On Saturday March 18, UFC will return to The O2 in London, England. As excitement amongst fans grows, we look back and reflect on the rise of mixed martial arts in Britain and consider some of the key moments which have contributed to the sport’s growing popularity.
March 2000 First for Freeman
History was made on March, 10, 2000, when Ian Freeman became the first English fighter to compete in the UFC at UFC 24 in Louisiana. Freeman lost the fight via submission to Scott Adams but “The Machine” responded in the best possible fashion, winning his next three fights in UFC.
July 2002 UFC hosts first event in London.
On July 13, 2002, UFC hosted its first event in London inside the famous Royal Albert Hall; UFC 38: BRAWL AT THE HALL. The event will be remembered for Ian Freeman’s upset of Frank Mir, Matt Hughes’ title defense win over Carlos Newton and Mark Weir’s ten second knockout of Eugene Jackson.
June, 2006 Debut win for Bisping
A young Michael Bisping made his UFC debut and defeated Josh Haynes by TKO in the 2nd round to win The Ultimate Fighter®season 3. Bisping won the tournament at light-heavyweight and would fight 4 more times in the UFC at 205 before dropping to 185. The rest, as they say, is history.
September 2007 Bisping is born
UFC 75: CHAMPION vs. CHAMPION was the first time the organisation hosted an event inside the iconic O2 arena. On the night, Michael Bisping made his third Octagon appearance since winning season three of UFC’s long-standing reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter. Bisping beat American Matt Hamill via split decision in the co main event and despite losing his next fight against Rashad Evans, the Brit would go on to hit back with three explosive wins in his next three fights, making himself known as a future contender.
March 2010 Hardy shoots for a world title
Four consecutive wins in the UFC over Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, Marcus Davis, and Mike Swick were enough to earn Nottingham’s Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy a title shot at UFC 111 in New Jersey against Georges St-Pierre. Despite not pulling off the upset that he and the British fans had hoped for, Hardy gained a legion of loyal fans and would go onto became one of the most recognisable names in British MMA.
June 2013 Female First
Rosi Sexton made history at UFC 161: EVANS vs. HENDERSON by becoming the first female British fighter to compete in the UFC. The Cambridge University graduate lost a unanimous decision to Canada’s Alexis Davis but, despite the defeat, she emerged from the bout with great credit. Sexton would go onto compete once more in the UFC, losing to Jessica Andrade via decision, but nevertheless she created a legacy and rightly earned her place in British MMA history.
October 2013 Scotland on the MMA map for the first time
Robert Whiteford made history at UFC FIGHT NIGHT: MACHIDA vs. MUNOZ by becoming the first Scottish fighter to compete in the UFC. Stepping in on a just a few weeks’ notice, Whiteford faced the American “Kid”, Jimy Hettes. Whiteford lost the fight via submission but nevertheless Scotland was finally on the UFC map.
July 2015 Home comforts
Following widespread demand from mixed martial arts fans for an event in Scotland, Glasgow’s SSE Hydro hosted Scotland’s first ever live event in July 2015 – UFC FIGHT NIGHT: BISPING vs. LEITES. It was a night to remember for the 10,000 Scottish fans in attendance, with the three Scottish fighters on card; Stevie Ray, Joanne Calderwood and Robert Whiteford securing a hat trick of wins, much to the delight of the home crowd.
June 2016 A long time coming
The MMA world cried out for Bisping to replace injured Chris Weidman ahead of his scheduled championship bout with Luke Rockhold at UFC 199. Fresh from filming a Hollywood blockbuster, Bisping stepped up to the mark without hesitation. A huge underdog going into the bout, Bisping entered the Octagon and knocked out champion Rockhold in the first round to become England’s first ever UFC champion. The win also saw Bisping tie Georges St-Pierre’s record for the most UFC wins, with 19.
November 2016 Dream Debut for Welsh fighters
The UFC returned to Belfast after a nine-year absence in November 2016, and fans were treated to a spectacular night of action inside the SSE Arena at UFC FIGHT NIGHT: MOUSASI vs. HALL 2. It was the Welsh fans celebrating at the end of the night though, with debutants Brett Johns and Jack Marshman both picking up impressive victories over Kwan Ho Kwak and Magnus Cedenblad respectively. Marshman’s stellar performance also earned him the performance of the night bonus.
March 18, 2017 A date for the diary
UFC will return to the English capital on March 18, 2017.
Tickets for UFC FIGHT NIGHT LONDON will go on general sale on Friday, January 27 via Ticketmaster. Tickets will be priced at £40, £60, £80, £105, £135 and £200.