This Sunday, Darren Till faces two-time UFC welterweight title challenger Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in the main event of the UFC’s first ever event in Liverpool, and their 23rd in the UK.
In the co-main event 26-fight veteran Neil Magny will take on UFC debutant Craig White, who stepped in on 12 days’ notice to replace the injured Gunnar Nelson. Aside from White and hometown hero Till, six other Brits will feature on the 12-fight card, including the debuting Molly McCann.
The UFC Fight Pass portion of the card will begin at 3pm, with the prelims on FS1 in the United States and BT Sport in the UK beginning at 4. The main card is expected to start at approximately 6pm.
Whilst this is far from the most stacked card the UFC have ever brought to Britain, the crowd will be up for it and there are some good scraps to watch out for. Without further ado, here are my predictions for the evening!
UFC Fight Pass Prelims
Bantamweight – #14 Lina Lansberg (7-3) vs #15 Gina Mazany (5-1): Muay Thai practitioner Lansberg recovered from her UFC debut pummelling at the hands of Cyborg to decision Lucie Pudilova last March in London, before getting stopped by Aspen Ladd in her most recent appearance. The ‘Elbow Princess’ has four wins by way of KO/TKO, although all three of her losses have also come by way of stoppage.
Alaska native Mazany picked up her first UFC win last time out, taking a decision over Chinese fighter Yanan Wu. Somehow that and a submission loss to Sara McMann warrant a UFC ranking?
I feel like the blueprint to beat Lansberg is out and it’s fairly obvious that her ceiling in the UFC goes little higher than ‘solid gatekeeper’. To beat her you either need good wrestling, or relentless forward pressure on the feet and some solid power. Alas, Mazany possesses neither of these things and whilst I believe she is improving, I can’t see a way she beats the Swede. Lansberg brutalises her in the clinch to secure a late stoppage. Prediction: Lansberg by third-round TKO.
Middleweight – #15 Elias Theodorou (14-2) vs Trevor Smith (15-7): ‘TUF: Nations’ winner Theodorou has done well in UFC proper, utilising a solid kicking game to go 5-2, something that has secured him a spot on the periphery of the rankings. Half of the Canadian’s wins have come by decision, and he has just one stoppage in the last three years.
‘Hot Sauce’ Smith made his UFC debut back in 2013 and over his first six fights he alternated losses and wins, but he’s won three of his last four. By the time he takes to the Octagon on Sunday afternoon, it will be 364 days since his last appearance for the MMA leader, a dominant decision win over Chris Camozzi.
Zzzzzzzzzzz…… This promises to be quite the snoozer. Smith is the perfect example of a fighter in flowchart form. If Smith has better offensive wrestling than his opponent’s defensive wrestling, his workrate will get him a decision win. If he doesn’t, he’ll be forced to stand and trade and that invariably ends in his chin getting cracked. Thedorou isn’t a huge banger and fights a relatively risk-averse style, so I can’t see him stopping Smith, but I can see him using his kicks to maintain distance and do enough for a decision. Prediction: Theodorou via split decision.
FS1/BT Sport Prelims
Flyweight – Gillian Robertson (4-2) vs Molly McCann (7-1): Canada’s Robertson enjoyed a productive amateur career before turning professional in March 2016, going 8-1. She’s found life in the professional ranks a little tougher but she joined the UFC after competing in last year’s tournament to crown the UFC’s first flyweight champion. She was eliminated by Barb Honchak in the first round but picked up an armbar submission win over Emily Whitmire at the finale. Three of her four wins have come by submission.
Liverpool’s own McCann, a proud Everton fan, is yet another export from Graham Boylan’s Cage Warriors promotion. She went 3-0 as an amateur and has won six straight since losing her second pro fight, most recently winning the Cage Warriors flyweight strap by stopping Bryony Tyrell. Her wins are split 4:3 between TKOs and decisions.
This is your classic wrestler vs boxer clash. McCann is a top talent and I’m glad the UFC have picked her up, as she’s a valuable and marketable addition for the European market. This will be a test for her because Robertson has got decent takedowns and is good on the ground, but it’s hard to look beyond McCann’s combinations and solid footwork. I suspect she endures a difficult opening stanza before stepping it up and getting the stoppage in the second. Prediction: McCann via second-round TKO.
Welterweight – Brad Scott (11-5) vs Carlo Pedersoli Jr. (10-1): You’ve got to feel for Brad Scott. Bath’s own has only managed to fight seven times since his UFC debut back in 2012, and he was very close to not fighting on this card either. Jack Marshman’s weight cut concerns saw a fight nixed for him in March and then Salim Touahri’s late withdrawal left Scott himself questioning whether he even wanted to fight here. His most recent appearance in the Octagon was a first-round TKO loss to Jack Hermansson.
24-year-old Pedersoli took this fight on incredibly short notice and is just one month removed from his career-best performance to date, a split decision win over UFC vet Nicolas Dalby in Sweden. Most of his experience has come on regional European promotions, and his wins are fairly evenly split with three TKOs, four submissions and three decisions.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Pedersoli is more naturally gifted than Scott. Scott has never looked to offer much more than a fairly plodding, brawling style, whereas Pedersoli has a strong karate background and some good takedowns. Still, the quick turnaround and the intensity of the Dalby fight makes it hard for me to pick the man from Miami. I suspect he starts well before fading down the stretch, allowing Scott to take a solid decision. Prediction: Scott via unanimous decision.
Middleweight – Dan Kelly (13-3) vs Tom Breese (10-1): It’s yer da! Dan Kelly is the most loveable dad to ever fight in the UFC and his fights are always a treat. Very few comebacks in the UFC have stuck with me as much as his win over Antonio Carlos Junior. The four-time Olympian has won six bouts in the UFC proper, but has lost his last two.
It’s almost two years since we last saw Tom Breese in action. He was not medically cleared to fight Oluwale Bamgbose last year and seemed to be struggling mentally with the whole fight game, so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks here. Prior to his most recent outing, a decision loss to Sean Strickland, Breese had won all three of his UFC contests, stopping both Cathal Pendred and Luiz Dutra.
It’s very hard for me not to root for Kelly, he’s just great. But in reality, Breese is the more talented man and should have the athleticism to run rings round the Aussie. There’s no guarantees there, Kelly has surprised us before, but I expect that Breese will mix in takedowns and some solid striking to take a comfortable decision. Prediction: Breese via unanimous decision.
Welterweight – Claudio Silva (11-1) vs Nordine Taleb (14-4): Brazil’s Silva may be undefeated in the UFC, holding wins over Brad Scott and the highly-ranked Leon Edwards, but he has also not fought in over three and a half years. Let that sink in. A grappler by trade, Silva holds seven career submission wins.
French-Canadian Taleb has sneakily posted a 6-2 UFC record thus far and comes into this on the back of two big wins; a dominant decision over Oliver Enkamp in Sweden and then a 58-second stoppage of England’s Danny Roberts last time out.
Why on earth is this the featured prelim? Silva might just be the dullest fighter I’ve ever seen in the UFC, and surely Taleb deserved better than this? Taleb is starting to put it all together and I can see another stoppage here. I think he stuffs an early takedown from Silva and then pours it on him on the feet. Prediction: Taleb via first-round TKO.
Middleweight – Eric Spicely (10-3) vs Darren Stewart (7-3, 1NC): TUF 23 product Spicely has surprisingly carved out a niche for himself in the UFC, despite many thinking he was too one-dimensional. He holds wins over Thiago Santos and Alessio Di Chirico, although he has lost his last two. Six of his career wins have come via submission.
England’s Stewart finds himself very much in last chance saloon territory here, having gone 0-3, 1NC to start his UFC career. He was incredibly game last time out against Julian Marquez but was eventually taken out by the bigger man. Whilst being one inch shorter than his opponent, Stewart will have a slight reach advantage.
Two very basic fighters, with diametrically opposite skill sets. If Spicely can get him down, I think this ends pretty quickly and gives him a seventh career submission. That’s a big if though, as his takedowns aren’t great and he doesn’t have the striking to set them up. Stewart has got pop in his hands and as the fight starts standing, I’ll favour the Londoner, but this really is a coin toss. Prediction: Stewart via first-round TKO.
Bantamweight – Davey Grant (8-3) vs Manny Bermudez (12-0): Since making the TUF 18 Finale in late 2013, Grant has fought just twice, missing all of 2014, 2015 and 2017 through injury. Those two appearances saw him decision Marlon Vera before being submitted by Polish grappler Damian Stasiak. All three of Grant’s career losses have come by submission, as have six of his wins.
Bermudez may only be 23, but he has already had 19 fights across his pro and amateur careers. He is an absolute wizard on the mat, winning nine of his pro bouts via submission. He made his debut for the UFC in February 2018, submitting Albert Morales in the second round.
Lots of fun grappling! This could end-up as an awkward stand-up encounter as neither man wants to risk taking it to the floor, but I suspect it’ll get there eventually and there’ll be some really fun scrambles when it does. That’s while the fight lasts anyway. Bermudez is on a whole other level to most bantamweights on the ground and he’s way too much for Grant. Submission win number 10 is highly likely. Prediction: Bermudez via second-round submission.
Featherweight – Jason Knight (20-4) vs Makwan Amirkhani (13-3): ‘Hick Diaz’ Jason Knight had built up a fair bit of hype with four consecutive wins in the UFC in late 2016 and early 2017, but that train has since slowed right down after consecutive defeats to Ricardo Lamaz and Mexican fighter Gabriel Benitez. This will be only the second time Knight has fought outside his native America.
Finnish fighter Amirkhani made quite the name for himself on the European MMA scene before joining the UFC in 2015, where he promptly knocked out Andy Ogle in eight seconds and also picked up wins over Masio Fullen and Mike Wilkinson. His last bout, 14 months ago, saw him drop a split decision to Arnold Allen on the Manuwa vs Anderson card. Amirkhani boasts a submission victory over top prospect Tom Duquesnoy on his record.
This should be a whole heap of fun. My main criticism of Amirkhani is that he’s quite gun-shy on the feet, but Knight’s relentless forward pressure and engagement makes this my outside pick for Fight of the Night. Amirkhani could wrestle his way to victory, or perhaps clip an over-aggressive Knight with a great counter-shot, but to me the more likely outcome is Knight bullocking his way to a clear-cut decision. Prediction: Knight via unanimous decision.
Featherweight – Arnold Allen (12-1) vs Mads Burnell (9-2): A variety of visa issues and injury problems have meant that talented Brit and Tristar fighter Arnold Allen has only been able to fight three times since making his UFC debut in June 2015. Allen has eight finishes on his record, although two of his three UFC appearances have gone to the judges.
Denmark’s Burnell made his debut as a late replacement against an overweight Michel Prazeres last September, getting submitted in the third round. He picked up a win last time out, decisioning Mike Santiago in January. Burnell has no TKO finishes in his career, but he does have five submission victories and will have a slight height advantage in this bout.
To my mind, this looks like a relative gimme for the home fighter in Allen. He has a bucket load of talent, he just needs to get his head down and get fighting more regularly. Burnell hasn’t got the takedown ability to keep a scrambler of Allen’s quality on the ground for long, and the Brit is more active and potent on the feet. I suspect Allen does damage on the feet and secures a late-submission victory to move to 4-0 in the UFC. Prediction: Allen via third-round submission.
Welterweight – #9 Neil Magny (20-6) vs Craig White (14-7): Since going on that impressive seven fight win streak, the ever durable Magny has had a slightly tougher run, going 5-3 over his last eight contests. His most recent UFC appearance saw him get back in the win column, outworking Carlos Condit in Decembet.
Wales’ ‘Thundercat’ Craig White took this fight on short-notice and is one of the most upwardly mobile welterweights on the European scene. Since dropping down from 185 lbs, White has gone 4-0, most recently submitting Alex Montagnani. None of White’s pro bouts have gone to the cards; his motto in the cage is very much ‘kill or be killed’.
Whilst I loved Magny/Nelson, this fight is perhaps even more intriguing. White is someone I’ve been thrilled to see do so well over the last year as he has looked lethal at 170. This is a monumental step-up though. Magny has the wrestling smarts and a sizeable reach advantage and could work for a relatively straightforward decision, but where’d the fun be in that? White’s style is a bit reckless and I think it’ll bring out the brawler in Magny, notable in his fights with Lim, Kinimoto and Lombard. In that scenario, I still favour Magny to get the win. Prediction: Magny via second-round TKO.
Welterweight – #1 Stephen Thompson (14-2-1) vs Darren Till (16-0-1): ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson finds himself the odd man out in the logjam at the top of the welterweight division, as his disappointing bouts with current champ Tyron Woodley more or less count him out of a future title opportunity. He remains a word class kickboxer and perhaps the best dictator of range to ever grace the Octagon and he did pick up a win last time out, securing a comfortable decision over Jorge Masvidal.
Liverpool’s Till has not followed any ‘obvious’ route to the top, spending a large period of time in Brazil before working his way to the UFC. That time in Brazil has produced a very well-rounded fighter who shocked many last year when he stopped Donald Cerrone in the first round of their fight in Poland.
I would like to see Till get a win in Liverpool, I think it’d do wonders for the British scene, and he is a future world title challenger in my opinion, but I just think Stephen Thompson is a bad stylistic match-up for him. His distance control should see him keep Till at bay for most of the fight and do enough damage to secure a decision. For Till to win he’d have to close him down and pepper him with clean shots, as Tyron Woodley did, but I can’t see he’d be able to sustain that pace for five rounds or even do it consistently. I don’t think it’ll be pretty but Thompson takes this one for me. Prediction: Thompson via unanimous decision.