In many ways, jolly old Britannia is the home – ok, one of the homes – of combat sports.
After all, where do you think “Marquess of Queensbury” rules that defined the sport of boxing were first written? You think America would ever have a guy with the title of “Marquess” running around drafting rules on the many art of hand-to-hand combat? Heck no!
Wait, hold on…ok, the Marquess himself didn’t actually draft the rules, he just endorsed them, but you get my point nonetheless.
While folks in England were drafting the rules that first introduced gloves into boxing, established the standard 10-count for knockouts, and gave us the three-minute round, over in America Abe Lincoln was wrestling Grizzly bears with his bare hands at local carnivals.
Wait, hold on…no, actually, ol’ Honest Abe was actually wrestling with the institution of slavery as well as a bloody civil war at that time.
Man, I really need to get a refund on that history degree…
My point is that England is one of the seminal homes of combat sports – yet British fighters seem farther away from championship gold than ever before. I could talk about boxing, about the great hopes and disappointing results of guys like Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan. But I’m the MMA editor, not the boxing editor, and besides – I’m pretty sure every fighter who straps on the gloves gets handed a world title in the modern boxing landscape.
So let’s talk MMA, and specifically the UFC, where British fighters once seemed destined for greatness – and now seem farther away from championship glory than ever.
Of course, when you talk about British fighters in MMA, most fans jump to one guy in particular: Ian Freeman.
No, actually, most folks think of Michael Bisping, the most well-known (and arguably most successful) Brit in UFC history.
Poor Bisping. Yes, I said poor Bisping, because unlike most MMA fans I don’t hate him in the least. And even if you do hate him, you can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the way his career has unfolded in the UFC.
Has any fighter in UFC history ever danced so close to a UFC title shot without actually getting a bite at the apple? Seriously, there may not be a fighter working today with a worse record in #1 contender’s fights. And has any fighter in recent memory been more defined by his few losses, instead of his many wins?
And he does have plenty of wins in the world’s top MMA promotion. He’s fought 18 times inside the Octagon (has it really been that many times?) with an overall record of 13-5. If you think that’s not bad, you’d be wrong – that’s freakin’ outstanding.
The problem is who he’s lost to – guys like Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, and Chael Sonnen. The crème de la crème, so to speak. The other problem is when he’s lost said fights – almost always, it’s been in a fight to determine who gets the next crack at a world title fight.
So despite a pretty stellar UFC career, Bisping will probably be defined by always coming up short, when it matters most, against the top guys in the sport. He’s the Tony Romo of MMA. And that perception was only intensified with his most recent loss to Vitor Belfort, a former UFC world champion in – wait for it – a #1 contender’s bout.
But it’s not like fighters from the UK have been shut out of the UFC title picture entirely. And when you think of British challengers for a UFC title, you usually think of one man: Ian Freeman.
Just kidding folks. Last time, I promise.
No, when you think of UFC title challengers from the UK, you’re probably thinking of a certain mohawk’d, tattooed, Shaolin temple-visiting dude by the name of Dan Hardy. I know, I know, I’ve now brought up both Mike Bisping and Dan Hardy in the same article. So I’m guessing most MMA fans are ready to throw a brick through their computer monitors. But just like with “The Count”, I have no problem whatsoever with Hardy – he’s an extremely well-spoken, exciting fighter who gets more hate than he probably deserves for getting “rushed” into a title fight with Georges St. Pierre.
But he did get a title fight – and was dominated for five straight rounds by the reigning welterweight champ. But hey, he gets to forever hold his head up high, knowing he went the distance with GSP, right? That puts him in that ultra-rare category of “every single one of GSP’s title challengers in the last three and a half years.” Ouch. And I’m a Canadian, so you can only imagine how much it pained me to write that sentence. DECISION VICTORIES COUNT JUST AS MUCH AS STOPPAGES, DAMNIT! GSP! GSP! GSP!OLE, OLE-OLE-OLE!
Ok, I’m done now – back to mighty Britannia.
So with his recent KO loss to Vitor Belfort, Michael Bisping may have forever removed his name from the sentence “potential UFC title challenger”. And though Dan Hardy is on a bit of a roll right now, his four straight losses after getting his title shot, combined with his blowout loss in said title shot, probably means he’s a ways away from another shot at UFC gold.
So are England’s UFC title hopes dashed on the rocks like Winston Churchill’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar (I think that’s right…)? Not so fast. While they may be outside the immediate title picture, the United Kingdom has several exciting prospects who could, in the near future, bring a UFC title to the land of tea and crumpets. In no particular order:
Ross Pearson: The former TUF contestant got a big boost in profile when he served as coach on the UK vs. Australia edition of “The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes”. He received an even bigger boost in profile when he absolutely handled fellow coach George Sotiropoulos in the coaches battle at the end of the season. Pearson has struggled with consistency the last couple of years, but if he can string a few wins together “The Real Deal” could easily find himself in the lightweight title picture.
Jimi Manuwa: Ok, so it may be a bit soon to get optimistic about Manuwa. After all, he’s only had one fight in the UFC. And yes, it was a win, just like every other fight in his 12-fight MMA career. He’s a former Ultimate Challenge light-heavyweight champion, and will be back in action in his home land in a few weeks’ time to take on Cyrille Diabate. Another win in that fight, and you can expect to see a lot more of the promising Brit.
Paul Sass: Until this past September, Liverpool’s Paul Sass was one of the most exciting prospects in all of British MMA. The submission specialist had run off three straight highlight-reel victories in the UFC, and looked ready to go on a huge run. Then he ran right into Matt Wiman, and was submitted himself in a surprising turn of events. Still, I think Sass is one of the most exciting 155’ers to come onto the scene in a while. But like Joe Rogan, I’m a huge fan of that rare breed of fighter who can use an offensive guard in MMA.
John Hathaway: Once again, we have a case of a fighter who would be a surefire title contender already, if it wasn’t for a decisive loss in his recent history. John Hathaway looked like he was on the fast track to a title shot when he rattled off four straight victories to start his UFC campaign – including wins over Rick Story, Paul Taylor, and Diego Sanchez. Then he ran into experienced veteran Mike Pyle, and the momentum train came to a screeching halt. Still, Hathaway has largely righted his ship with three wins since that loss, and we will likely be seeing a lot more of him in 2013.
Brad Pickett: It’s weird to classify Pickett as an “up and comer” when he’s been fighting professionally since 2004. The WEC and Cage Rage veteran has gone 2-2 since coming to the UFC, but his popularity will have more to do with his fighting style than his record. Pickett has often said he places a high premium on entertaining fans when he fights, the result of which has been two “Fight of the Night” and one “Knockout of the Night” award in his UFC tenure thus far. More exciting performances will continue to elevate Pickett’s profile, and his strong boxing skills and wealth of experience make him a tough out for any fighter in the Bantamweight division.