With the UFC confirming its long-awaited return to London after a three-year absence, we’re looking at the promotion’s top five European fighters.
Fans were due to see the Octagon in the capital in March 2020, one of five events cancelled due to the pandemic, as Leon Edwards got to fight in front of a home crowd against Tyron Woodley, in which a win could’ve seen him in line for a title shot.
The last time London hosted a UFC event we saw Darren Till knocked clean out by Jorge Masvidal. Till at the time was one of Europe’s top fighters, coming off the back of a first pro defeat in his welterweight title fight with Woodley.
He’s since suffered quite the fall from grace, winning by split decision against Kelvin Gastelum before losing consecutive fights to Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson.
So what of the current crop? Let’s take a look.
The constantly-written-off Jan Blachowicz was finally beaten when losing his title to Glover Teixeira, of course the defeat came in a fight he was actually fancied to win.
He beat Jared Cannonier, Luke Rockhold and Dominick Reyes in America, Jacare Souza in Brazil, and Jimi Manuwa in England. All of those were favourites to win the fight.
Reyes was coming off the back of his controversial loss to all-time great Jon Jones which many thought he won, but Blachowicz took the vacant title, then made the defence against one of the top P4P fighters Israel Adesanya who was looking to become a two-weight champion.
He did so – without really being troubled – and finally cracked the P4P rankings himself.
Yes, he now must face fellow European Aleksandar Rakic, but win that and he’ll be back in title contention.
How this man hasn’t yet fought for the title is something of a mystery. Circumstances certainly haven’t helped, mind.
His 2019 win over Rafael dos Anjos took him to eight in a row. He was looking to make it nine against Tyron Woodley, but when the bout was set to be moved to the USA, Edwards had to pull out. He was then due to fight Khamzat Chimaev in December 2020 who pulled out through Covid.
After more than 18 months without a fight, Edwards finally stepped into the Octagon to face Belal Muhammad and won the first round. An eye-poke in the second left Muhammad unable to continue, and Edwards’ wait for a win extended to nearly two years.
Nate Diaz stepped up and while some questioned Edwards for the final minute of the fight in which Diaz looked inches away from a knockout for the ages, they ignored how dominant ‘Rocky’ was for the previous 24 minutes.
The only fighters ranked above Edwards are Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns, both who’ve had two shots as Usman, and surely 2022 will be the year the Birmingham man gets his shot.
The next Khabib Nurmagomedov? Both from Dagestan, both World Combat Sambo champions, both middleweights. They even grew up together and like Khabib, Makhachev is a problem for everyone in the division.
Nobody has had an answer for Makhachev since his 2015 loss to Adriano Martins, as he take opponents down at will, smothering them with irrepressible grappling. In his UFC career, his takedown success is 36%, Khabib’s was 39% and his takedown defence is actually slightly better than his training partner’s.
2021 saw him beat Drew Dober, Thiago Moises and Dan Hooker, all by submission, all fights he was strongly fancied to win and he’s set for a big 2022.
Depending how the lightweight division plays out over the next few months, you’d expect Makhachev fighting for the title before too long, and it will surprise no one if he has the belt around his waist this time next year.
After Amanda Nunes’s shock defeat to Julianna Pena, Valentina Shevchenko was installed as the new female P4P #1, and it’s only the all-time greatness of Nunes that’s kept ‘Bullet’ off the top spot sooner.
After an impressive win against Holly Holm – still near the top of her game – she was beaten by Nunes – right at the top of hers – for a second time.
She then dropped down to flyweight and has obliterated the division. No one has come close to her. Eight straight wins, six straight title defences and there’s no end to the run in sight.
In first place is Petr Yan, the former bantamweight champion and current interim bantamweight champion.
The only fighter who capable of beating Yan seems to be Yan himself. After seven straight wins in the UFC including victories of John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera and Jose Aldo, Yan was handed the belt, which he defended against Aljamain Sterling.
The Russian, as he had been for all his fights in the UFC, went off favourite and took two of the first three rounds. Sterling was tired and running out of answers to Yan’s laser-sharp striking with the win looking inevitable. What followed was a moment of complete madness – with Sterling clearly ground, Yan launched a knee to the head, resulting in his disqualification.
When the inevitable rematch was postponed, Yan faced Cory Sandhagen in a blockbuster fight which saw ‘No Mercy’ win by unanimous decision and take the interim title.
Yan will also be favourite for the rematch scheduled for April, as he looks to recapture the belt he’ll feel he never truly lost.