It has only been eight months but it feels like longer as the UFC finally returns to England, with Manchester hosting the first defence of its home town fighter, UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. The night will be long as the action starts at 11pm but the price is small for the best card the UK hasÂ seen in many a year. Here's the best of the main card with odds provided courtesy ofÂ 5DimesLines.com.
Stefan Struve vs. Daniel Omielanczuk
The last time Stefan Struve fought on these shores he was making short work of a relatively unknown heavyweight fighter by the name of Stipe Miocic. Little didÂ we know that hisÂ win over Miocic would set off a chain reaction that would see the giant Dutchman suffer a badly broken jaw at the hands of Mark Hunt, be diagnosed with a heart condition that sidelined him for over a year, and then lose an absolute snoozer to Jared Rosholt.
It's hard to say what the low point of that run was. A 16-second blitz of 'Bigfoot' Silva got the motor running again and now 'The Skyskraper' looks to put together consecutive wins for the first time since 2012.
Daniel Omielanczuk makes his now customary appearance on a European UFC card after previous appearances in London, Glasgow and Krakow. His reward for taking a late notice fight? A bout against the highest-ranked fighter that he's ever faced. Struve is a relatively lowly ranked #12, but it's a substantial step up from previous opposition and is an opportunity to either bridge the gap or expose the gulf between the top 15Â and everyone thereafter.
I wasn't too thrilled when Magomedov was scheduled to fight Struve and my enthusiasm for his withdrawal was substantially tempered when Omielanczuk was named as a replacement. It's not a fight I am looking forward to but I can at least hope it ends early. If the bell sounds for the second round, then you'll find me at the bar.
Struve can hopefully finish this early and keep the crowd on their feet. If it goes the distance, then someone may need to replay Baba O'Riley to wake the crowd. Sadly, I favour the latter.
Recommendation: Fight Goes the Distance â 2 units at +135 (11/8) @ 5DimesLines
Jimi Manuwa vs. Ovince St. Preux
Jimi Manuwa makes his first appearance on home territory in the UFC since an ill-fated bout with Alex Gustafsson in London in 2014. When the fight was booked Manuwa was positioned as a beast who had finished 14 foesÂ inside the distance, the last four coming by retirement, injury or doctors stoppage. His brutal power gave him a huge advantage against lesser fighters. But against Gustafsson he came unstuck as the top five-ranked challenger finished him in the second to hand the Londoner his first career loss.
Ovince St. Preux is something of an enigma in the UFC. In many fights he has looked hugely impressive, but when offeredÂ a step up in class against anyone in the top five he's been found wanting. Decision losses to Ryan Bader and Jon Jones, the latter when stepping in as a last minute opponent, fall either side of a submission loss to Glover Teixeira. He has achieved seven UFC wins, but when compared to his losses they're against distinctly lower class opposition.
This is a tough fight to call on paper. On one hand Manuwa can put anyone to sleep with his power, on the other hand his cardio is something that can be exposed by the athleticism of OSP. OSP simply doesn't get put away early and if he can weather the storm then his otherworldly cardio can win over Manuwa for a clear decision win.
Recommendation: Over 1.5 Rounds â 2 units at +115 (6/5) @ 5DimesLines
Gegard Mousasi vs. Vitor Belfort
This is a strange match-up whereby the official rankings are completely reversed with the betting odds. Gegard Mousasi is another [near] legendary fighter, one that has fought around the globe. He's held belts in Dream, Cage Warriors and Strikeforce but, despite these achievements, he has never been close to UFC gold. A win here would surely put him only one fight away from correcting that.
Vitor Belfort, at 39, remains a threat to the majority of the division at 185lb. He's another legendary fighter who will no doubt have his legacy tarnished by his usage of TRT and other supplements. At the height of his TRT days calling his fight was simple âNo defende TRT Vitorâ. But since that was outlawed his form, physique and ability has somewhat diminished. As a result, his last two defeats have been by first round knockout. If Vitor doesn't finish you in the opening three minutes then he's a sitting duck.
With his skill-set, speed and mindset I simply cannot pick against Mousasi. But for a Hail Mary kick by Uriah Hall he would be 5-0 and occupying a top-five ranking. With Vitor at #5 and Mousasi at #9 expect that wrong to be righted. If he can avoid hurricane Belfort for the opening three minutes then Mousasi can finish 'The Phenom' late in the first or early in the second.
Recommendation: Mousasi Wins Inside the Distance â 2 units at -200 (1/2) @ 5DimesLines
Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson
When despatching Luke Rockhold in the opening round, taking the middleweightÂ title in the process, Michael Bisping cemented his legacy as one of the best 185lb'ers to ever grace the Octagon. Derided for many years as a loudmouth Brit who perennially fell short, he fulfilled his destiny in a year of the shocks. Four wins equals his best ever run in the UFC, a feat he has achieved twice since debuting in 2006. A win here would cap off his best spell and that title defence that he's been desperate to make in his home town.
When you think of MMA legends you think of Dan Henderson. The veteran of virtually every major MMA promotion that has ever existed finally gets his shot at UFC gold. Since returning in 2013 he's strung together a less than impressive record of 3-6, including three in a row and at one point sitting at 1-5. A the ripe old age of 46 this will be his last fight; win, lose or draw. It would be fitting if he went out as a champion, but also rather unjust.
Despite losing to Henderson seven years ago, Bisping is a heavy favourite, and rightly so. No spring chicken himself he's facing a man nine years his senior, and that's saying something when you are 37! Hendo has the famous 'H-Bomb', and it can go off at any time, but Bisping is riding the crest of a wave and has never lost at home.
There have beenÂ shocks aplenty this year, but this would be one of the biggest. I favour Mike to get it done inside the distance and give the Manchester faithful something to sing about at 5am on Sunday morning.
Recommendation: Bisping Wins Inside the Distance â 3 units at -115 (9/10) @ 5DimesLines