On a night where he was in danger of being usurped as the UK’s biggest MMA commodity, Michael Bisping put in one of the gutsiest displays of his career to re-establish himself as his country’s UFC ace.
By the time the Wolfslair ace walked to the ring for his main event bout against Yoshihiro Akiyama, five of his seven fellow countrymen had already lost in convincing fashion. These included John Hathaway, the previously unbeaten prospect from London Shootfighters for whom the night was meant to be a coming out party, and Dan Hardy, who has drawn bigger cheers than Bisping at all recent public appearances.
The patriotic crowd at the O2 Arena in London needed a tonic and the former Ultimate Fighter season three winner delivered exactly that.
It was very nearly a different story, however. Less than 60 seconds into the first round Akiyama landed two violent right hands on the Brit, the second of which sent him staggering backwards in uncoordinated fashion. Bisping later admitted that he could barely see out of one eye for the remainder of the round, which made his eventual comeback all the more impressive.
Reverting back to a more aggressive style with his opponent unlikely to be looking for the takedown, the 31-year-old threw fast combinations and was unafraid to show off his kicking arsenal, a sight which has become more rare as his career has progressed.
While the first round was evenly contested, Bisping began to put daylight between himself and Akiyama in the second period with a combination of work rate and accuracy.
An accidental, but obvious low blow to Akiayama in the third round temporarily derailed his momentum, but he proved astute enough defensively to wade off a late rally from the Japanese challenger and earn a 30-27 victory on all three judges’ scorecards.
While Bisping broke his recent habit of alternating wins and losses, his fellow countryman Dan Hardy could not live up to his grand billing, going down in the first round to Carlos Condit by knockout.
After an eardrum-blasting entrance, which rivaled the reaction for Bisping at UFC 70 in Manchester as the biggest ever reaction to a UK fighter, the Nottingham native ate a vicious left hook and appeared out before he even hit the ground.
After an initial feeling out period, Hardy landed a solid counter punch, but it proved a false dawn and Condit was generally quicker to the draw, as evidenced by the finish to the fight.
There was more disappointment for the home supporters in the first of the evening’s three main attractions when Hathaway dropped the first loss of his career to Mike Pyle.
Having comprehensively beaten Diego Sanchez in his last fight, Zuffa bosses had hoped another win in his home country would cement him as a star to rival Bisping and Hardy amongst British fans. However, the 23-year-old struggled from the outset and was ineffective in nearly all aspects of his game against a vastly more experienced opponent.
Pyle landed more strikes in the first round and was comfortably able to control Hathaway on the ground in rounds two and three. His dominance was underlined in the second, when he saw out the final two minutes by holding the Brit in an inverted triangle choke-like position and unloaded elbows and punches to his near defenseless cranium.
The Frenchman was penalized by referee Marc Goddard for persistent grabbing of his opponent’s shorts, but his dominance in the remainder of the period left the judges with little option but to score it 9-9.
In the first round, the Leicestershire-born welterweight was handily out-grappled and also caught by one of several sharp strikes from his Canadian opponent.
While Patrick was never hugely damaging throughout the fight, Wilks often found himself on his back on the ground and could offer no means of escape.
The preliminary section provided more exciting bouts than the ESPN (UK) and Spike TV (USA) broadcast and was highlighted by Swedish light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson.
In a match with fellow kickboxer Cyrille Diabate, the Swede dominated his taller opponent from the off. After out-striking him in the first round, Gustafsson was able to show off his well-rounded skills by applying a rear naked choke for the win in round two.
In earlier action, UK heavyweight Rob Broughton overcame early adversity to tap out Vinicius Queiroz by rear naked choke in the third round, while Paul Sass picked up the submission of the night bonus with a first round triangle choke win over Mark Holst.
Spencer Fisher snapped a two-fight losing streak to win a hard-fought decision over UFC debutant Kurt Warburton, while James McSweeney was unsuccessful in his light heavyweight debut, going down to Fabricio Moldonado in the third round.
It was also confirmed that the crowd of 17,133 was the biggest ever attendance for a UFC event in Europe and earned Zuffa £1.6million at the box office.