BY MATTHEW HAROLD (@MatthewHarold83)
The UFC makes its return to the United Kingdom as they visit the O2 Arena in London, with top ranked light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson going up against local boy Jimi Manuwa.
The main event bout seems somewhat of a step down for the Swede, after many believed he should have been given an immediate rematch with current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones, after the American claimed a controversial decision victory in September.
But instead, that opportunity went to Glover Teixeira and now the 27-year-old goes into a bout were really, he’s in a no win situation, as he’s expected to see off the challenge of Manuwa, who isn’t in the top ten.
He knows this fight is a must win and also he must put on a big performance or else there will be the clamour for others, such as Daniel Cormier, who has his own platform, being one of the main guests of UFC TV products in the United States.
For his opponent Manuwa, this is the opportunity of a lifetime, after going up against lower level light heavyweight opposition; he’s now been thrown to the wolves and whether or not he’s up to the task, remains to be seen.
Of his 14 career victories, only one of them haven’t come by either knockout or technical knockout and the last two of his opponents,
Ryan Jimmo and Cyrille Diabate both had to bow out of their bouts as a result of an injury.
Coupled with the fact that he hasn’t been into the third round of a bout, shows how dangerous the 34-year-old London based fighter is, and if he can put off the upset, that would see him move into the top ten.
But whether he’d be able to move into continued elite competition in the UFC may not be up to what happens inside the octagon, but may be down to visa issues he would have entering the United States due to his previous criminal conviction.
The co-main event was suppose to see Ross Pearson and Melvin Guillard continue from where they left off in October, when an illegal knee from the American saw the bout eventually called a no-contest.
But an injury to Pearson put pay to that contest and now Guillard must face off against Michael Johnson, as the pair now look to make their way up what is a crowded lightweight division, where the winner will have to show something good to get closer to the top of the ladder.
Johnson is hoping to make it three on the bounce after suffering defeat in his last visit to Europe, were he suffered defeat at the hands of Reza Madadi, but a decision win over Joe Lauzon and a knockout of Gleison Tibau have got the 27-year-old back on track.
His opponent Guillard has also suffered his ups and downs in recent times; losing four of his six previous contests before the Pearson bout and with the constant changing of his training camp, the 47-fight veteran hasn’t been able to find a run of form.
But after claiming knockout of the night honours, with his victory of Mac Danzig and the no contest against Pearson, he has the chance to go three undefeated and try to re-establish himself within the lightweight division.
Another fight that was hit by the injury bug was the flyweight debut of Londoner Brad Pickett, who was supposed to be going in with Ian McCall, but an injury to Uncle Creepy saw him shelved.
With little opposition available in the division at such short notice, a campaign from across the water in Ireland was made and eventually an offer was made to Cage Warriors flyweight Neil Seery, who grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
After an up and down start to his career, once arriving at Cage Warriors the 34-year-old went on a four-fight winning run and is now preparing for the biggest moment of his career, as he goes in with a fight of the night regular.
Pickett has claimed fight of the night honours in four of his six bouts, but has been on the losing end of three of those six fights and that ultimately helped prompt the decision to move down a weight class.
It will be his second bout for the promotion in his homeland, and he will be hoping to put on the same performance as he did in Nottingham in September 2012, when he claimed knockout of the night honours against Yves Jabouin.
And a convincing victory over Seery could see him immediately move into position for an opportunity to take on current UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who Pickett has a victory over.
Rounding out the main card Icelandic welterweight Gunnar Nelson, who returns to London after claiming a decision victory over Jorge Santiago in the same city last February, as he takes on Omari Akhmedov.
All three of the 25-year-old’s UFC bouts will have come in England, after he made his promotional debut with a submission victory over DaMarques Johnson in Nottingham and before that, he had fought most of his bouts in the country.
Two of those came in BAMMA, were he claimed a rear naked choke and a neck crank victories over Sam Elsdon and Eugene Fadiora.
His opponent Akhmedov is another one of these seemingly never-ending Dagestan fighters that have arrived in the UFC, but this journey will be a lot shorter than his promotional debut, were he had to travel to Brazil.
But the distance didn’t cause any problem as he secured a first round knockout victory over Thiago Perpetuo, to make it 11 victories in a row for the 26-year-old Sambo fighter.
Light Heavyweight: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa
Lightweight: Michael Johnson vs. Melvin Guillard
Flyweight: Brad Pickett vs. Neil Seery
Welterweight: Gunnar Nelson vs. Omari Akhmedov
Light Heavyweight: Cyrille Diabate vs. Ilir Latifi
Middleweight: Luke Barnatt vs. Mats Nilsson
Middleweight: Brad Scott vs. Claudio Henrique da Silva
Bantamweight: Davey Grant vs. Roland Delorme
Welterweight: Igor Araujo vs. Danny Mitchell
Flyweight: Phil Harris vs. Louis Gaudinot