What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 208 at the The 02 in London? Here are a few post-fight musings …
5. The opposite of March
The UFC made the decision to do a quick turnaround and return to London after its March event in the city was nothing short of magical. The promotion did its best to create a similar moment, booking a lot of the same key players on the card, with some compelling additions, too.
We should’ve all known the standard was impossibly high, though, and the uniqueness of what we witnessed earlier this year couldn’t be duplicated. But even the biggest pessimist couldn’t have guessed it would be so far on the other end of the spectrum.
Save for some high points from Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann (which we’ll get into in a moment), this event was a tough watch. We saw nine of 14 fights end in a decision, and the overwhelming majority of those were grappling-heavy affairs.
In fact, this card featured more takedown attempts than any event in UFC history, which is pretty remarkable.
Then of course, the main event was a disaster and essentially the worst way the night could end off.
All in all, I feel for the fans in attendance the most. The UFC managed to extract a more than $4.3 million gate from the ticket-buyers in the market, which is a record for a non-pay-per-view event. There’s probably a degree of buyer’s remorse for those who threw down for the steep costs, and it’ll be interesting to see how – if at all – the way this card played out impacts demand in the market going forward.
4. Muhammad Mokaev comes back to earth
The buzz around flyweight prospect Muhammad Mokaev was at a fever pitch following a 48-second win in his March debut. His sophomore octagon effort did not follow suit, though, and as a result he lost a bit of steam.
That’s honestly not the worst thing. Mokaev (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) easily controlled Charles Johnson (11-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) to a unanimous decision to add to his undefeated record, and despite it being far from thrilling, spending three rounds in that cage is going to be invaluable for the 21-year-old.
It’s very clear Mokaev has a ton of potential and a high ceiling. The worst thing that could happen to him is being rushed too quickly, and in a relatively thin division like flyweight, there’s a strong possibility that would’ve happened if he starched Johnson.
Mokaev could get it all back if he does something emphatic in his next performance, but the nature of this win over Johnson made it obvious Mokaev shouldn’t be fast-tracked to the top of the division.
3. Is Alexander Gustafsson done?
Alexander Gustafsson’s return to the octagon after two years went about as poorly as anyone could’ve fathomed, and now you have to wonder if this is the end of the road for the three-time UFC title challenger.
Gustafsson (18-8 MMA, 10-8 UFC) got smoked by Nikita Krylov (27-9 MMA, 9-7 UFC) in a mere 67 seconds. Krylov landed a knockdown in the opening seconds of the fight, and from there he didn’t give Gustafsson an inch to breath as he swarmed until he got a second knockdown and ultimately the stoppage.
It’s now a four-fight losing skid for Gustafsson dating back to when he fought Jon Jones for the second time in December 2018, with all four losses coming by stoppage.
We’re now past the five-year mark of Gustafsson’s latest win, which was a memorable knockout of Glover Teixeira in Sweden. That seems like a lifetime ago considering what Teixeira went on to do after that fight, and it feels more and more like that might be the final high point of his career.
Gustafsson’s former opponent Daniel Cormier said it best in the aftermath of the defeat: “The Mauler” just can’t take damage like he used to anymore, and it seems like he’s exhausted all resources from changing weight classes multiple times to changing up his training methods to taking extended layoffs.
If Gustafsson chooses to push forward with his career, he has every right to do so, of course. But the writing seems to be on the wall for the 35-year-old, and each performance now further removes memories of the man who pushed Jones and Cormier to the brink in their respective title bouts.
2. The Scousers steal the show
It was a pretty dreadful event up until partners in crime Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann entered the octagon and gave us the few high points on the card.
Pimblett (19-3 MMA, 3-0 UFC) will get the lion’s share of the discussion here, because he was the real star of the show, but McCann (13-4 MMA, 6-3 UFC) deserves some props for sparking Hannah Goldy for a first-round finish, and using what’s now becoming a trademark spinning back elbow to set up the stoppage.
The performance from Pimblett in submitting Jordan Leavitt in the second round of their lightweight bout was solid, too, but what really stood out for Pimblett was his post-fight comments centered around the importance of men’s mental health following a friend’s suicide.
Pimblett preached a significant message, and it seems to resonate strongly with both casual and hardcore viewers of the sport. Show his comments to anyone, really, and it should strike a chord.
For a 27-year-old who just picked up a critical win on his home soil to have the presence of mind to deliver a speech like Pimblett did was super impressive, and only further emphasizes why he’s truly one of the UFC”s top young stars.
Is Pimblett ever going to be UFC champion? I don’t know. Few do in the stacked 155-pound division, but Pimblett might not need it, honestly. He’s got a special thing going for himself right now, and so long as he doesn’t take a a bunch of losses in a row, he’s going to remain marketable and be must-see TV every time he’s booked to compete.
1. A devastating end for Tom Aspinall
After a slog of a card leading into the main event, there was high expectations for Curtis Blaydes and Tom Aspinall to give us the good in a critical matchup for the heavyweight division.
Most of us thought the worst case scenario for this fight would be Blaydes (17-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) taking Aspinall (12-3 MMA, 5-1 UFC) down over and over and making it a boring contest where the London crowd would be showering him with boos. What actually happened, though, was much worse.
Aspinall sustained some sort of knee injury in the first exchange of the fight, sending him crashing to the canvas in agonizing fashion and forcing the action to be waved off just 15 seconds after it began. It was the last thing you wanted to see for Aspinall, who has so much promise as a potential future champion, and for Blaydes, who had an opportunity to make a statement about where he stood in the title picture.
Tough break all around, and we wish Aspinall the best with his recovery.