The City of Liverpool will be right at the forefront of UK sport this weekend as Liverpool Football Club compete in the Champions League final on Saturday night and then 24-hours later the Echo Arena will host the City’s first-ever UFC event.
It is a special moment for fight fans when the UFC visits your City for the first time, but it is even more special when the event is headlined by one of your own. Liverpool’s Darren Till and American superstar Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson top the bill in one of the most anticipated fights of the year.
Till is undefeated in 17 fights and shot to superstardom following his destruction of UFC legend Cowboy Cerrone back in October 2017. The 25-year-old immediately campaigned for an event in his City and the UFC obliged.
But standing in his way will be one of the finest kickboxers of his generation, Wonderboy Thompson. Wonderboy amassed an incredible record of 57 wins and no losses in professional kickboxing before making the transition to MMA. Thompson is the current number 1 contender in the UFC’s welterweight division and Till knows a win over such an elite opponent will catapult him right into contention for a shot at the title.
Joining me for this instalment of Writer vs. Fighter is English UFC star, Marc Diakiese who gives me his predictions for some of the most anticipated fights on the card.
Here are our picks:
Welterweight: Thompson vs. Till
Marc: The main event is a great fight and fighting Wonderboy, in his hometown, represents a brilliant opportunity for Darren Till. If Till doesn’t give Wonderboy much space then I believe he can close him down and finish the fight. If he doesn’t that thought it’s going to turn into a difficult night for Darren. Having said that, he’s the UK fighter, performing in front of his home city, so I’m going for Darren to win with a second-round finish.
Tom: What a fight this should be! These two men are world class kickboxers and are amongst the best strikers on the entire UFC roster. But both these fighters have very different styles and I feel that game plan will play a huge role in who comes out victorious. Wonderboy likes to use his speed and movement to hit and not get hit, whilst Till is the polar opposite and tends to stalk his opponents, unleashes in flurries of raw aggression and looks for knees and elbows in the clinch. I feel Till has the tools and fight IQ to take the victory but he needs to be careful not to go chasing Wonderboy as he is too good a counter-striker. Plus, from what I have seen so far of Till he often leaves himself open to be hit. But I think Till is both physically and mentally stronger than Wonderboy and with the whole arena behind him, I expect Till to win via TKO in round four.
Welterweight: Magny vs. White
Marc: Craig White has just stepped up at short notice for his UFC debut, so I don’t know much about him. Magny, on the other hand, we know plenty about and he is a well rounded mixed martial artist who has bags of experience. White, being the late replacement for Gunnar Nelson, will be under a lot of pressure. He won’t have had as much time to prepare for this bout as Magny has so fitness could ultimately be the difference in this one. I’m going for Magny to win but I have a feeling White will make him work for it and take the fight to a decision.
Tom: I’m sure this will all feel quite surreal for Craig white, one day he is preparing to fight for the Cage Warriors title and the next he is fighting the number 9 ranked guy in the UFC. I admire White’s courage in accepting this fight and whilst anything can happen inside the Octagon, I feel he is on over his head with a fighter of Magny’s calibre. This will be a steep learning curve for White and I expect him to lose his debut. Magny via submission in round one.
Featherweight: Allen vs. Burnell
Marc: Arnold Allen has a great stand up game and to go with it, he is pretty decent on the ground too. I don’t know too much about his opponent, Mads Burnell though. I fought on a card with Arnold last year in London and I was very impressed by him. He came out on the right side of the judges’ decision that night and I can see him maintaining his 100% record since joining the UFC. Unsurprisingly I’m going to go with Arnold Allen, who will win with a third-round stoppage.
Tom: Dan Hardy has tipped Allen to be the UK’s next superstar in the UFC and I can understand why as he is an extremely talented and well-rounded fighter for someone so young. Allen hasn’t lost in four years and I don’t see that changing against Burnell. Allen has the advantage everywhere and I think he wins this however he likes. Allen via KO in the second round.
Featherweight: Knight vs. Amirkhani
Marc: This is a hard bout to call. Jason Knight is a very good all-rounder, whilst Makwan is a very good wrestler. I’m not too sure about his striking though, I don’t think his stand-up game is as strong as Jason’s. I think for Makwan to win this bout he is going to have to take Jason to the floor and grind one out. If he can do that then I’ll go for Makwan to get the win via decision.
Tom: This has the potential to be a barnstormer of a fight. Jason Knight is has picked up three bonuses in his six UFC fights so far and is one of those guys that keep coming no matter how many times you hit him. Amirkhani has talent and is slick on the ground but the Knight is equally as comfortable on the canvas. This could be a three-round bloody war and I feel that Knight will take the decision, mostly because he is coming off two losses and really needs this.
Middleweight: Kelly vs. Breese
Marc: From what I hear, Tom Breese has been doing a lot of work on his grappling. He hasn’t been actively fighting for a couple of years now but he has been training hard for a while and I can see him coming back a much-improved fighter. He trains with Leon Edwards in Birmingham who is doing well at the moment, so he should be filled with confidence by the success of their team down there. I’m backing Breese to make a successful comeback with a stoppage victory in the second round.
Tom: Breese is another UK fighter with phenomenal natural talent but it has been nearly two years since he last competed so it will be interesting to see if there is any ring rust. Kelly holds a victory over Rashad Evens and is a very accomplished grappler so should be comfortable on the canvas if Breese fancies taking it there. Weirdly, we often see a fight between two grapplers become a stand-up war and if that’s what happens on Sunday night I think Breese has the advantage. Breese to win via decision.
Marc: Till, Magny, Allen, Amirkhani and Breese
Tom: Till, Magny, Allen, Knight and Breese.