The Ultimate Fighting Championship touched down on United Kingdom soil for the first time on July 13, 2002, with UFC 38 “Brawl at the Hall,” held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The relationship that began nine years ago -- though it has since been disconnected and reconnected -- blossoms today, as the UFC has made the U.K. a routine stop on its yearly calendar.
The promotion returns on Saturday with UFC 138 “Leben vs. Munoz,” which features the first five-round non-title fight in its history: a middleweight headliner pairing Chris Leben with the world-ranked Mark Munoz. Additionally, American Top Team’s Brad Pickett will lock horns with Nova Uniao standout Renan “Barao” in a pivotal bantamweight matchup. Barao will enter the cage on a 27-fight unbeaten streak.
In advance of the event, Sherdog.com has compiled half a dozen unforgettable moments that have taken place in the United Kingdom.
UFC 38 “Brawl at the Hall”
July 13, 2002 -- London
Frank Mir was full of promise: a 23-year-old undefeated heavyweight who moved like a lightweight. Many tagged him as the uncrowned heavyweight champion. However, Freeman, a stocky and rugged Englishman, was fueled by raw emotion.
In the weeks leading up to the bout, Freeman’s father had grown gravely ill and lay near death. The Sunderland export wanted to withdraw from his match, but his family insisted he fulfill his commitment. After drilling to neutralize Mir’s potent submission attack with catch wrestling guru Josh Barnett, Freeman defended against armbars and leg locks, all while breaking Mir’s spirit through crackling ground-and-pound and punishing clinch work.
The man they call “The Machine” stopped Mir on punches 4:35 into round one and mounted the Octagon fence in celebration. When he inquired about his father’s condition, Freeman was told he had passed away. He never again tasted victory inside the Octagon. Though bittersweet, it remains a defining moment in England’s mixed martial arts history.
UFC 70 “Nations Collide”
April 21, 2007 -- Manchester, England
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic was a little more than seven months removed from winning the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix when he ran into Gabriel Gonzaga at the Manchester Evening News Arena.
Forever connected to his devastating left head kick, Filipovic was a prohibitive favorite entering the cage against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace and stood one win from challenging Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight championship. It quickly became apparent that Gonzaga had come to fight. “Napao” walked through a body kick, took the Croatian off his feet and chopped away with heavy elbows from the top. After a restart that many felt favored Filipovic, Gonzaga unleashed a hellacious head kick and felled the kickboxer where he stood. Mouths hung ajar.
As an unconscious Filipovic went down, his leg bent awkwardly beneath his 225-pound frame. Only nine seconds remained in the first round. Filipovic was never the same, as he grew more and more tentative in the cage and went 5-5-1 in his final 11 bouts.
UFC 72 “Victory”
June 16, 2007 -- Belfast, Northern Ireland
Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner Forrest Griffin may have provided the promotional muscle for the promotion’s debut in Northern Ireland, but the most memorable fight at The Odyssey went down between lightweights Tyson Griffin and Clay Guida.
In a blur of give and take, Griffin and Guida engaged one another non-stop in their 15-minute encounter, with neither man willing to cede to the other. Griffin threatened with a guillotine choke in the first round, “The Carpenter” with a kneebar in the second. The action seemed to touch every inch of the cage. Guida closed the bout in top position in the final minute, put his ground-and-pound to use and appeared to have sewn up a decision.
The judges saw it differently, and, backed by his superior standup, scrambling ability and takedown defense, Griffin captured a split decision. The crowd lustily booed in response.
UFC 75 “Champion vs. Champion”
Sept. 8, 2007 -- London
UFC and Pride title unification bouts were the stuff of fantasy prior to the historic showdown between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and two-time Olympian Dan Henderson at the O2 Arena.
With both championships still relevant, Jackson, the UFC titleholder, battled Henderson, his Pride counterpart, for five ultra-competitive rounds. Henderson got out of the gates quickly, but by the third round, Jackson had found his rhythm and established himself as the superior fighter. Their encounter was a marriage of tactical positioning and utter nastiness, as neither man backed down.
When it was over, Jackson had taken a unanimous decision, united the sport’s most influential titles at 205 pounds and become the sport’s light heavyweight alpha male.
UFC 95 “Sanchez vs. Stevenson”
Feb. 21, 2009 -- London
The strikes came from every conceivable angle, as Nate Marquardt laid waste to American Top Team’s Wilson Gouveia and authored one of the sport’s most savage finishes at the O2 Arena.
Marquardt, the former middleweight King of Pancrase, paired kicks to Gouveia’s legs with early punches to the body. The Brazilian flurried at times but left himself open to takedowns and the powerful Marquardt right hand as he moved forward. The punches prompted Gouveia to duck repeatedly -- a mistake upon which Marquardt capitalized again and again with thudding knees.
In the third round, a straight right hand and jumping knee marked the beginning of the end for Gouveia, as he reeled back into the cage. Marquardt cut loose and showcased one of the most diverse and dangerous series of strikes the Octagon has ever seen: three head kicks, a spinning back fist, a right hand, another knee and a blistering knee-punch combination. Gouveia wilted against the fence, and the match was called.
UFC 120 “Bisping vs. Akiyama”
Oct. 16, 2010 -- London
“The Natural Born Killer” lived up to his moniker, as Carlos Condit delivered a scintillating performance in the UFC 120 co-headliner, as he knocked out Dan Hardy in the first round of their welterweight matchup.
From the start, the crowd began chanting Hardy’s name. The fighters exchanged hard leg kicks, and Hardy followed with a left hook. As the round deepened, they experienced varying degrees of success in However, Hardy was more aggressive and found a home for his counter left hook, only to be undone by a colossal left from Condit.
The two welterweights unleashed hard left hooks simultaneously, but Condit’s fist connected first. Hardy folded, his red Mohawk wobbling from the shockwave. Condit followed up on the ground on the semi-conscious Brit, and referee Dan Miragliotta intervened 4:27 into round one.