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…on UFC returning to the UK, IFL and Bodog

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Ian Freeman's domination of Frank Mir was the emotional highlight of UFC 38

UFC and the UK – Then and now

UFC 70 is finally upon us. For the first time in nearly five years, Zuffa brings the UFC to the UK. Things have changed in five years, both for Zuffa and the MMA scene in the UK. Coming here out of hope rather than expectation, UFC 38 had the feel of a b-show. Matt Hughes and Carlos Newton were popular fighters but the show lacked a true marquee name to sell the show. Underneath, Zuffa put together a mixture of popular British fighters and an interesting group of North American and Japanese up-and-comers which created some interesting matchups and two of the biggest upsets ever in MMA at that time.

The UK MMA scene was in its dark ages. Lurching from concept to concept and backed by a small but rabid fanbase, the scene was lacking investment and direction. Prior to 2002, cage-based MMA simply did not exist. Different rulesets and concepts had been introduced and people tried them all. The major UK promotions today were yet to be formed and many from that time, including BAMMA, the British sanctioning body for mixed martial arts, have since folded. This is what made the arrival of the UFC so exciting for fans of the sport in the UK.

When announcing UFC 70, Dana White admitted UFC 38 had been a financial disaster. PPV buys in the UK had been lower than expected and the 5,000-seater Royal Albert Hall did not generate the needed gate receipts. The card featured four of the UK’s top fighters; middleweight Mark Weir, heavyweight Ian Freeman, lightweight Leigh Remedios and light heavyweight James Zikic. The former two managed huge shocks, with Weir defeating Eugene Jackson via knockout in 10 seconds and Freeman grinding down Frank Mir inside a round. Zikic gave a decent account of himself against Phillip Miller, slipping to a decision loss but Leigh Remedios became another submission on Genki Sudo’s highlight reel. Curiously, from all four of those bouts, only Frank Mir remains on the UFC’s payroll.

In the meantime, cage fighting promotions have sprung up across the country and the popularity has exploded, for both UFC and UK-based promotions. The UFC are breaking arena records in the US and have become the worldwide number one. Their owners have been buying up the competition and they’re on a high. Meanwhile, the UK sees a number of promotions popping up at almost epidemic level, with many in it to make a quick buck. The best promotions are still steadily running and Cage Rage, the big boys on the block, are selling out the 8,000 seater Wembley Arena in London and have joined the K-1/ProElite alliance.

The UFC has its own British star in Michael Bisping this time but the main card is not based around British fighters, instead showcasing the depth that they have from across Europe and the world. The undercard features David Lee, in his second UFC bout, and Jess Liaudin, neither of whom got to the highest level in the UK.

Stars of UFC 38, Ian Freeman, Mark Weir and James Zikic all fight for Cage Rage, who have been the main beneficiaries of the upswing in popularity of MMA in the UK. Freeman and Weir are still big names but both are past their prime. James Zikic went into professional boxing for a while and will return to the cage on April 21st against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos. New British stars have emerged, many of whom are signed up to British promotions. However, the UFC have a product that is so exposed to MMA fans, it is likely that they do not need to compete for the best British fighters unless they can genuinely compete at a World level.

I said it before; Britain is an interesting battleground. I shall be attending UFC 70 myself and hope to gain an inside perspective to report next week.


The IFL approaches its final round of matches and at least two of the four playoff spots look settled. The LA Anacondas look set to take down Maurice Smith’s Seattle Tiger Sharks and go through the regular season undefeated. Renzo Gracie’s New York Pitbulls look set to join them undefeated but they have to get past an improving Toronto Dragons team that include the number one lightweight in the IFL in Wagnney Fabiano. Undefeated so far, the Tokyo Sabres are not as secure as their 2-0 record suggests, with two other teams with a similar 6-4 match record. A tough match against the Portland Wolfpack beckons and if they can beat the Pack, they deserve their postseason berth. Depending on that result, it should tell us whether or not there will be two berths for the chasing pack or just the one.

The Toronto Dragons are in the box seat but, as has been mentioned, they face a terribly tough assignment against the Pitbulls. Even a blowout victory over the Tucson Scorpions does not suggest they can actually pull it off though, despite now having the core of a decent team.

From the last 6 matches, I can see the the Condors, the Silverbacks and the Lions getting that second victory to take them to 2-1. Each team has a winnable fight with each of the bottom three.

The Quad City Silverbacks look certain to make a statement in their last match against the Chicago Red Bears. Igor Zinoviev’s squad has been beset by problems since their inception and they do not look to stop any time soon. Meanwhile, the Silverbacks have had a tough schedule so far with a tough loss to the Anacondas and a 4-1 victory over the Nevada Lions which was far closer than the 4-1 score suggests and the nature of their victories in that match has severely hit their points total. However, it would seem that a 50 point boost to their total isn’t out of the question and, if the Sabres drop their last match, I can’t help but think that Pat Miletich’s team can make the post-season.

After a tough loss to the Silverbacks, the Lions face the Tucson Scorpions. Still struggling, the Scorpions look to Mike Whitehead, considered the team captain, to lead them to some sort of resurgence in form. However, it looks unlikely as Whitehead looks likely to face the vastly-experienced Vernon “Tiger” White. If White beats Whitehead, the Lions could be looking at a sweep also. The nature of the victory is what will decide whether or not the Lions will make it to the top four.

Lastly, the Condors have been slipping along under the radar. Marco Ruas is preparing for his Legends Superfight with Maurice Smith and his team are compiled from his finest unaffiliated fighters at his school, much like the formula used by Pat Miletich that has taken two World team titles to Bettendorf, IA. A match with Frank Shamrock’s Razorclaws is next on their agenda and they need a big win to guarantee that last spot.

The IFL season has been a crazy learning experience. With pull-outs, injuries, mid-season signings, it has looked from the outside to be an odd way of doing things. I think that there is definitely a discussion that needs to take place before next season. Maybe smaller, round robin groups could be an idea that prevents this sort of mess going into the last bouts of the season and generates some divisional rivalry. I’m still interested to see how the IFL uses the rest of the year, given that by August we will have our World team champions.

If I had a gun to my head, I’d go for the Pitbulls, the Anacondas, the Sabres and the Condors to go to the postseason.


There was an air of predictability about the marquee bouts on bodogFIGHT’s “Clash of the Nations” PPV. Fedor Emelianenko had too much for an undersized Matt Lindland and Eric Pele’s career Indian Summer proved to be but a warm September weekend after his destruction at the hands of Aleksander Emelianenko. While the Russian crowd lapped it up, the presentation was top-notch and there was plenty of entertainment to be had on the card, there is a distinct lack of quality on their cards. The Emelianenkos will inevitably go back to PRIDE with Fedor possibly taking a sojourn Stateside to fight for the UFC but what is left is uninspiring to say the least. It is a shame that with K-1/ProElite alliance cannot dump many of their promotional banners and bind together to create a single product.


Written by Michael Farrow

April 17, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Posted in MMA

Tagged with , , ,

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