The UFC returns to London this weekend – its first show in the UK for three years. We look at some of the most intriguing fights on the card at The O2 Arena on Sunday morning UAE time.
Tom Aspinall v Alexander Volkov (heavyweight)
One of the standouts on the British MMA scene, Aspinall has been on a tear since debuting in the UFC during Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in July 2020. The Englishman has reeled off four straight wins – three via TKO and one submission – and in the process took home three Performance of the Night bonuses. Volkov, though, undeniably represents his greatest challenge thus far in the UFC; at No 6, the Russian is ranked five places above Aspinall in the heavyweight standings and has won eight of his 11 UFC outings. What’s more, Aspinall headlines a UFC event for the first time, in his homeland, and will compete in front of a sell-out crowd. There will be pressure. No matter what, don’t expect this to go the distance.
Paddy Pimblett v Kazula Vargas (lightweight)
It takes some serious talent (and temperament) to talk the talk and walk the walk in the UFC, but Pimblett certainly seems set to. The Englishman delivered on his much-anticipated promotional debut in September, when he survived a scare against Luigi Vendramini in Las Vegas to record an emphatic first-round knockout. True to form, “The Baddy” has predicted that Vargas does not make it past the opening round, with the former Cage Warriors featherweight champion clearly eager to once more add to his rocketing profile. Vargas, meanwhile, has not competed in almost a full year, although he did triumph back then, defeating China’s Zhu Rong by unanimous decision. Famed for his full-throttle walkouts, Pimblett will no doubt be intent on stealing the show in the capital.
Arnold Allen v Dan Hooker (featherweight)
A decent selection for fight of the night, Allen finally gets the big-name opponent he deserves, while Hooker’s drop back down to featherweight ensures many eyes will be on the long-established fan favourite. Another Englishman competing in front of home support, Allen rides an eight-fight win streak since his introduction to the UFC in 2015, climbing to the No 7-ranked contender in the division. He has not fought since last April, though. In contrast, Hooker has been celebrated for his activity, with the New Zealander pretty much the definition of “anybody, anytime, anywhere”. After three defeats in four at lightweight, Hooker competes at featherweight for the first time since 2016. Can he rebound from October’s first-round loss to Islam Makhachev in Abu Dhabi?
Muhammad Mokaev v Cody Durden (flyweight)
If Aspinall has hoisted himself already to one of the lead stars in UK MMA, then Mokaev is surely one of its brightest prospects. At 21, the Dagestan-born wrestler who represents England, has been vocal in his belief that he will become the UFC’s youngest-ever champion – a record held currently by Jon Jones (23 and 242 days). Mokaev signed for the promotion in November, with the hype surrounding the supreme grappler certain to rise in the build-up to his UFC bow. Unbeaten in all 23 bouts as an amateur, he has since gone 6-0 as a pro. And in Durden, Mokaev has the opponent he called for. The American, who has won eight of his past 10 pro bouts – one defeat, one draw – will be determined, however, to spoil “The Punisher’s” party.