So two days before the UFC made its debut in the land of meatballs and constitutional monarchy, I was moaning about the lack of top-flight talent on the card. ‘You always say this,’ a colleague reminded me, ‘And then it’s always the most exciting card for ages.’ I may have hmphed.
Two days later and with the co-main and main events still to go, I’d already declared something like three fights in a row Fight Of The Night, shouted ‘karate karate karate!’ during a wheel-kick showcase by Dennis Siver and jumped out of my seat to applaud delightedly and swear at the TV during one match. You know which one.
Isn’t John Maguire fucking brilliant? Like every other true-hearted Englishman, I’ve been waiting what feels like forever to see a Brit whose gameplan includes takedowns, and for him to be a fellow fan of Bret Hart feels like the icing on the cake. I’m also convinced that declaring himself a pink belt in Gypsy Jiu-Jitsu is a stroke of genius - even though he’s displayed a vicious kimura in his non-UFC fights and grapples at a pretty high level, nobody knows quite how seriously to take him. The answer for Damarques Johnson was ‘Not seriously enough,’ as he uncorked an absolutely masterful armbar counter to a kimura attempt (see? you know a move and you can defend it) for what was unquestionably the sub of the night. It was basic jiu-jitsu, but pulled off flawlessly under big pressure and against an excellent fighter. Brilliant.
Pickett: also excellent. He needed a win, and fought a great fight, though he still seems a bit too willing to trade when he could be using his superior skills to dominate. Good to see Jason Young picking up a win too - his losses have been the narrowest of decisions so far, and it would’ve been a shame to see him get cut without showing what he can do. Siver deserved his win - okay, that fight was basically almost like a kickboxing sparring match, but there were moments of genuine brutality when the kleine Deutschman got in close, and Nunes looked far too happy to sit back and counter. I was sad to see Paulo Thiago get dropped, but that’s what you get for leading with your face.
And so to the co-main event. It felt a lot like Legionarius was a gimme fight for Stann, who’s exactly the kind of American hero the UFC might want to push into a middleweight shot when Silva retires. Sonnen made him look dreadful and Palhares would rip his leg off, but I’m sure he’d like to fight Bisping, and he’s got enough one-shot power to make a fight of it. Bisping might not like it, but a win would put him near the top of the pecking order - and if Sonnen can beat Silva, it might even make sense to rematch him into a title shot. Perhaps I’m just overexcited.
Oh! And for the first round of the Gustaffson fight both men were moving at the speed of lightweights, which was tremendously exciting. Gustaffson’s not quite at contender-level yet, and he probably ought to fight Bader to see if he’s learned to deal with wrestlers. But basically a brilliant card, and a welcome return after three weeks of fight-less weekends. Evans/Davis ought to be amazing, which in the Bizarro-world logic of the UFC means that it will actually be a tedious snoozer. But I am enormously excited about it anyway. Evans for the win!