The UFC makes its annual return to London this Saturday and brings with it an outstanding card, spearheaded by two huge welterweight clashes that could each have a potentially thunderous impact on the division.
The main event features the return of British star Darren Till in his first bout since a failed bid for the title back in September at UFC 228. He squares off with South Florida-bred brawler Jorge Masvidal in what will be his first bout since losing a unanimous decision to Stephen Thompson in November of 2017 at UFC 217.
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A post shared by John Barry (@fightographer) on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:18am PST
There are a number of X-factors in this fight that could not only dictate the result, but also the pacing of the bout and strategies of each fighter. To start, both men are coming off of defeats, two consecutively in Masvidal’s case, while Till is coming off of his first career loss altogether. With both men seemingly desperate in search of a victory, how does each approach the bout? Tyron Woodley dominated Till in his last fight, a performance which saw Darren land all of one strike in the two round-affair. With a shadow of that subpar performance so fresh in our memories, will Till be more aggressive against Masvidal, possibly attack the way he did when he fought Donald Cerrone? Perhaps, but it likely wouldn’t be in his best interest against Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal’s gameplan in every fight is seemingly pretty obvious. He wants to scrap. The question is, will his opponent let him? Stephen Thompson was able to neutralize him completely by effectively keeping him at distance, using his blitz karate style mixing in short range jabs and leg and body kicks.
While Till doesn’t have the exact same style as Thompson, he does have a similar style most effective when he’s able to keep distance and land explosive shots. Till finds his most success when able to consistently land the counter left hand and hold his opponents at distance using his lethal Muay Thai strikes, most notably, his elbows. If Masvidal is content to trade shots with Till, he runs a large risk of getting clipped with either.
A post shared by Till (@darrentill2) on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:16am PDT
Despite Darren Till’s more polished martial arts style, Jorge Masvidal has certainly had success in his trade. While the brawling style isn’t always effective in a matchup like this, Masvidal has had success in his career against distance fighters. When he is able to brawl, Masvidal also carries plenty of power in his short range punches. In his fight with Donald Cerrone, Masvidal was able to effectively close distance and shut down Cerrone’s kicking game, forcing Cerrone to trade blows and dirty box, ultimately leading to Masvidal being able to utilize his power in its most effective way and winning the fight by knockout. While the Thompson fight was a struggle for Masvidal, he was able to land shots the few times he was able to close distance.
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A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Sep 5, 2017 at 12:36pm PDT
The co-main event features another welterweight clash between Birmingham native Leon Edwards, against Icelandic standout Gunnar Nelson.
A post shared by Gunnar Nelson (@gunninelson) on Mar 14, 2019 at 6:49am PDT
Edwards is coming off of a win over, who else, Donald Cerrone in his last bout, back in June at UFC Fight Night 132. Nelson is coming off of a victory over Alex Oliveira at UFC 231 back in December.
On paper, this is a striker vs. grappler matchup. Edwards has a kickboxing base and carries power in both hands, while Nelson holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Renzo Gracie and is a former IBJJF world champion. Again, on paper, this is a kickboxer vs. a grappler. In reality, this is a battle of incredibly well rounded mixed martial artists looking to take a step into elite contendership with a victory.
Leon Edwards is one of the hottest up and coming contenders in the entire sport at the moment. He currently rides a 6-fight winning streak, with his last loss coming by way of decision to current and newly minted welterweight king Kamaru Usman in December of 2015. The former BAMMA welterweight champion is not only a high level kickboxer rich with knockout power, but also possesses a deceptively slick ground game. In his fight against Peter Sobotta, incidentally at UFC London in 2018, Edwards showed that he can hold his own on the ground, as he was able to control the BJJ black belt Sobotta for three rounds before getting the TKO victory late in the third. He will also hold a significant size and length advantage in this fight, being a former middleweight.
A post shared by Leon "Rocky" Edwards (@leon_edwardsmma) on Mar 14, 2019 at 12:27am PDT
Despite Edwards having a solid ground game, he’ll likely want to still keep this fight standing against Gunnar Nelson, who, as mentioned before, holds a BJJ black belt and is one of the slickest submission fighters in the entire UFC. Nelson has only lost three times in his career and only once has he been finished, controversially, against Santiago Ponzinibbio where Nelson appeared to get poked in the eye right before Ponzinibbio landed the fatal blow. Nelson doesn’t get put away. He’s a great grappler, he’s got a great chin, and he’s also a shotokan karate black belt, so he can compete in the standing exchanges as well. If there was one large disadvantage in this fight for Nelson, it would likely be his size. Nelson is a small welterweight, and has said on multiple occasions that he doesn’t really cut weight to fight at 170. Admittedly, in my opinion, he’s better suited as a lightweight, but if he continues to find success at welterweight, than there would obviously be no reason to drop down and get involved in the cluster that currently is the UFC’s lightweight division.
A post shared by Gunnar Nelson (@gunninelson) on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:32am PDT
Till is currently ranked 3rd in the division while Masvidal is ranked 11th. Edwards is ranked 10th, Nelson is 13th. With a new welterweight champion in Kamaru Usman and some new blood rising in the division, the winners of these fights will likely be involved in a title eliminator at the very least in their next bout. These are exactly the kinds of fights that juice up excitement in divisions, new contenders looking for their chance to dethrone the new, seemingly unstoppable king.