The UFC has come to the UK no less than 25 times in the past two decades.
Beginning with ‘the Brawl at the Hall’ – yes, the Royal Albert Hall – in 2002, it was as experimental a venture as it was a peculiar anomaly in the genteel environment of Knightsbridge.
Over the years, events in London have had the happy habit of creating stars – there is a magical quality about the events here.
Michael Bisping, notably, was the catalyst for fans to descend on the Docklands in Greenwich for major fight nights in the early days.
From 2007 against Matt Hamill, to a battle royale with Anderson Silva nine years later on one of the most memorable nights in the sport.
As a belated UFC middleweight champion, Bisping remains the greatest star and most successful MMA fighter from British shores.
But even overseas fighters have made their mark in London, notably American Jorge Masvidal, who silenced the crowd with his stunning knockout of Liverpudlian Darren Till, the last time the UFC came here back in 2019.
Masvidal, who notoriously also sucker-punched British rival Leon Edwards backstage that evening after his brutal finish of Till, emerged from journeyman status to fight in huge contests. They included beating Ben Askren for the fastest KO in UFC history in five seconds with the flying knee from hell in Sin City – and then Nate Diaz.
Without his London appearance, it is arguable Masvidal, 37, might never have become the megastar he has undoubtedly become.
This weekend, given the resonance London has enjoyed within the UFC, Salford heavyweight Tom Aspinall has – and this is not overstating it – a massive opportunity in the main event to propel himself towards glory if he can legitimately deal with highly-ranked Alexander Volkov.
Aspinall, 28, could be just a couple of fights from title contention – and to have a young British heavyweight fighting for the UFC gold would be enormous.
But there are new legions of fighters for the aficionados to savour on this card too – Arnold Allen, well-established already, the popular and quirky Paddy Pimblett, or Molly McCann with an enticing back story and oodles of charisma.
Or even recounting tales of Bisping, now an elder statesman and commentator, who is in town for the ride and a new documentary on his life. It is an arena the Lancastrian loves to be in.
The history of the UFC in the UK – and indeed London – is emblematic of the growth of the MMA fight league itself.
From 2006 onwards, I covered the inexorable rise of The Ultimate Fighting Championship, its burgeoning popularity and continued move into mainstream media acceptance and onto the sporting landscape.
It might now seem effortless to outsiders. However, the UFC, and MMA as a whole, has had to fight to make a mark. It is now winning hands down.
Go back to June 2002 – when Zuffa had first bought the company – and it seemed a no-brainer to present the UFC to England, given the rich history of combat sports here and its loyal, passionate fight followers.
In retrospect, that chess move might have come too early from Zuffa. In reality, they needed to get the house in order in the US first.
There was something of a political backlash in the UK at the time. Yet that one show – ‘The Brawl At The Hall’ at UFC 38 – spawned a cottage industry in England, with Cage Rage and Cage Warriors taking advantage of the rapid surge in interest.
By 2009, as the UFC presented its 10th event in the British Isles, it was a sell-out. Indeed, opening day ticket sales for UFC 105 were the eighth best in the company’s history. MMA was called a ‘fad’. It continued to grow. They said it would go away. It continued to grow.
They said it would plateau yet the fans keep coming. The truth is, at its heart, MMA fans are drawn towards ‘authentic’ fighters and turn them into the real stars of the sport.
A star is born when the people decide. To name just three who have shone here – Till, Masvidal, Bisping – they are themselves through and through. There are many, many others of course.
We witness the struggle between two fighters as ‘kinetic chess’. We are wired for connection as fight fans. And following who you can really believe in has always been the way of the revolution, which is where the rolling wheels of MMA will always turn.
Let’s make it happen again in London.