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Review: UFC Fight Night London at the O2, Greenwich
INSIDE the world’s most intimidating bike shed, these guys may sometimes look like they’re cuddling but they sure ain’t kissing.
Barefoot and wearing just a pair of swimming shorts, it looks like they have been teleported in from the beach in Tenerife - and boy they’re not chuffed about it.
In flurries, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Fight Night at the O2 on Saturday (March 8) was brutal but its skill and technique was awesome.
Saturday’s mammoth event at the O2 was my first taste of cage fighting action, bar a couple of Youtube clips or references in TV shows, and I went in with a lot of prejudice.
Most British novices, myself included, would struggle to name any cage fighters except Jordan’s ex Alex Reid, which is hardly an endorsement of the sport.
In my mind at least, given what I knew about the apparent lack of rules and ‘anything goes’ of Mixed Martial Arts, I was expecting ultra-violent, blood-spewing madness from moment one.
On Saturday, a crowd of around 17,000 squeezed into Greenwich’s O2 for the brand’s long awaited UK date. These things don’t come around often – the next is scheduled for February – so it is no surprise that the demand was high and it sold out within 36 hours.
A good number of Swedes travelled over too to support their fighter, the world number two Alex Gustafsson, who fought previously-undefeated Croydon slugger Jimi Manuwa.
Without seeing the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it is easy to conflate cage fighting with its combat cousins wrestling and boxing.
All three are big-money, over-the-top spectacles.
Just like the boxing, UFC attracts a lot of celeb stars. I walked in behind Kidulthood director Noel Clarke, nearly stumbled into England footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and spotted boxing big shot David Haye and 90s rapper MC Hammer.
MailOnline managed to spot someone from One Direction, too, which obviously means it is pretty cool.
The cage was smaller than I thought – perhaps just six feet high – and less like a bear pit, but the action was significantly more skilful.
The striking was brutal, with knees, feet, elbows and fists flying in. When one competitor senses his opportunity, the speed and intensity with which they attack is like watching an Attenborough documentary about predators.
While the gloves they wear don’t make the same loud ‘boof’ noise as boxing gloves, the blows rain in and look punishing. One poor chap was dragged off looking like Joseph Merrick.
In contrast to the brutalism of the striking, the takedowns are calculated and technically advanced, as they fighters look to gain an advantage on the floor with submission holds and chokes.
The nuances of UFC lift it above its rivals in this regard.
The O2 is a perfect arena for the show too, with great acoustics and a set up that provides everyone with a decent view.
Another thing I noticed about UFC, it was overflowing with good sportsmanship too.
After pulverising Jimi Manuwa in the main event, Gustafsson was straight over to check the Croydon man was OK.
And after an earlier bout, the victorious Brad Pickett had enough left in him to try to pull down the shorts of his opponent Neil Seery as his hands were being raised by the referee.
It really is no wonder that the sport is fastly becoming huge all over the world.
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