The Ultimate Fighting Championship will return to London, England on Saturday night to host the first UFC Fight Pass card of 2017. 13 months ago, The 02 hosted one of the most hotly anticipated cards in the streaming service’s short history when British star and now UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping faced the greatest middleweight in MMA history Anderson Silva. It was close, thrilling and one of the better fights of 2016.
The hype for this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 107 card may not be as high, but it features some familiar European faces in well matched contests.
The main and co-main events are between four men who are looking to make a statement in their respective divisions. Both are the stereotypical striker versus grappler matchup but are enticing in their own unique ways. The bottom half of the main card will feature two Brits, one looking to ascend a crowded featherweight division, the other on his way out after a decade of prize fighting.
JIMI MANUWA VS. COREY ANDERSON
Light heavyweight is one of the most important divisions in the history of the UFC. It was the darling division for years and most of the sport’s stars from yesteryear competed in it at one point or another.
Usually when a dominant champion takes a prolonged leave of absence from a division, it is supposed to be the most appropriate time for contenders to emerge. Yet, 205 pounds will feature a rematch that occurred less than two years ago to determine the best light heavyweight in competition next month at UFC 210. Champion Daniel Cormier will defend his title for only the second time in two years against Anthony Johnson, the man he beat to acquire said title at UFC 187. The missing presence of Jones has not done anything to mitigate the constant stagnancy of the 205 pound division but this weekend’s headliner hopes to curb that.
Jimi “Posterboy” Manuwa will look to add to some consistency to his current résumé. After his undefeated streak was broken by former title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, Manuwa has gone 2-1 in his last three. His victory over Jan Blachowicz wasn’t characteristic of his familiar power punching style and his sophomore meeting with another legitimate top 10 opponent in Anthony Johnson ended with him flattened on his back.
Last October, Manuwa faced Ovince Saint Preux and delivered the performance of his career. Saint Preux, a powerful and awkward southpaw was outclassed by the Brit. A close first round was followed by a second round that started rolling quickly downhill for the Haitian-American. Fatigue began to set in early in round two and a picture perfect right cross/left hook by the Brit left Saint Preux limp on the mat.
Corey “Overtime” Anderson is not entering this contest with the momentum of Manuwa but he is in a position where it is imperative he impresses. When Anderson pummeled Matt Van Buren to win the Ultimate Fighter finale three years ago, the MMA community felt they just saw a glimmer of hope that a young light heavyweight prospect would soon emerge. A knockout loss to Gian Villante and a more recent, controversial loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua let a little wind out of his sails.
Last December, Anderson faced heavy-handed brawler Sean O’Connell and disposed of him in appropriate fashion. The Utah native was a favorable matchup but by no means an easy fight. O’Connell’s previous fight against Steve Bosse was one of the wildest barnburners the UFC had seen in a few years and inviting that man to any slugfest can lead to your demise. Anderson never entertained the thought of giving “The Real OC” any chance at competing and forced him to play his game with his grinding style. Although the fight lacked excitement, it showed Anderson’s improvement and maturity to handle an outmatched foe tactically and dominantly.
Manuwa will have the obvious striking advantage, with Anderson having the edge in the grappling department. Anderson is the younger of the two but both men have expectations that were placed on them on hold. Given Anderson’s age, his losses are a bit expected. The fact that they came against a defensively porous Gian Villante and a past his prime “Shogun” are concerning.
Manuwa has two losses to his name as well but it’s to two elite title challengers in Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson. At 37 yeas of age, the clock is ticking on Manuwa’s title aspirations. Another impressive knockout can mean he’s next in line for a title shot. A loss can signal the end of any hope of him as a legitimate challenger.
GUNNAR NELSON VS. ALAN JOUBAN
Although Manuwa and Anderson are legitimate top ten light heavyweights and their fight is an important fight for the division, it’s unfortunate that Gunnar Nelson and Alan Jouban are only scheduled to fight for three rounds. This isn’t a high stakes number one contender type matchup but the notion that the combatants would be given 25 minutes to let the fight play out would be fun.
SBG Ireland’s Gunnar Nelson, coming off a slick submission of gifted striker Albert Tumenov will return after ten months on the sidelines to build on his victory and cement his place as a contender at 170 pounds. Across the cage will be the fan favorite Alan Jouban. As in the main event, the grappler versus striker formula once again comes into play for the co-headliner.
Jouban has yet to show any formidable grappling ability but he has been a lot more active than the Icelander. “Brahma” also faced a dangerous striker in his last bout against Mike Perry. Although, Jouban is a much more savvy stand-up artist than “Platinum,” his unanimous decision win showed he can score points and fight intelligently when the opportunity calls for it.
Nelson was supposed to face Dong Hyun Kim as a Fight Pass headliner last November but an injury forced the bout to be cancelled. In his first four Octagon appearances, Nelson went undefeated and showed his world-class submission game time in and time out. That run placed him at the top of the bill of a Fight Pass show against Rick Story in Sweden three years ago that saw his first defeat. A submission win against Brandon Thatch followed but his humiliating loss to Demian Maia led some to believe he was more hype than promise.
A win for Nelson or Jouban will be significant in a welterweight division that’s a bit fuzzy at the moment. Demian Maia has kept racking up wins and the emergence of Jorge Masvidal as a welterweight threat has led them to tangle in May for the defacto number one contender spot, but with Lorenz Larkin recently leaving the UFC, Kelvin Gastelum now calling middleweight home and the return of Robbie Lawler still unknown, a win for either man can put them in a very favorable position.
Jouban’s schedule can definitely aid him against the relatively inactive “Gunni,” but if his performance against Tumenov was any indication, Nelson did not take kindly to losing so handedly to Maia and is much more dangerous now.
BRAD PICKETT VS. MARLON VERA
Brad Pickett was never the most beloved or personable fighter but he was a fighter’s fighter through and through. “One Punch”will bid farewell Saturday night in front of his native country.
Over three dozen fights will take its toll on any man and the effects of all those contests were definitely apparent on Pickett over the last few years. Many feel that this was a long time coming but fighters like Pickett are the clichéd fighter who is too tough for his own good.
It’s a shame Reebok won’t let “One Punch” walkout with his patented bowler hat and suspenders one last time but his opponent Marlon Vera should provide enough entertainment. The Ecuadorian TUF Latin America contestant has been steadily improving in his time in the UFC and his willingness to take this fight on short notice implies he is confident and ready to take out a tough and tricky veteran. Vera is smarter than when he came into the Octagon but his style is still one that meshes well with Pickett’s.
MAKWAN AMIRKHANI VS. ARNOLD ALLEN
The main card opener lacks name power but it might be the most competitive. Makwan Amirkhani has been nothing but dominant in the UFC. “Mr. Finland” is renowned for his wrestling ability but his sub-ten second finish of Andy Ogle is what made folks raise their eyebrows. A flying knee reminiscent of a Yuen Woo-Ping film is a bang-up way to get people talking about you but world-class wrestling is a solid way to ensure victory.
Amirkhani’s wild acrobatics in his debut showed that he was a wildman inside but he still has a ways to go to become a proficient striker. The interesting aspect of this fight is that Arnold Allen can prove problematic for the Finn.
“Almighty” Allen is one of the youngest fighters on the roster and has a style that Amirkhani has yet to face. A southpaw with an active and efficient boxing attack can really neutralize the grappling of Amirkhani. Sean Shelby is no stranger to matching fellow prospects and though at times it can seem unwarranted or unnecessary, this a perfectly fine situation cause both have skills that are strong but are still not well-rounded enough to face top 15 fighters. It’s tough to know how much action this fight can produce but it will definitely serve an important lesson to the winner and loser.