, he has been all over the place with his win/loss record. He is just 2-3 inside the Octagon since returning to the promotion in 2018. In his last five fights, Krylov has taken on Jan Blachowicz (loss), Ovince Saint Preux (win), Glover Teixeira (loss), Johnny Walker (win), and Magomed Ankalaev (loss), so history tells us he is due for a win.
Enjoy the fights!
UFC London Main Event On ESPN+:
265 lbs.: Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall
UFC London Main Card On ESPN+ (4 p.m. ET):
145 lbs.: Dan Hooker vs. Arnold Allen
155 lbs.: Paddy Pimblett vs. Rodrigo Vargas
170 lbs.: Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Soto
125 lbs.: Luana Carolina vs. Molly McCann
155 lbs.: Jai Herbert vs. Ilia Topuria
UFC London ‘Prelims’ Card On ESPN+ (1 p.m. ET):
145 lbs.: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Mike Grundy
265 lbs.: Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Sergei Pavlovich
205 lbs.: Paul Craig vs. Nikita Krylov
135 lbs.: Jack Shore vs. Timur Valiev
115 lbs.: Cory McKenna vs. Elise Reed
125 lbs.: Cody Durden vs. Muhammad Mokaev
135 lbs.: Vince Morales vs. Nathaniel Wood(Canceled)
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change due to COVID-19.*
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC London fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 4 p.m. ET.
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