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Tuesday, Feb 13, 2007

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EliteXC Feb 10, 2007: Frank Shamrock (bottom) just before firing off illegal knees to Renzo Gracie's head - Photo by Keith Mills
Shamrock (bottom) vs. Gracie

UFC Returns to the UK
By Richard Pickard

The Ultimate Fighting Championship have set up a London, UK office and are getting ready to launch a series of events in the UK, under the charge of recently-hired Marshall Zelaznik, former Vice President of iN Demand Networks.

In fact, the organization announced this week via its website, that the first show will be UFC 70 scheduled for April 21, 2007 at the Manchester Evening News Arena.

Although no formal announcement regarding future shows has been made to the media yet, the UFC are predicted to run shows up and down the country, including the initial show in Manchester, two shows in London and one in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The rumor mill is in full flow regarding the likely fight card and who will kick off the first UK event since the British debut, UFC 38 "Brawl at the Hall" in July 2002. Some of the rumored bouts are:

  • Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic vs. Cheick Kongo
  • Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin
  • Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic
  • Jess Liaudin vs. Dennis Siver
  • Abdul Mohamed vs. David Lee

Mouth-watering stuff already!…although it remains to be seen whether the UFC throw their latest sizeable investment Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic in as the headliner, or indeed let the UK host the Tito vs Forrest re-match, it does seem a safe bet that TUF season 3 winner Michael "The Count" Bisping will definitely play his part. In a recent interview with NBC, UFC President Dana White confirmed "I expect Mike Bisping to be a big star in 2007".

There is little doubt that the arrival of the UFC will disrupt the current UK scene dominated by the Cage Rage promotion. The Cage Rage events have been held every 2-3 months in London since September 2002, historically they have attracted a host of international fighters including: Anderson Silva, Vitor Ribeiro, Chris Lytle, Jorge Rivera, Mark Kerr and Gilbert Yvel. Alongside this imported talent, Cage Rage have supported the homegrown UK pros such as: Ian Freeman, Mark Weir, Leigh Remedios and James Thompson.

As Cage Rage has an affiliation to the Pride Fighting Championships, the UFC has been working hard behind the scenes to sign-up the top European un-contracted fighters to minimum 3 fight deals. This should guarantee some real local interest as the fight card will mix huge household name UFC favorites brought in to top the bill, with the best UK talent matched against continental Europeans rising stars.

It remains to be seen whether Pride will be inclined to support Cage Rage by shipping in some Japanese favorites to provide a viable alternative promotion. If it fails to do so, in all likelihood the British MMA fan will be spending their hard-earned cash traveling to watch the UFC events, and resign most other promotions to the second division.

With the British MMA scene presently taking off in such a huge way – Cage Rage had to switch venues from the Wembley Conference Centre to the Arena for shows from 2006 after selling out to 8,000 plus fans show after show – the UFC appear to be timing their return to UK shores perfectly.

British teams are also becoming more established with outfits such as: London Shootfighters (Lee Murray and Jean Silva); Elite Fighting Systems (Cage Rage fighter school producing fighters such as: Brad Pickett and Mark Epstein); Wolfs Lair (Mike Bisping); Rough House (Paul Daley), able to provide homegrown talent that pose a realistic threat to top European imports and the household UFC names.

Alongside these teams, more and more MMA gyms are springing up on a monthly basis, in the past 12 months high ranking UK pro’s such as Sol Gilbert and Jess Liaudin have both set up their own MMA academies. The expectation is that the British MMA scene is very much on the way up and is likely to provide another revenue stream for Zuffa, as they embark on their quest for global domination of the combat sports world.

posted by Full Contact Fighter @ 8:00 pm
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