GiveMeSport live from The 02 Arena
Number one contender at light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson served a timely reminder of why fight fans are clamouring for a rematch with champion Jon Jones tonight, knocking out Jimi Manuwa in the main event of the UFC's return to London with a brutal second-round stoppage.
Manuwa went into the fight boasting a flawless professional record that had never seen the London native go past the second round, but Gustafsson saw off that challenge with a knockout that was nothing short of sensational.
The 'Mauler' scored an early takedown in the first round and had an advantage on the ground, before giving another showcase of his power and precision to end the scrap one minute and 18 seconds into round two.
Manuwa looked to be working his way into a standing slugfest in the second stanza, but was caught by a giant knee to the chin and soon succumbed to a barrage of slick, savage strikes that left referee Marc Goddard with no choice but to end the contest, just after the 'Poster Boy's head bounced off the mat.
UFC pound-for-pound king Jones then got a verbal reminder to match that impressive display from Gustafsson, who took the microphone to make it very clear that a rematch of their epic title bout is still firmly in his sights, an argument I for one would not like to find fault with.
For the vast majority of 15,000 fans in the o2 Arena a loss for Manuwa will serve as a disappointment, although the vicious striker was making a clear step up in class and will live to fight another day.
Elsewhere on a busy night of action there was a first win at flyweight for East-Londoner Brad Pickett, although as per usual 'One Punch' enjoyed an eventful evening with plenty of scares against late replacement Neil Seery.
Pickett went into his debut at 125lbs with everything to lose, expected to deal with Irish veteran replacement with relative ease and in his usual thrill-a-minute style to press home title aspirations.
Seery was in no way overawed by stepping into the Octagon the for the first time though, with the 35-year-old happy to trade early on and landing successfully with a pair of hard shots.
Pickett recognised the danger and quickly took the fight to the mat when the opportunity arose, accompanied by enough shouts of 'WOO' from the crowd to make even the catchphrase's king Ric Flair blush.
Seery saw out the opening round comfortably and began the second by edging a standing exchange with a clever right hook, staying compact and landing with surprising regularity.
With the pressure on Pickett scored an important takedown late in round two, but the fight between England and Ireland was still very much up for grabs heading into the final stanza.
A brutal display of boxing kicked off the decisive third round, until Pickett was given time to re-cooperate after being caught by an eye-poke.
Pickett recovered and once again scooped Seery to the floor with a takedown just when it was urgently required. In the end it came to a question of taste for the three judges, would they favour Seery's commitment to striking or the work-rate and consistent takedowns from Pickett?
Thankfully for the home crowd it was Pickett who got the nod with a unanimous decision victory, moving into the flyweight division with the same kind of all-action output that has made him such a firm favourite of fight fans and UFC president Dana White.
Icelandic welterweight Gunnar Nelson kicked off the main card and did so in some style, dismantling Russian sambo machine Omar Akhmedov with alarming ease.
Nelson pressed the action from the outset and was rewarded when a crisp strike caught Akhmedov on the chin, allowing the Icelander to gain top position thanks to a rapid mount following up on the floor.
From there Nelson took his time and had the precision to match his patience, landing punishing elbows before switching to a choke that left Akhmedov with no alternative but to tap out or go to sleep.
Nelson's third successive UFC victory maintained his unbeaten recond and in some style, showing his wide array of skills by securing a guillotine choke while covered in a smattering of Akhmedov's blood, that makes the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt one to watch without question in the weltwerweight division.
A brilliant nights of fights was let down by a frustrating co-main event, which saw Michael Johnson do more than enough to edge Melvin Guillard without managing to coax a proper scrap from his Florida rival.
Johnson started by backing up his more experienced opponent, although any chance of building momentum was disrupted by a kick straight to the groin.
From there the opening round was a touch tame, as both men jostled for position without landing a telling strike in a difficult round to score for the judges.
Round two following a similarly frustrating pattern, as Johnson probed while still maintaining enough distance to stop a famously-explosive Guillard providing a problem.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity Johnson connected with something meaningful in the final few seconds of round two, rocking Guillard back with a heavy shot to the chin.
Guillard finally came out firing early in round three but the bood reigning down from disappointed fans regardless, until Johnson gave them something to shout about by landing a barrage of punches with his opponent pressed up against the cage.
Ultimately Johnson did more than enough to secure a third-successive victory in the Octagon, although the fight was without question the most underwhelming of the evening.
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