By Ronan McEvoy
UFC 286 took place at the O2 Area in front of a buzzing crowd. This was the first UFC PPV in England since 2016.
Leon Edwards defeated Kamaru Usman by a majority decision to remain the welterweight champion. Similarly to their first fight, Edwards was able to outbox Usman in the first round and maintain the distance to avoid takedowns and clinches. Edwards used his low kicks to keep Usman at bay and focus on Usman’s bad knees.
Early in this fight, Usman was looking to the referee and complaining that Edwards was throwing dirty shots or using dirty tactics. Edwards was called out by the referee, Herb Dean, for hooking his fingers inside Usman’s gloves. This benefited Edwards as he was in the clinch with Usman, and this call forced the fighters to stand and box. Edwards did end up losing a point in the third round due to him deliberately grabbing the cage.
“I just found that funny,” said a senior UFC fan, Marc Cohen. “Usman is known for grabbing the cage and getting away with it. Especially in their last fight, so it was crazy to see Leon get called for it.”
Unlike their last fight, Edwards maintained his stamina throughout the fight. Their previous fight at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, Utah, known for being at sea level, can affect a fighter’s endurance as the fight progresses. Usman kept up the pressure and tried getting the fight to the mat, but Edwards was able to keep the fight on the feet as he defended takedowns and used his kicks.
The judges scored the fight 48-46, 48-46, and 47-47, giving Leon Edwards the victory in front of his home crowd.
The co-main event was a lightweight stand-up battle between Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev. Few fighters in the UFC are known to give the fans a show every time they fight, and Gaethje is one of them. From the start, these two met in the middle of the cage and threw bombs against each other. In the first round, Fiziev could push the tempo and keep Gaethje on his heels, and he moved forward and challenged Gaethje’s power.
However, the tide quickly turned as the second round started. After advice from his coach, Trevor Wittman, Gaethje could set up combinations and move more loosely as he kept his distance and landed some loud, powerful shots on Fiziev, which eventually opened up some cuts all over Fiziev’s face.
“That cut looked nasty,” said Chris Palko, a senior UFC fan. “I saw the picture on Instagram, and it looked so bad. I can’t believe they let him keep fighting. It was an awesome fight, though.”
In the third round, Gaethje was able to keep momentum and continue to land powerful combinations or an overhand right that echoed throughout the arena. The judges scored the fight 29-28, 29-28, and 28-28, giving Justin Gaethje the win by majority decision. Gaethje is looking to make one last run for the lightweight championship, and this win will move him in the right direction.
In the fight before the co-main event, we saw the return of Gunnar Nelson. Nelson last fought in March 2022 but had been dealing with injuries that kept him sidelined for three years. Nelson took on Bryan Barberena in a welterweight bout and could take Barberena down and submit him in the first round. This was the main card’s only finish, and this performance got Nelson an extra $50,000 as he won performance of the night.
“It was cool to see him in there again,” said Tyler Mulhern, a senior UFC fan. “I remember hearing about him because he trained with Conor McGregor. I watched some of the fights, and his ground game is insane. So I was glad to see him get a win.”
Jennifer Maia beat Casey O’Neill by unanimous decision after a three-round stand-up fight. Maia tried to get this fight on the ground a few times, but O’Neill was able to keep the fight on their feet. Maia could get a slight advantage in the stand-up as she narrowly outstroke O’Neil.
Marvin Vettori defeated Roman Dolidze by unanimous decision. Vettori looked sharp on his feet and was able to set up clean combos and outstroke Dolidze. This win gets Vettori closer to another shot at the middleweight championship.
The next UFC PPV will be UFC 287 on April 8 at the Miami-Dade arena in Miami. The main event will be the rematch between Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya for the middleweight championship. The main event will be a welterweight bout between Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal.