And this time, they’re taking no prisoners
Before fixing its global expansion plans on places like China, Australia, and going back to Brazil, the UFC invested heavily in England. During a three-year stretch between April 2007 and November 2009, the Octagon made its way across the Atlantic seven times, playing to packed houses in Birmingham, Manchester, and London.
While the frequent trips to foreign soil helped develop a raucous and ravenous audience throughout the United Kingdom, it also gave aspiring English fighters a look at the bright lights and big production of MMA on its grandest stage. As a result, more gyms opened that started churning out talented fighters.
After producing solid returns, the UFC’s first overseas investment looks poised to deliver an even greater amount of talent into the cage in the coming years. As they continue to arrive, they’ll join the impressive contingent that came before them, many who still remain in the thick of the chase in their respective divisions.
Consider yourselves warned—the British are coming.
Bisping parlayed winning The Ultimate Fighter 3 into a six-year career in the UFC, and he has become one of the biggest stars in the sport. Brash and outspoken, fans love to hate the 33-year-old, who now calls Orange County, California home.
After years of hovering near the top of the middleweight division, “The Count” may finally get the title shot he’s long coveted, but he first must get past Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 7 in Brazil on Jan. 19. Win or lose, Bisping will remain a main event attraction – a man who fans tune in to see every time he competes.
Nickname: The Outlaw
Hardy’s rise, fall, and redemption have been well documented over the years. Four consecutive victories and a magnetic personality vaulted “The Outlaw” into a welterweight title bout against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 111. The bout turned into the starting point for a four-fight losing streak that many believed would lead to the charismatic welterweight being released.
The UFC retained Nottingham’s favorite fighting son, and after getting back into the win column at UFC 146, Hardy thrilled the hometown fans at the Capital FM Arena with his most well-rounded performance to date, a unanimous decision win over former TUF winner Amir Sadollah.
Nickname: One Punch
The elder statesman of this group is also the most overlooked and under-appreciated British fighter on the UFC roster. Pickett has been a mainstay in the top 10 of the bantamweight division dating back to the days of the WEC, and he counts wins over veterans Damacio Page, Ivan Menjivar, and UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson.
Injuries and a one-sided loss to UFC Interim Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao slowed Pickett’s move into title contention, but he’s rebouded with back-to-back wins and lived up to his n ickname by earning Knockout of the Night honors for his blistering finish of Yves Jabouin on the main card of the UFC on Fuel TV event in October.
Nickname: The Hitman
Bad timing has kept Hathaway from gaining greater acclaim as one of the top prospects in the welterweight division. Five months after earning a breakthrough win over Diego Sanchez at UFC 114, veteran Mike Pyle handed “The Hitman” his first career loss. Injuries limited the Brighton native to just two fights over the next 18 months, but Hathaway now appears to be healthy and building momentum once again.
He earned his third consecutive victory in September to push his record in the UFC to 7-1. With his recent run of success and the UFC’s renewed commitment to the UK, fans should get a chance to see Hathaway competing in more high profile match-ups in the near future.
Long considered one of the top British fighters competing outside of the UFC, Mills lived up to his advance billing by stopping TUF 14’s Chris Cope just 40 seconds into his organizational debut. Having split a pair of fights since joining the welterweight ranks, it’s hard to say where the Gloucester native fits in the divisional picture right now. With his crisp, explosive striking, Mills has the stand-up to hang with anyone in the division, but will need to continue shoring up his wrestling game if he’s looking to make waves in the 170-pound ranks in 2013.
With four fight Night bonuses in his last five outings, 26-year-old Terry Etim is certainly entertaining the masses. Unfortunately for the Liverpool native he’s 3-2 in those bouts, and they came over a three-year span, a fact that underscores why the talented and exciting lightweight has struggled to make headway in the deep division.
After coming out on the wrong end of an Edson Barboza highlight reel in January, Etim was scheduled to face Joe Lauzon in June, but an injury forced him out of the bout. If he can stay healthy, the Team Kaobon representative has the tools to be a tough out in the 155-pound ranks.
Nickname: The Real Deal
The lightweight winner from TUF 9, Pearson made themove down to featherweight after having mixed results in the 155-pound weight class. After splitting his first two outings in his new division, the former bricklayer was offered a chance to bring his career full-circle by coaching opposite George Sotiropoulos on The Smashes – a UK vs. Australia version of The Ultimate Fighter – which is derived from the long-standing cricket rivalry between the two nations. Pearson will move back up to lightweight to take on Sotiropoulos when the UFC returns to Australia in December.
Just because he’s no longer undefeated doesn’t mean Liverpool’s Paul Sass doesn’t remain an up-and-comer to keep an eye on in the lightweight division. Prior to suffering his first professional loss to Matt Wiman in Septemeber, the 23-year-old submission expert rattled off 13 consecutive victories, having forced 12 of those opponents to tap, nince before the first round ended. That kind of success isn’t a fluke, and tasting defeat for the first time will likely push the grappling ace even harder in the gym.
Nickname: The One
The Gypsy BJJ practitioner started his UFC run with back-to-back wins over TUF alums Justin Edwards and DaMarques Johnson before being out-wrestled by his countryman Hathaway in his last fight. Tough as nails and hard to put away, the 29-year-old traveler’s only losses have come against bigger, stronger opposition. Maguire is an intriguing fighter with slick grappling, good hands, and a healthy dose of charisma, and he could potentially find even greater success by dropping down to compete in the lightweight division.
Nickname: Poster Boy
Division: Light Heavyweight
It’s always hard to gauge how talented a UFC newcomer with an unblemished record really is. Are they crushing cans on the regional circuit or are they a legitimate talent in need of a bigger stage? Manuwa proved to be the latter when he made his UFC debut in September, continuing his unbeaten run by battering Kyle Kingsbury with knees, elbows, and punches that left the TUF alum unable to continue after the second round. A little older than most UFC novices, the 32-year-old Manuwa could make a quick climb up the light heavyweight ranks in 2013 if he’s able to duplicate his debut performance next time out.