|Venue: London’s O2 Arena Date: Saturday, 16 March|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 20:00 GMT and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.|
Liverpool’s UFC welterweight contender Darren Till says he will not be feeling the pressure when he faces dangerous veteran Jorge Masvidal in the main event at UFC London on Saturday.
Till is back in action for the first time since losing out to Tyron Woodley in his welterweight world title tilt in September last year.
And, despite his desire to bounce back from a defeat to the now-former world champion, the 26-year-old is feeling composed heading into the bout at the O2 Arena.
“I’m putting everything on the line for my wellbeing and for what I set out to do,” said Till. “I don’t worry about the pressure.
“I don’t think about those things. I think about how I want to perform, and I want to perform for you guys.”
Till raised the roof on a memorable night in Liverpool last summer with victory over two-time title challenger Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and says he expects another electric atmosphere when he steps into the octagon in the capital.
“It is unbelievable to be on home turf,” he said.
“I know the fans are going to go mental – well, I hope and pray that they are. But it does add that extra bit of energy for you. It’s like, ‘Ah! It’s home!'”
With former interim champion Colby Covington and former world champion Woodley potentially set to face off in a long-awaited grudge match later in the year, Till says an impressive win this weekend could propel him into another shot at the title, this time against Nigeria’s newly crowned champion Kamaru Usman.
“If Colby and Woodley sort their differences, that leaves me to fight Kamaru, if I’m thinking right,” he said.
“This is how I want it to happen, so hopefully, yeah. But in the welterweight division, you don’t know what’s happening, it’s so stacked.”
‘Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges’
Till’s opponent Masvidal’s fighting moniker of ‘Gamebred’ is certainly well-earned.
The American, 34, has competed in 45 professional fights and has only been stopped by strikes once – long before he joined the UFC.
But, despite his proven ability to avoid being KO’d inside the octagon, Masvidal says he has no intention of letting Saturday’s bout with Till go all the way to the scorecards.
“It has to be [a finish],” he said.
“I’ve had my fair share of bad decisions in foreign places. It doesn’t work good when it goes into the judges’ hands when you’re fighting a Korean in South Korea, or a Japanese fighter in Japan.
“It doesn’t always go the way you want it to go when it goes into the judges’ hands.”
Despite his wariness towards the judges, Masvidal expects a solid reception from the fight fans in England, who he says are “well educated” when it comes to appreciating true fighting talent.
“I don’t think it’s because of my good looks that they love me,” he joked. “I think it’s because they’re so well-educated in fighting.
“England’s seen a good amount of fighters, so I think they understand what fighting is, and they know what a good fighter is. They know somebody who’s going to give them their money’s worth.
“I come from a humble place and I’ll make sure everybody gets their money’s worth come Saturday.”
Edwards hints at shock submission
Also looking to make an impression in London is Birmingham welterweight Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards, who faces dangerous Icelandic grappling ace Gunnar Nelson in the night’s co-main event bout.
And, despite recognising his opponent’s stellar ground-fighting credentials, the ever-improving Edwards – who is riding a six-fight win streak heading into the contest – says he might just shock the MMA world and submit the noted submission specialist on Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and proving to the world just how good I am,” said the 27-year old.
“What if I subbed him out? That would be so good.
“I’m so good on the ground now, it’s unbelievable. I feel I’ve improved so much more my ground [game] than my striking.”
Victory in any form for Edwards would extend his impressive winning streak in the octagon to seven fights.
And the Brit says that run of form should be good enough to warrant a shot at the winner of the night’s main event later this year.
“I think after beating Gunnar Nelson I deserve the winner of the main event,” he stated. “I’m prepared for war, but I want the finish.”
“I think that’s my next step: June or July, get the winner of the main event, beat them, then get my rematch with Usman.”
Wood happy with being ‘The Prospect’
One of the most excited fighters heading into fight night is former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion Nathaniel ‘The Prospect’ Wood, who burst onto the UFC scene with back-to-back victories in his first two fights inside the octagon.
Wood, 25, is looking to complete a hat-trick and continue his perfect start to life in the UFC with victory over in-form Mexican Jose Quinonez.
“This is home. This feels like where I’m supposed to be,” said the proud Londoner.
“As I always say, when I very first started this sport, this was my main goal – to be on this London O2 card. And I’m finally here.”
Wood’s first experience of the UFC at The O2 was as a fan, when he watched British legend Brad ‘One Punch’ Pickett in action against Neil Seery back in 2014.
Now he will walk out to the octagon at the venue for the very first time with Pickett – now his coach and mentor – in his corner.
And, after winning his first two fights inside the octagon, Wood says he’s happy to stick with his famous nickname, ‘The Prospect,’ even if he progresses up the ranks to become a bantamweight contender in the UFC.
“I don’t know, I think I’m going to stick with it until I get that gold strap,” he grinned. “I’ve spent too much money on T-shirts, so it’s going to have to stay with me!”
Also on the main card
The British involvement on the main card also features London-born welterweight Danny ‘Hot Chocolate’ Roberts, who is looking to complete a hat-trick of consecutive wins with victory over London-based Brazilian Claudio Silva.
And the main card at The O2 will kick off with a battle for Welsh bragging rights, as fan-friendly middleweight strikers Jack Marshman and John Phillips face off.