Finally, the UFC returns to London, with the third meeting between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, who compete again for the welterweight title. In addition, we will get a barn burner of a fight between Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev and the awaited comeback of Viking warrior Gunnar Nelson, who will drag Bryan Barberena into deep water! Here you get an overview of what this weekend’s UFC offers and some predictions.
The first time Leon ”Rocky” Edwards (20-3-1) and Kamaru ”The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (20-2-0) met, in 2015, Usman won by decision. History was about to repeat itself in August 2022 – Usman was one minute away from a comfortable decision win, but then Leon Edwards delivered a head kick (you can see the entire fight here) that sent the dominant welterweight champion – plus the crowd’s chins – to the floor. Bitter for Usman – as he was a win away from equalling Anderson Silva’s record of 16 straight wins in the UFC – but fantastic for Edwards, who has long been at the division’s top without getting a shot at the belt. Anyway, UFC called for an immediate rematch. Considering the rest of the division’s top tier, the main event will be extra exciting: Colby Covington (who weighs in today in the hope of being an alternate), Khamzat Chimaev and Belal Muhammad.
Although Edwards enters the cage as a champion and on home soil, he will do so as an underdog. We will see a similar situation in the second fight, except that Edwards will not find a late finish. A decision win for Usman seems likely. While Edwards is more technical, Usman is too strong, more explosive, hits harder and has the wrestling advantage. Edwards has a good defence against takedowns and fantastic striking, but Usman completed five in their last meeting, and this time he will keep a relatively even pace and steal most rounds.
Winner: Kamaru Usman, via decision.
CO-MAIN WILL BE A WAR
Tonight’s co-main will be crazy: Fight of the Year winner Justin ”The Highlight” Gaethje (23-4-0) takes on intense striker Rafael ”Ataman” Fiziev (12-1-0). Almost a year after the loss to Charles Oliveira, Gaethje is set to return in the split main event at UFC 286 on Sunday night. Rafael Fiziev steps into the cage with six straight wins (he most recently knocked out former champion Rafael dos Anjos in July) and a bonus in his last five fights.
Gaethje is a wrestler at heart but focuses on striking inside the cage – the American has not gone for a single takedown in the UFC! When Gaethje is pitted against another striker, the fight rarely goes the distance – in fact, Gaethje fights nearly never goes to distance. Twenty-four of his 27 fights ended before the judges had to get involved. Fiziev’s main sport is Thai boxing, but the lightweight has competed in several martial arts since childhood, and he has excellent striking and moves naturally between leads and stances. Of Fiziev’s 13 fights, ten have resulted in finishes. Nine finishes were by Fiziev, and the 30-year-old has been knocked out on one occasion. If Gathje is smart, he should focus more on wrestling and string it with his striking against the much more technical Fiziev – but I believe he will not do that. Therefore it will be a knock-out in the second round.
Winner: Rafael Fiziev, 2nd round, via knock-out.
ICE COOLD GUNNI IS BACK
Just before the two main fights of the evening get underway, we see Icelandic super grappler Gunnar ”Gunni” Nelson (18-5-1), who goes in as the main card’s biggest favourite against a heavy-hitter, Bryan ”Bam Bam” Barberena (18-9-0).
Gunnar Nelson has been a steady presence in the welterweight rankings but disappeared for two years due to injuries after rolling with fellow countryman Hafthor Julius Björnsson (better known as ”The Mountain” from Game of Thrones). Before the injury, Nelson suffered two verdict losses against top names Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns. The last time the UFC stopped by in London, we saw the Icelander return and defeat Takashi Sato via decision. Nelson was initially scheduled to face Daniel Rodriguez in London; however, Rodriguez pulled from the fight in February and was replaced by Barberena. You can read an exclusive interview recently made with Gunni here.
The heavy hitter Bryan Barberena has been active recently, establishing a comfortable position as welterweight’s go-to action fighter. Generally, Barberena’s losses are against respectable opponents; in December, he was forced to tap for a neck crank from Rafael dos Anjos. Before that, he had three straight wins against Darian Weeks, Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler.
Yes, I’m biased here as I have visited Gunni and his father, Halli, at their gym, Mjölnir MMA, in Reykavik several times, and I like these guys and their gym a lot. With that said, while Barberena is tough and no stranger to stepping up on short notice against heavy odds or hyped talents, Gunni will be too much for him. Nelson will shoot in at some point, and his methodical control, movement and submissions (Gunni has 13 wins via subs) will be overwhelming for Barberena.
Winner: Gunnar Nelson, 3rd round, via rear-naked choke.
FULL CARD AND BROADCAST TIMES
The galas in London are a much-needed boon for European audiences. Book your seat at a sports bar on Saturday night or watch the Viaplay or UFC broadcast. The early undercard starts at 17.00 GMT, the undercard begins at 19:00 GMT, and the main card begins at 21:00 GMT.
Welterweight title fight – Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman
Lightweight – Justin Gaethje vs Rafael Fiziev
Welterweight – Gunnar Nelson vs Bryan Barberena
Flyweight – Jennifer Maia vs Casey O’Neill
Middleweight – Marvin Vettori vs Roman Dolidze
Featherweight – Jack Shore vs Makwan Amirkhani
Lightweight – Chris Duncan vs Omar Morales
Lightweight – Sam Patterson vs Yanal Ashmoz
Flyweight – Muhammad Mokaev vs Jafel Filho
Featherweight – Leron Murphy vs Gabriel Santos
Middleweight – Christian Leroy Duncan vs Dusko Todorovic
Flyweight – Jake Hadley vs Malcolm Gordon
Flyweight – Joanne Wood vs Luana Carolina
Lightweight – Jai Herbert vs Ludovit Klein
Flyweight – Juliana Miller vs Veronica Macedo