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How the UFC has changed since the last huge pay-per-view event in Britain

When the big show rolls back into town next March, it will have been seven long years since the UK played host to a major UFC pay-per-view card. 

UFC 286 has been announced as the numbered event on March 18 at London’s O2 Arena and Leon Edwards is expected to headline with a trilogy fight against Kamaru Usman. 

It has the makings of the biggest night of MMA ever seen on UK soil. Back in 2016, the last numbered card on these shores, Michael Bisping defended his middleweight title in a five-round battle with old foe Dan Henderson in Manchester. 

So much has changed in the years since, so how did the UFC landscape look back then, what were the sport’s biggest stars up to and where are they now?  

Michael Bisping defeated Dan Henderson (left) when the UK last had a numbered UFC card

It makes sense to start with the main event. Manchester Arena was rocking after a crowd fuelled by a day and night’s worth of booze stayed up until the early hours, to accommodate the US TV audience. 

Bisping had become the first ever British UFC champion and was rewarded by a title defence against Henderson, the American veteran who had previously knocked him out cold. 

Surviving a heavy early knockdown, Bisping scrapped back in typical style to take a decision win. It was Henderson’s last fight as he retired, while the champ went on to lose to Georges St-Pierre. 

He fought once more, suffering a bad KO by Kelvin Gastelum before moving into his role as a pundit and analyst for the UFC. 

Up until this year, Bisping was the only British fighter to win the belt in the UFC

Up until this year, Bisping was the only British fighter to win the belt in the UFC

Neither of the co-main event combatants are still around in the promotion either. Gegard Mousasi, who won via head kick TKO over Vitor Belfort, only had two more fights in the UFC before jumping ship to join Bellator, where he later became champion. 

Belfort meanwhile, would only win one more fight, leaving after a savage front kick KO by Lyoto Machida in his last bout. 

He went on to do some exhibition boxing and, knocking out Evander Holyfield. 

Neither Gegard Mousasi (right) or Vitor Belfort (left) remain under contract with the promotion

Neither Gegard Mousasi (right) or Vitor Belfort (left) remain under contract with the promotion

Leon Edwards fought for the sixth time in the UFC on the pre-lims of UFC 204. 

What a journey ‘Rocky’ has been on since those early days. He submitted Albert Tumenov on the night and had been beaten in his first clash with Usman two fights before. 

Next year, the story will come full circle, this time with Edwards headlining against the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’, entering as champion on home turf. 

He has won every contest he’s been in since UFC 204, eventually becoming Britain’s second UFC champion this year in remarkable fashion with the instantly iconic head kick KO of Usman.  

Leon Edwards submitted Albert Tumenov on the pre-lims of UFC 204 back in 2016

Leon Edwards submitted Albert Tumenov on the pre-lims of UFC 204 back in 2016

Edwards won the belt by knocking out Kamaru Usman this year and they will fight again  

Jimi Manuwa knocked out Ovince St Preux on the main card and the heavy-handed Brit retired in 2019 following four straight defeats. St Preux remains an active UFC fighter but has not managed to win two successive bouts since 2017.  

Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann have taken centre stage this year, both winning in fine style on the O2 shows in March and July respectively. 

They’re highly likely to be featured at UFC 286 next March, but where were the Next Gen fighters back in 2016? 

Pimblett was the newly crowned Cage Warriors champion, making a real name for himself on the domestic circuit. 

While McCann had only fought professionally in MMA four times. She would sign for the UFC two years later and go through a rollercoaster run of ups and downs before enjoying an incredible 2022 with two sensational knockouts. 

Pimblett is of course the co-main event for UFC 282 this weekend and emerging as a major star, still undefeated in the UFC.  

Paddy Pimblett (pictured) has emerged as a UFC star and is unbeaten in the organisation so far

Paddy Pimblett (pictured) has emerged as a UFC star and is unbeaten in the organisation so far

The UFC itself was undergoing a major period of transition back in late 2016 the last time the UK hosted a pay-per-view event. 

The company had just been sold for $4billion that summer in the strongest indication that it would become the international behemoth it is now.

Dana White remained in his post as UFC president but it was the year the Fertitta brothers cashed in, walking away with an incredible profit having transformed the organisation. 

The balance of power in the cage has transformed considerably in the intervening five years too. 

Back in October 2016, Conor McGregor was fresh off his win in the Nate Diaz rematch

Back in October 2016, Conor McGregor was fresh off his win in the Nate Diaz rematch

Conor McGregor was almost at the peak of his powers having exacted revenge over Nate Diaz and was just a month away from his career-best performance in the demolition of Eddie Alvarez to become a two-weight UFC champion. 

Since then, he’s won only once, beating Donald Cerrone and broke his leg last year in a second successive defeat by Dustin Poirier. His return is pencilled in for next year and as ever, the date, opponent and location are highly anticipated.   

Back in 2016, Demetrious Johnson was the pound-for-pound king. 

He would fight four more times before leaving to join ONE Championship and now Alexander Volkanovski sits atop the pile. The Australian hadn’t even fought in the UFC yet back in October 2016. 

Other massive names were still on the scene. Khabib Nurmagomedov was the No 1 contender at lightweight would go on to prove himself as a formidable champion, retiring undefeated two years ago. 

And Ronda Rousey was on the downslope of her career, still licking her wounds from the Holly Holm knockout and preparing for what would be her last fight in the UFC, the demolition by Amanda Nunes that December. 

Israel Adesanya, one of the UFC’s biggest stars now – albeit recently dethroned as middleweight champion, was still forging his path in MMA. 

Israel Adesanya (pictured) was still making his way by fighting in China back in 2016

Israel Adesanya (pictured) was still making his way by fighting in China back in 2016 

He was fighting in China and had less than a dozen contests on his CV. 

None of the current UFC champions now were at the top of the pile back in 2016, with Nunes and Stipe Miocic the only ones still competing at a high level.  

The landscape has changed dramatically both inside and outside of the octagon since the UFC’s last numbered event in the UK. 

Next March will be a celebration of the emerging British talent, in particular Edwards, who will be desperate to follow in Bisping’s footsteps by securing a glorious first title defence on home turf. 

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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