Martin Lowe at the O2:
UFC 120 came to London’s O2 Arena on Saturday night, and a raucous 16,000-strong British crowd descended on Greenwich expecting to see fan favourites Michael 'The Count' Bisping and Dan 'The Outlaw' Hardy once again defend our shores against foreign invasion. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the way that things panned out…
The night got off to a disappointing start for the home crowd, as local fighter James McSweeney succumbed to the superior fitness of Fabio Maldonado. Having gone all out to stop the fight in the first round, McSweeney was soon struggling as Maldonado upped the ante in the second, and the referee called the bout after 48 seconds of the third with McSweeney basically getting battered by hits against the fence.
The second fight saw Briton Curt Warburton against America’s Spencer Fisher, and this one went the distance. In proper ‘game of two halves’ style Warburton took the first round before Fisher hit back in the second. And it was Fisher who went kept the momentum in the third, twice attempting a ‘rear naked choke’ as he took the judges decision 29-28.
So, with Britain boasting a Won-Lost record of 0-2, 22-year-old Liverpudlian Paul Sass (yeah, like the drink only able to do way more damage to you than any beer and cider can) entered the Octagon. His opponent: tough striker Mark Holst. Sass holds the record for the most consecutive triangle hold submission wins with 7, and was clearly intent on claiming another victim. After many attempts Sass eventually wore Holst down and locked in a triangle to force his opponent to tap – earning the Scouser a reported $60,000, and Britain’s first win of the night.
Rob 'The Bear' Broughton earned the second win of the night for the Brits via a rare heavyweight rear naked choke against 6ft 7in Vinicius Queiroz. Both fighters threw thunderous punches with many of them hitting their intended target, and although Queiroz took the first round it was Broughton who powered through to take the submission victory over the Brazilian.
Of the three French fighters competing at UFC 120 only one of them impressed. Claude Patrick showed impressive striking and a solid ground game against TUF 9 winner James 'lightening' Wilkes. Cyrille Diabate was outclassed by Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson, going down to a rear naked choke in the second round, and Cheick Kongo vs Travis Brown was level at one round all before a scrappy final round was marked out by Kongo grabbing Brown’s shorts to be deducted a point – which cost him the bout with the score 28-28.
So, going into the final three bouts the score was 2-2 for the British contingent. Surely we would see our homeland heroes bring it home. These were our most promising fighters: the unbeaten Hathaway, the resilient Hardy and the indefatigable Bisping. Three generals waiting to do battle on their home turf. Defeat was not an option. Unfortunately, for Hathaway and Hardy, nobody had thought to inform the competition.
Mike ' Quicksand' Pyle, 'the toughest man in the gym' according to his Extreme Couture buddies, showed off his impressive grappling against the undefeated Hathaway through much of the three rounds, taking the young Englishman down several times, seemingly at will despite Hathaway's underrated wrestling. At the end of the second, Pyle had his opponent in a reverse triangle and reigned blow after blow down on Hathaway. These inflicted very little damage however and the Brit, unable to move, defended well to survive almost a minute and a half to the end of the round. The last round saw Pyle secure the win by taking Hathaway down in the last minute and holding on tight for the judges decision.
Disappointing, but next it was time for The Outlaw to crush Carlos Condit, right? Wrong! Condit impressed throughout with his crisp striking and aggressive demeanour. Hardy, thought to be the superior kickboxer, traded with the American, landing bone shaking round kicks to Condits thighs and accurate counter left hooks to his head. This had Fight of the Night written all over it, until both combatants threw cross - hook combinations. Both fighters landed however Condit was the more precise, taking a blow to the neck whilst landing one to the jaw of Hardy. Unbelievably, the granite chinned Hardy crumpled. Looking for a split second as if he might recover, Condit pounced with a crushing right hand to Hardy's chin before referee Dan Mirgliotta threw himself over the unconscious Hardy. Lights. Out.
When asked what had gone wrong after the fight, Hardy pulled no punches (see what we did there?) replying: ' I got punched in the face!'
So, all of the British crowd’s hopes were pinned on Michael 'The Count' Bisping as he sought to defeat Yoshihiro 'Sexyama' Akiyama. Bisping was rocked into life after a clubbing right from the Japanese fighter, a worrying moment for the crowd, and from then on proceeded to dominate Akiyama through superior footwork and hand speed. The Clitheroe favourite did everything to try for the early finish, but it was more credit to 'Sexyama's' chin than criticism of Bisping's power that the fight went the distance. Bisping never allowed Akiyama to get a hold of him and utilize his superior Judo, and the Brit took the fight on a judges’ decision.
More astonishing than Akiyama's chin, however, was the fact that the two ring girls, Chandella and Arianni, could complete a whole circuit of the Octagon without going weak at the knees in 'Sexyama's' presence. In fact, when he entered the arena to, possibly, the greatest walk in music ever, Time to Say Goodbye, by Andrea Bocelli, you could see ninety percent of the crowd weeping due to the sheer beauty of the man. Bisping did well not to give in and just throw the lips at him.
Score: 3-4. A lost battle for the English. But in times like these, it’s worth remembering how hot the Octagon girls really are: