In June 2016, Michael Bisping made UK MMA history by becoming the first British man or woman to capture UFC gold when he beat Luke Rockhold at UFC 199.
Eight months down the line, Bisping has defended his belt once and is set to defend it again later this year when he faces the returning former UFC welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre.
Bisping is currently holding the UFC middleweight title proudly, but the time is fast approaching when the 38-year-old will hang up the gloves. The question is—who after that? Who will be at the forefront of UK MMA and the next to carry a major mixed martial arts world title?
UFC London last week gave us a nice insight into the past, present and future of MMA in the UK.
While talents such as Brett Johns, Tom Breese, Steven Ray, Paul Craig, and Mark Godbeer didn’t fight on the card for their various reasons, last Saturday we got a peek at three men coming to the fore of MMA in the British Isles and who might just be our next UFC champion.
There’s not much left to say about Marc Diakiese’s 30-second knockout of Teemu Packalen. It was the latest in a long line of explosive overhand right first rounds knockouts for the 24-year-old and he’s now angling for a big fight against fellow lightweight contender Paul Felder on the upcoming July 19 card in Glasgow.
Diakiese has all the raw skills you could want as a martial artist and he’s making improvements every time he steps inside the UFC Octagon. His talents are skills are endless, but he currently fights within a stacked 155-pounds lightweight weight division which means his road the top might be a long and arduous one.
Discount him at your peril though, from what we’ve seen from far from Diakiese he has all the tools to make it to the top of the mountain.
But he’s not alone, Arnold Allen last weekend overcame a formidable opponent in Finland’s Makwan Amirkhani and showed the world that when it comes to the featherweight division, he’s one guy you need to be keep a look out for.
Allen by most people’s accounts was an underdog heading into his fight last Saturday but he soon set the record straight in the fight with a level of fight IQ that well surpassed his tender years. Allen knew that his Finnish opponent would look to end the fight early and after a furious and frenetic start he took to his task nicely to get the better of rounds two and three.
The 23-year-old is a well-rounded mixed martial artist, but his true skill is his ability to adapt his gameplan on the fly. Allen admitted after he was annoyed he didn’t implement his intended gameplan against Amirkhani, but he will soon realize the skill is in knowing when and how to change tactics on the fly and amidst the fury and frenzy of battle.
While they have the talent, Diakiese and Allen are still a long way away from competing for their respective world titles. Conversely, one man is in with a good shot of getting a title fight this year if things falls in his favour—Jimi Manuwa.
Manuwa last weekend produced a clinical performance when he knocked out Corey Anderson with a devastating left hand after just three minutes under the bright lights of The 02 in London.
Manuwa is currently ranked in the top 4 of the UFC light heavyweight rankings and many would say he’s within reach of a shot at the title after his last win. Several external factors could change the course of Manuwa’s ascendency to the title though and they aren’t ones necessarily he can control.
Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson fight next month at the UFC 210 and Manuwa has stated publicly that he wants the winner. Unfortunately, three things could get in the way, the first being Cormier versus Johnson finishing conclusively and there being no requirement for a rematch.
The second is the return of Jon Jones in July. Jones could get an immediate title shot himself despite his misdemeanors and the likelihood of that raises tenfold if Cormier is still the champion.
Lastly, Manuwa’s training partner Alexander Gustafsson is currently ranked two and he will fight number three ranked Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night Stockholm on May 28. Arguably the winner of that fight would be next in line if the rankings are anything to go by, but whatever the case, Manuwa’s path to the title isn’t straight forward.
The answer to who the next UK UFC champion is currently unclear, but as evidenced this past weekend there are plenty of notable candidates making a run to the top. Outside chances are also strong for the likes of Leon Edwards who also won this past weekend at UFC London.
It could also be argued that if Michael Page wins the Bellator MMA welterweight world title it would be an accomplishment just as great as capturing gold in some of the UFC weight divisions given the talent pool there now.
Whatever the case, it’s good time for UK MMA and there’s plenty to be excited about.