Here’s a look at the athletes who elevated their profiles the most with their work in the cage on Saturday night at Wembley Arena in London, England.
Normally, I wouldn’t think about including the main event winner in this space, but here’s the thing:
In notching his 20th consecutive victory and extending his unbeaten streak to 31 straight fights on Saturday night, Barao established himself as one of the very best fighters in the sport today.
The talented Brazilian adapted to Michael McDonald over the course of the fight, and finished the promising young American with clinical precision in the fourth round. He’s likely to be favoured against whomever he faces next, including injured bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, which means he’s reached “elite champion” level.
Though we don’t turn the spotlight on the star of the show all that often in Breakthroughs, a performance that moves you into the pantheon of greats into the sports today has to be acknowledged.
After the first round of his fight with Ryan Jimmo, there was no way anyone would have expected Te-Huna to land on this list. The heavy-handed New Zealander was dropped with a massive headkick, and spent the majority of the first round getting battered by his Canadian foe.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Jimmo attempting to win his 18th consecutive contest — Te Huna bounced back between rounds, turned the tables, and dominated the final two rounds on the way to collecting his fourth consecutive win.
Most fighters wouldn’t have survived the headkick. Others would have been finished by the ground-and-pound. Very few endure that punishment, and then flip the script completely. With a 5-1 record in the UFC, the surging light-heavyweight showed he’s a darkhorse contender on Saturday night.
Forte was disappointing in his UFC debut last October, dropping a welterweight contest to Sergio Moraes at UFC 153. Moving down to lightweight this time around, the Team Nogueira fighter showed he’s a much more talented competitor than we saw last time around.
The Brazilian got the better of Terry Etim on Saturday, pressing the pace from the outset, putting the Liverpool native on his heels. As the fight wore on, Forte continued to distance himself from his British challenger, keeping Etim off-balance with his striking, and showing throughout that he is someone to keep an eye on moving forward, even in the exceptionally deep lightweight division.
“The Little Axe” became a fan favourite during his time on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter. Back in September, he dropped a close and questioned decision to Akira Corassani in his post-TUF debut, earning further admiration from the UFC audience despite the setback.
Saturday night, Ogle scored his first official UFC win (and the ninth victory of his career) by surviving an early scare against Josh Grispi before controlling the former featherweight contender and earning a unanimous decision victory.
Charismatic and charming, the tattooed Team Kaobon fighter showed improved ground skills in working his way out of a sticky triangle choke before flipping the script on Grispi and outworking him on the ground over the final two frames. Just 24 years old, Ogle shows a great deal of potential, and should be afforded both the opportunity to develop on a natural timetable and future time in the spotlight, especially as the UFC continues to return to the United Kingdom.
There was a lot of hype draped off Watson when he made his UFC debut last September. Unfortunately for “Kong” (and his fans), Brad Tavares out-worked the former BAMMA middleweight champion, and the initial impression UFC fans got of Watson was less than stellar.
Saturday night, the 30-year-old Southampton native redeemed himself with an entertaining performance opposite Stanislav Nedkov. The duo took home Fight of the Night honours and Watson added a Knockout of the Night bonus as well after stopping the Bulgarian wrestler with a series of knees and elbows from the clinch late in the second round.
Watson stepped into the spotlight even further during his post-fight interview, where he called testosterone replacement therapy an epidemic, and challenged anyone using TRT to step into the cage with him next.
If his performance against Nedkov wasn’t enough to get people to notice, speaking his mind on the controversial practice in the middle of the Octagon probably did the trick.