Any return to England for the UFC is a positive for one reason; early start times. While the card itself lacks in big names, there are many gifted prospects occupying the preliminary card, along with a four-fight main card offering an assortment of interesting matches. Afternoon MMA with a series of action fights has historically been a winning formula as far as entertainment is concerned, so let's talk main card match-ups.
Arnold Allen vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Allen, England's own, is promising more for his depth of skill at such a young age than for his (admittedly quite good) physical gifts. He's fundamentally solid everywhere, his game engineered to win rounds in all phases; his southpaw striking is anchored by his sharp jab and exquisite 1-2. He's a consummate pressure fighter, looking to force opponents into the fence, where he can wear them down with mix-ups; his multiple options and willingness to use all of his tools within any given sequence is the backbone of his identity as a fighter.
Allen doesn't hold imposing ability in any one area, but as his fundamentals improve and his decision-making develops, he has shown that he possesses the sort of mentality and approach which enable a rounded style to work.
"Mr. Finland" isn't quite so subtle. Amirkhani is an incredible athlete, large for the division but lightning fast and, far from a generalist like Allen, he is very clearly defined as a top control specialist.
His chain-wrestling is deceptively technical for a fighter who relies so heavily on dynamic entries for completing takedowns, and once on top, he has the flow of a natural ground fighter, easily redistributing his weight on the fly in order to pass guard or land ground strikes more effectively.
Every moment spent in open space favors the more technical, process-oriented Allen, whose pace and consistency should allow him to control the neutral exchanges. However, at this point in their careers, it feels unlikely that the Englishman will shut down Amirkhani's A-game consistently enough to get the win here.
Brad Pickett vs. Marlon Vera
In what will be his retirement fight, #BradPickett finds himself opposite the 24-year-old #MarlonVera on a week's notice, after original opponent #HenryBriones was forced out of the bout due to an injury.
Vera is an aggressive submission hunter with a serviceable ranged striking game, but he should be at a decided wrestling disadvantage against "One Punch," and where Vera is most vulnerable, the pocket, is Pickett's preferred area of operations.
The Englishman has always gravitated toward the in-fight, despite his strong positional grappling and takedown game. Head movement and a veteran's sense for tendencies have enabled him to become one of the bantamweight division's most skilled pocket boxers, with his grappling serving as a backup plan in case his striking approach fails.
Pickett's recent skid cannot be dismissed, but he should have advantages in every phase of the game, with the skillset to contest the fight in any phase he chooses. There is no reason to expect that he will lose this fight.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Alan Jouban
Nelson is one of the most dangerous ground specialists in the sport, a prodigious grappler who has applied his skills expertly in an MMA context.
His top side passing is second only to #DemianMaia's within the welterweight division, and he fights with incredible killer instinct. He looks for fight-changing offense within every phase, and is most threatening when he hurts an opponent.
Whether on the feet or with ground strikes, once Nelson hurts you, he's a whirling dervish of athletic scrambling and textbook submission sequences.
His striking game shares many qualities with more traditional karate stylists; he attacks primarily on straight lines, moving in and out of range in quick bursts, and possesses a good sense for range. He operates with blinding speed and, despite his small stature for the division, carries a great deal of punching power.
Jouban is a more bare-bones fighter, but he has quietly developed into an accomplished technician. A natural brawler, he is durable, powerful and explosive, at his most comfortable while moving forward.
In his victory over "Platinum" Mike Perry at #UFCSacramento, he showed that he is willing to adopt the role of the out-fighter and play a thinking man's game against a stylistically difficult opponent, and that approach could serve him well here.
Nelson, as dangerous as he is, doesn't really have much beyond that. He often drops rounds to inferior fighters on inactivity alone, waiting patiently for an opportunity which never presents itself.
It's far from a perfect comparison, but Jouban, with his durability, defensive wrestling and acumen in the pocket, isn't completely unlike Rick Story, who bested Nelson decisively in 2014.
It's a closer fight than many are predicting, and if Jouban can avoid early blitzes and takedown attempts, he should be able to figure out Nelson's timing and punish him in a way similar to that of Story. That said, he would need to be essentially perfect, and it seems more likely than not that Nelson perseveres and finds an opening, though it may take him a while. Once he finds it, the rest is a formality.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Corey Anderson
The light heavyweight division is perpetually short on non-established talent, and the main event of UFC London promises to pit two such talents against each other.
At 37 and with a career spanning nine years, #JimiManuwa isn't exactly a prospect, but he looks sharper with each subsequent appearance, and a recent upset win over Ovince St. Preux at #UFC204 reshaped his perception within the division. At 205, one is never very far from title contention, and Manuwa could find himself in a title eliminator bout with a win here.
#CoreyAnderson, meanwhile, seemed to be a bonafide light heavyweight prospect, that rarest of things, until a couple of disappointing losses derailed any hype he may have picked up along the way.
Anderson is consistent and dedicated in a division full of dynamos, but that isn't necessarily a strength. Lacking the tools to finish fights with regularity, he allows weaker competition to stay in the bout and, potentially, find moments for fight-changing offense.
At his best, Anderson has the takedown arsenal and consistent volume on the feet to completely take a more impactful fighter out of his element, and the "Poster Boy" is about as pleasing a stylistic clash as one could hope for.
Manuwa is a ruthless power striker, most effective when he is able to force an opponent to be reactive. From there, he mixes up his crushing hooks and knees, to the head and body, to keep opponents off-balanced.
This is perhaps the most difficult fight on the card to pick. Anderson is quite hittable, but tends to get caught most frequently when he is advancing, often walking directly onto counters. Against Manuwa, he is likely to spend the ranged striking exchanges moving away from his foe, and from there, he probably just needs to play the clock.
Conditioning has been an issue for Manuwa, and this is Anderson's best path to victory. If he can stay conscious long enough for fatigue to catch up to Manuwa, this is Anderson's fight to lose.