Photo Credit: Chris Unger of Zuffa LLC
*This was originally posted on March 20, 2022*
I know I’ve said this a handful of times already this year but this… THIS was the best card of the year so far and this time it won’t be topped for a long, long time. Seriously, this is one of those cards that MMA fans will talk about and rewatch for the next decade. Almost all of the British fighters on the card won with absolutely sensational performances from Tom Aspinall, Arnold Allen, Molly McCann, Paul Craig, Jack Shore, the rookie Muhammad Mokaev and, of course, Paddy ‘the Baddy’ Pimblett. Not only did we see highlight reel performances from most of them, we also saw a highlight reel KO from Ilia Topuria and a dominant win from Mr. Finland himself: Makwan Amirkhani. All of the bouts from UFC London are covered below along with BLÜ’s favourite performances of the night: the BLÜ BONUSES.
BLÜ’s Prelim. Pick #1
Muhammad Mokaev vs. Cody Durden
We opened up the card with one of the most anticipated debuts of the year so far with the first UFC appearance of Muhammad Mokaev. He may have only been 5-0 as a pro going into this fight, but he had an unbelievable run in his amateur career with a record of 23-0. Amazingly, he notched 3 pro wins in 2021 and 5 other wins in 2020. On the other side was Cody Durden with 3 fights in the UFC before this and a different result in each one to sit at 1-1-1. He won his last one by decision over Aori Qileng and had a loss to DWCS alum., Jimmy Flick and a tie with Chris Gutierrez before that. The one significant factor going into this was that Mokaev had won his bouts not just at flyweight (where this was held), but also at bantamweight. It’s tough when you’re comparing two fighters with different experience levels like this. Being that Durden hadn’t necessarily had a breakout performance in the UFC before this one, there was nothing really screaming out that Durden had an edge. As always when it comes to combat sports betting, you always have to respect the undefeated fighter, especially when they’ve got 28 wins throughout their pro and amateur career. One final note is that Durden has been submitted more than once in his pro career and Mokaev has plenty of submission wins throughout his MMA career. I believed Mokaev would be able to use ground control and clinch to control Durden. Also, when we’re talking about flyweights, submissions are not uncommon so there was even a good chance we would see Mokaev get a finish. The safer bet though, because it’s his debut, was a decision win.
Mokaev by Decision
It was the first fight and the crowd was already ELECTRIC! Mokaev came in like the Tasmanian Devil, starting to throw everything at Durden, with some special emphasis on huge, jabbing front kicks. After leading the first couple of exchanges, Mokaev landed a devastating flying knee straight to the face of Durden and dropped him on his back. From there he used that to get his ground game going. He wrapped up the neck for a guillotine and, even though Durden slammed him on the ground, he still had it locked in and ended up clinching the win in less than a minute. In his UFC debut, as the youngest fighter on the entire UFC roster, he notched the 2nd fastest submission win in flyweight history! How could you possibly open a card AND your career any better!?
Muhammad Mokaev def. Cody Durden by Submission in the 1st Round
Elise Reed def. Cory McKenna by Split Decision
Right off the bat, Reed used that reach advantage to start landing her jabs to keep McKenna at a distance. For most of the round, McKenna was walking through those jabs to move for takedowns. She got hit with some big ones a couple of times, but held her own with some big shots of her own. She ended up finally landing a takedown near the end of the round but couldn’t get much going with it. The 2nd Round it all started to shift in favour of the underdog Reed. McKenna wasn’t landing any of her punches or takedowns while Reed was landing huge shots again. Sensing she was down two rounds or tied, Cory came in and got that takedown a minute into the round. She was doing good work but Reed still ended up getting back up and even dropping McKenna with a BIG shot. After it was all done, it seemed like a pretty clear decision win for Reed. The judges… for the most part agreed. Two saw it 29-28 for Reed while one saw it 30-27 for McKenna.
BLÜ’s Prelim. Pick #2
Jack Shore vs. Timur Valiev
Shore is one of the most highly regarded young prospects in the UFC right now and had a flawless 15-0 record with 4 wins in the UFC coming into this bout. Much like Mokaev, he had a lengthy, unblemished amateur career with a record of 12-0 before making his pro debut. In his last 2 UFC bouts he had beaten other very promising, young, rising contenders Hunter Azure and Liudvik Sholinian. As for Valiev, he’s also looked VERY impressive with a record of 18-2 and 2 wins (and a no contest) in the UFC coming into the fight. The most impressive win came in his most recent bout to Raoni Barcelos; he may have only won by majority decision, but Barcelos is a very tough competitor. This fight was a coin toss to me, so it made sense to go with the statistics on this one. Shore was undefeated and had a slight reach advantage, he’s also Welsh so the London crowd was clearly going to be cheering for him over the Russian; I gave the slight edge to Shore.
Shore by Decision
This started off just as dead even as we knew it would be. Both men were landing their own combos and doing some good work on the feet. Valiev may have stolen the first round with a nice takedown and some extra activity but it was close. In the second it was Shore who got a takedown first, but Valiev quickly got a takedown of his own after getting back up. After throwing some more combos, they both swapped control time AGAIN at the end of the round. After two dead even rounds, finally one of them stole the momentum. Shore landed a BIG shot to drop Valiev and threaten him with a submission. After landing a takedown, Shore found himself in a dangerous position, getting locked up in a fairly deep guillotine. To end the round, to really put a stamp on it, Shore drilled Valiev with another huge bomb to drop him for the second time that round. Even though Shore clearly won the third, it came down to what the judges saw in those first two rounds. They ended up seeing it 29-28, 29-28 and 29-27 for the Welshman Shore.
Jack Shore def. Timur Valiev by Unanimous Decision
BLÜ’s Prelim. Pick #3
Nikita Krylov vs. Paul Craig
After a lot of action in this division recently, we saw another great matchup from the light heavyweight division with the return of two ranked contenders: Nikita Krylov and Paul Craig. Krylov sat in 9th leading up to this with a loss last year to Magomed Ankalaev in a decision. Before that he was 2-2 with wins over Walker and St. Preux and losses to the last two champs: Glover and Jan. Craig came ranked 11th on a 5 fight unbeaten streak (4-0-1), most recently snapping Hill’s arm in half in the 1st Round. Amazingly, all four of those wins were finishes; in fact, three of them came by submission. One man seemed to hold all the momentum and style advantages in this fight: Paul Craig. He had the win streak; not only that, it was a streak full of devastating finishes. While Krylov had won by submission a few times, it should be pointed out that he’s also lost a few times in the UFC by submission. With that in mind, it seemed as though Craig would dominate this fight on the ground and maybe even get another incredible submission win.
Craig by Finish
After jumping in a little too quickly, Craig found himself in a terrible position on the bottom against a huge and dangerous Krylov. It was looking awful for Craig after getting bashed with some huge ground and pound. Then, out of nowhere, he slipped Krylov effortlessly into a wild arm triangle from the bottom and squeezed as hard as he could to get an incredible 1st Round finish.
Paul Craig def. Nikita Krylov by Submission in the 1st Round
Even though it was looking rough for Craig, there’s no doubt that he’s talented enough to challenge a top 5 contender. We’ve already discussed the future for most of the top 5: Glover vs. Jiri for the belt and Ankalaev vs. Jan for a possible number one contender. That leaves Rakic and Smith. They were supposed to be fighting each other but that seems to have fallen apart. Instead, Craig mentioned it himself, the fight could be Smith and Craig. That’s something I’d like to see! As for Krylov, Walker may be a decent option for him after his loss to Santos.
Sergei Pavlovich def. Shamil Abdurakhimov by TKO in the 1st Round
In classic heavyweight fashion, the fight started off pretty slow with nothing really coming from either side. As the first round went on though, Pavlovich started to get slightly more active and landed some fairly big shots. It was then that Pavlovich landed an uppercut to drop Shamil and let loose some hellish ground and pound until the ref was forced to step in. It may have been a slightly early stoppage but it didn’t seem like Abdurakhimov was going to be able to do much to turn things around.
Makwan Amirkhani def. Mike Grundy by Submission in the 1st Round
Right away Grundy found himself in a terrible position after throwing himself a little too hard into a takedown. From there, Amirkhani never let go of his neck. Grundy was struggling, flailing around and survived for about 30 seconds but ultimately Makwan put him to sleep with an incredible first round submission win.
Main Card Action
Jai Herbert vs. Ilia Topuria
Opening up the main card we had the return of one of the most promising rising contenders in the entire UFC: Ilia Topuria. Not only was he sitting at a perfect 11-0 record in his career before this, over half of those had come by 1st Round finish, including two of his three UFC wins. To make that feat even more impressive, his three UFC wins were over Youssef Zalal, Damon Jackson and Ryan Hall, all of whom are impressive prospects in their own right. If you were to add their records together, those three men would sit at an astounding 36-6. Jai Herbert had also only had three fights in the UFC prior to this one, but had a less impressive record of 1-2. His first two were losses to Trinaldo and Moicano, then he turned it around with a win over Khama Worthy in his last one. This matchup was by far the easiest on the entire card. Topuria is an absolute destroyer and it honestly seemed offensive that Topuria wasn’t in the top 15 already or, at the very least, matched up against a ranked contender. The one snag that appeared in this matchup was that it was being fought at lightweight while Topuria traditionally fights at featherweight. It should also be noted that Herbert had a huge 8 inch reach advantage. Keeping all that in mind, Topuria still seemed wildly more skilled and experienced and should come out with the win. He should still be able to challenge Herbert on the feet and get a finish, but it may not come as early in the fight as people believe because of that size difference.
Topuria by Finish
Less than a minute into his move into the lightweight division, Topuria was in deep trouble after getting dropped with a HUGE head kick. Incredibly, he managed to overcome that, get a tough takedown and drag Herbert to the ground. He held the position for a couple of minutes but Jai managed to get back up and let loose some crisp combos. Herbert seemed to be landing the better shots but both men were putting together some slick combos. Topuria came in hungry at the start of the next round, landing some beautiful combos. Then, right at the end of one of those crisp combos, he landed a BOMB to the chin of Herbert and put him to sleep with a wild walk-off KO.
Ilia Topuria def. Jai Herbert by KO in the 2nd Round
Although he clearly has the power to knock a lightweight out cold, Ilia’s clear path to success is in the featherweight division. That division is less dense in talent and he’s WAY stronger and more skilled than most of the division already. Someone like Ige, Yusuff or Giga would have a real problem with him. If he insists on staying here at lightweight, someone like Ferreira may work out, but anyone like Fiziev, Tsarukyan and Ridell would pose some real problems that I’m just not sure he could handle.
Molly McCann vs. Luana Carolina
We had two evenly matched women squaring off in the talented flyweight division for this bout. McCann has been in the UFC since 2018 and rattled off three wins in her first five fights. Since then though, she’s lost two out of three. An interesting feature of her last 6 fights: all of them have ended in a decision. It should also be said that her wins have come over other impressive flyweights like Lipski, Cachoeira and Belbita and one of her losses was to the number 5 ranked Taila Santos. Carolina also made herself known to UFC fans in 2018, but by way of the Contender Series. Since then she’s gone 3-1 with her loss coming from a devastating 1st Round kneebar from Lipski. If you’ve been following BLU-FC, we actually talked quite a bit about her last win over the Canadian Lupita Godinez. We had been following Godinez because that bout was her second fight in two weeks. We had also mentioned that Godinez had moved up a division against the much larger fighter in Carolina. While this is a good look for Godinez, it doesn’t make Carolina look too good. Carolina had a 7 inch reach advantage, but it’s hard to shake the image of (the much smaller) Loopy Godinez having a very close fight with her. Thanks to her experience, I had to say that McCann held the edge in this fight. I had to imagine that if Carolina had problems with Godinez, she’d have way more trouble with a skilled, true flyweight like McCann. Of course, since almost every single one of their fights have gone to a decision, it was hard to imagine the same thing not happening here.
McCann by Decision
In spite of her 7 inch reach disadvantage, McCann came in and ran straight into Carolina with some WILD combos. A couple minutes into the fight and Molly had wobbled her a few times; Luana was stumbling trying to run away along the fence. This dominance continued throughout the opening round as McCann was landing combos with over a dozen punches and slipping all of Luana’s counters. Instead of rattling off some more combos, McCann opted to move the fight to the ground and control Carolina. She was doing some decent work but moved the fight back to the feet to try and get the fight moving a bit more. To show her dominance even more, she ended the round with a HUGE slam, landing right on top of Carolina. Carolina was starting to maybe get a couple of good shots in but then, out of absolutely nowhere, ‘meatball’ threw a WILD spinning elbow to knock Carolina out clean. She had the entire arena, the entire MMA community on their feet and now has an early contender for KO of the year.
Molly McCann def. Luana Carolina by KO in the 3rd Round
No offence to Carolina, but McCann is clearly on another level. It’s because of that that it seems as though McCann has now fully proven she deserves a shot at the top 15. I think it’s fairly clear she’d beat Barber, but I think she’d also be able to compete with Grasso or Calvillo.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Sato
It’s been a while since we’ve seen either of these men fighting. Nelson made his first appearance since 2019, while Sato made his first since 2020. Before his extended leave, Nelson had a shaky record of 1-2 in his last 3 bouts with losses to Burns and Edwards. Meanwhile, Sato had also gone 1-2 in his last three with losses to Baeza and Belal. Despite what the odds said, this seemed like a close matchup, especially since neither man fought last year. The difference-maker here was style. Sato has struggled against grapplers and has lost by submission more than a couple of times. As for Nelson, he’s a grappler; he’s won by submission more than a couple of times. It was hard to say whether we’d see a finish or not, but I said that Nelson would use that grappling experience to control Sato’s offence. Thanks to all that time off, I didn’t think it’d end too early, but because almost every single one of their fights has ended in a finish, I guessed we’d see another one here.
Nelson by Finish
This one started off completely even with neither man doing much to take the advantage. Nelson was the first man to make a move after getting a nice takedown, taking Sato’s back and landing some of the loudest strikes I’ve ever seen from behind. The second round was exactly the same with a slow start and ending with overwhelming ground dominance from Nelson. The final round was no different with Nelson smothering Sato on the ground and pounding on his head with ground and pound. Overall, not really the most exciting bout, but a dominant decision win for Nelson nonetheless. Of course, the judges agreed and they all had it 30-26 for Gunnar.
Gunnar Nelson def. Takashi Sato by Unanimous Decision
Paddy Pimblett vs. Rodrigo Vargas
Next we had the return of the fan-favourite, Paddy ‘the Baddy’. He made his debut last fight and ended up getting a WILD 1st Round finish over Vendramini. I had to say though, before he got the KO, it was looking BAD for Paddy; he was getting pieced up and almost got finished. Vargas is slightly more experienced with 3 UFC bouts and a record of 1-2 going into this bout. His last fight ended with a win over the skilled prospect Zhu Rong. The odds may have presented Pimblett as a MASSIVE favourite, but I can assure you he hadn’t really done much to deserve it. This was one of those situations where hype had taken over the betting lines. While I did think Paddy had a slight advantage, especially if the fight hit the ground, he was in no way deserving of being called a ‘heavy favourite’.
Pimblett by Finish
Of course, it was no surprise that Paddy came in to the biggest cheers of the night. That being said, as I mentioned in the lead up, this was going to be a tough fight. Right away Vargas took Pimblett down to control his offence. Paddy managed to get back up but Vargas kept the control going along the fence… until Paddy flipped positions and slammed him to the ground to take his back. From there it was just a matter of time as Paddy snuck in the hooks and got another insane first round finish. After lighting the stadium on fire with his win, fellow Liverpudlian McCann jumped in the cage to celebrate.
Paddy Pimblett def. Rodrigo Vargas by Submission in the 1st Round
I love Paddy as an entertainer and he’s a tough and skilled fighter… but I stick by what I said in the lead-up to this fight. He’s good enough to beat fighters like Vargas who have struggled in the UFC, but he would get absolutely destroyed by anyone even close to the top 15. He’s got this feud going with Topuria after this week and while he plays it off that Ilia isn’t on his level… I think he’s got that flipped. Even though they both had a rough start to the fight, I think even someone like Topuria would pose a serious problem for Paddy. I’m not saying he has no future amongst the top contenders, I’m only saying he’s got a LONG way to go to even be in a conversation for the top 15.
Arnold Allen vs. Dan Hooker
This was one of my favourite matchups of the entire night. On the one side we had Allen who had a 17-1 record and 8 wins in a row in the UFC; on the other was Dan Hooker making his return as a truly MASSIVE featherweight. Allen’s most recent win was over another impressive young prospect in Sodiq Yusuff whom we just saw last week. As for Hooker, he won’t need much of an introduction to most UFC fans. Although he’d lost 3 of his last 4 to the likes of Islam, Chandler and Poirier, let’s not forget he’s also beaten Felder, Iaquinta and had a very dominant win over Haqparast. Allen didn’t have wins over anyone like Hooker, but in this case, the real question was… how would Hooker perform as a featherweight? If he could maintain his power and skill from lightweight, there was no reason why he wouldn’t be able to win this fight. But if he had any problem whatsoever with cutting all that weight, I figured he’d have a huge problem against someone like Allen. This matchup seemed to be dead even, so I went with what made the most sense… Arnold Allen. Allen was on a huge streak and Hooker was not. Hooker is big, even at lightweight, it just didn’t seem like he’d safely lose all that weight. I couldn’t picture someone as big as Hooker making a drastic weight cut like that and beating someone like Allen. I thought we’d see a close fight with Allen winning a decision or maybe even a finish if Hooker’s chin was compromised by the weight-cutting process.
Decision by Allen
Although the fight started off slow with both men feeling each other out, the fight took an explosive turn as Allen started to light Hooker up on the feet. After that, Hooker was on wobbly legs, getting stunned and stumbled all over the place, barely able to stay on his feet. In the end, after getting lit up with a few more combos, Hooker’s night was ended as the ref put a stop to the fight. I’d say it was a bit of an early stoppage, but I think it was pretty clear that Hooker wasn’t going to be doing a whole lot any time soon.
Arnold Allen def. Dan Hooker by TKO in the 1st Round
Even though Hooker made that cut, I still have to believe it was part of the reason he was finished so early. Like Allen himself said, I also mean this in the nicest way possible because I love Hooker, he belongs in the lightweight division. I hope we haven’t seen the end of Hooker and that he’ll be stringing together some wins real soon… but it’s not looking good for him right now. As for Allen, nothing I just said should take away from what he did, he dismantled a top 10 lightweight who’s known as one of the toughest and most skilled strikers in the division. He didn’t just win, he didn’t even really get hit and hit Hooker with so many big shots that I lost count of how many times Hooker was stumbling around. He’s on a HUGE win streak, he deserves to fight the top 5 to make his way into a title shot. He mentioned Kattar and I think that’d be perfect, but anyone up there like Rodriguez, Ortega or Emmett would be just as interesting.
Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall
Headlining the card was an absolutely incredible and thrilling matchup in the heavyweight division. Volkov, who was ranked 6th after having a very active year in 2021, is one of the most legendary heavyweights in UFC history. He’s been here since 2016 and has been ranked for years now. In his 11 UFC bouts, he’s only got 3 losses: Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes and Ciryl Gane. I don’t think it needs to be said, but those are decent losses to have, especially when two of them were decisions. Among his recent wins are Harris, Overeem, Tybura and Hardy. Aspinall is far less experienced with only 4 fights in the UFC, but has been VERY impressive to MMA fans with finishes in all four of those fights, three of which were in the 1st Round. This was a unique matchup at heavyweight and reminds me very much of when Volkov faced Gane last year. Gane, much like Aspinall, is a lighter heavyweight who’s quick and uses his intelligence as a weapon. They both know exactly what they need to do to win and don’t make the same dumb mistakes that most heavyweights will make. It’s because of this that I picked Aspinall to win. Volkov is incredibly tough so I didn’t think we’d be seeing a finish OR that it’d be a late finish. Instead, I said Aspinall would likely use his grappling skills to control Volkov’s power and hopefully take him down.
Aspinall by Decision
Right from the first bell it was clear that Aspinall had a huge speed advantage and was using it to hit Volkov with some crisp combos. From there he made the whole cage shake after slamming the 6 foot 7 Volkov into the ground. Using his position, Aspinall split Alexander open with some massive elbows and threatened him with a submission attempt. Volkov managed to get back but was dragged back down again. From there he got Volkov in another bad spot and ended up grabbing his arm and almost snapped it in half with a rare arm-lock submission to win in the very first round.
Tom Aspinall def. Alexander Volkov by Submission in the 1st Round
People may have watched this card and were most impressed by McCann, Paddy, Topuria and maybe Allen, but overlooked what Aspinall just did. What they did was incredible and deserve recognition (and they will if you look at those BLÜ BONUSES), but Aspinall did something that is actually shocking. For only the 5th time in his 44 fight career, Volkov was finished; this was also only the second time in his lengthy UFC career that he was finished. Volkov did so little to threaten Aspinall that he looked like an amateur. Tom was faster, more accurate and still somehow managed to throw Volkov to the ground and dominate him there too. Honestly, I think there’s only 3 men on the planet that even have a chance to beat him right now and that’s Stipe, Gane and N’Gannou. He mentioned he wants his next fight to light the place up with Tuivasa. I think that’s (by far) the easiest fight in the top, so he could definitely take that. Personally, if he doesn’t get any of those fights, it would make sense to give him the winner of Blaydes and Daukaus next week. Either that or maybe we see him take on the ‘Black Beast’ Derrick Lewis. All I know is there is absolutely no ceiling for Aspinall; if he can keep getting better, there’s no reason he can’t be a champ some day.
BLÜ’s Record for the Night
Main Card: 6-0
KO of the Night: Molly McCann
Sub. of the Night: Tom Aspinall
Most Valuable Fighter
It was his UFC debut, he’s the youngest fighter on the entire UFC roster and only has a handful of professional MMA fights to his name. In spite of all that, he dominated his first opponent to get the second fastest submission in flyweight history.
Before McCann landed her spinning elbow, this KO was easily the best one of the night. It was looking BAD for him early in the fight but he rallied back and SMOKED Herbert with a combo so slick and clean that he was lying on the canvas so long he didn’t even make it up to be a part of the decision. Also… don’t forget that Topuria normally fights in the division below.
I said in the lead-up that people shouldn’t doubt him and this was why! Even though he was getting battered on the ground, he was actually kind of doing it on purpose because he knew his submission game was on a whole other level. With a ground game like that, at light heavyweight he’s a dangerous, dangerous guy.
Even though Hooker had that wild weight cut, Allen still outclassed Hooker for every second of the fight. He’s now continued that massive win streak and dominated a tough, incredibly skilled UFC lightweight striker. In a division like this, we could easily be seeing him challenge for the title by the end of the year.
He may not have the skill right now to challenge the top 15, but with a personality and performance like this, you HAVE to recognize that he’s something incredibly special. It was only his second fight in the UFC and he made the entire arena explode by just being his goofy self. I don’t know if he’ll ever make the top 5, but honestly, I don’t think anyone cares; we just want to see him fight.