The key storylines heading into UFC 286.
The UFC marks its return to London this Saturday, March 18 at UFC 286, live from the O2 Arena in London, United Kingdom. The main event sees Britain's own Leon Edwards (20-3, 1NC) put his welterweight title on the line against an old foe and former 170-pound ruler Kamaru Usman (20-2). The main event will conclude the trilogy between the two, with the score currently settled at one apiece.
Along with the monumental main event, the rest of the card sure promises to be packed full of action thanks to the UFC booking many British fighter that are sure to get a huge ovation as they make their way towards the octagon. The London crowd will be treated to a multitude of highly anticipated bouts, each one with their own intriguing storylines. Below, you'll find all the pre-event facts you need to sound like an MMA expert come this Saturday night.
Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3
Edwards is only the UFC's second British champion ever and he will join Michael Bisping as the only other British champion to defend his title on home soil. Bisping successfully defended his middleweight belt back in 2016 at UFC 204 against Dan Henderson as Edwards looks to improve this record to 2-0 for British champions.
Usman was handed just his second professional loss and first ever in the UFC at UFC 278 when he dropped the belt to Edwards. His 15-fight win streak heading into UFC 278 is the second longest in UFC history behind Anderson Silva's of 16, and unlike Silva, Usman will be hoping to win the immediate rematch he was granted and become a two-time welterweight champion.
Speaking of immediate rematches, fighters trying to win their belt back immediately are 3-11 in UFC history. Only Randy Couture, Deiveson Figueiredo and Amanda Nunes managed to win their title back after losing it in the previous fight.
This will be the first time in UFC history that a trilogy at welterweight decides the fate of the 170-pound title. A trilogy fight did once decide an interim welterweight champion at UFC 79, when George St. Pierre defeated Matt Hughes for a second time to claim the interim strap.
Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev
Despite being one of the most entertaining fighters in the whole roster, Justin Gaethje's (23-4) record in the UFC sits at an underwhelming 6-4. He was an undefeated fighter prior to joining the UFC at 18-0 before losing his second bout in the promotion against former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez.
Rafale Fiziev (12-1) currently has the third longest active win-streak in the UFC's lightweight division with six straight wins. The only two ahead of him are current lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, who's won 12 in a row, and perennial contender Beneil Dariush, whose streak is at eight.
This fight should be the favorite to take the Fight of the Night bonus. Justin Gaethje holds six fight of the night bonuses and four more performance bonuses, whilst Fiziev has been awarded the fight of the night on two occasions as well as three performance bonuses on top of that. Gaethje has in fact always been on the receiving end of bonuses since joining the promotion, with 10 UFC fights and 10 performance bonuses to go along with it.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Bryan Barberena
Gunnar Nelson (18-5-1) is looking to become the welterweight division's outright record holder for most wins by submission. He is currently tied for the lead at six with Demian Maia and Chris Lyttle but would overtake them with seven if he were to get it done by submission.
Bryan Barberena (18-9) will be looking for his second 'short notice' win in his UFC career. Replacing Daniel Rodriguez who withdrew due to undisclosed reasons, Barberena will be hoping his short preparation will be enough to defeat Nelson, just like it was enough back in 2016, when he defeated Sage Northcutt on short notice despite being a massive underdog.
Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O'Neil
The biggest edge that Jennifer Maia (20-9) will hold over her younger opponent is the vast experience she has accumulated throughout her MMA career. She is a former Invicta FC flyweight champion, successfully defending her belt twice and holding a record of 4-2 in the promotion.
Casey O'Neill (9-0) remains the only undefeated fighter in the women's flyweight rankings. In fact, her 9 fight win streak, regardless of promotion, is the second longest in the women's flyweight division. A win would tie her for the longest win streak at the 125-pound division, joining Manon Fiorot and Erin Blanchfield on 10 straight wins.
Marvin Vettori vs Roman Dolidze
The overall skillset of Marvin Vettori (18-6-1) has led him to becoming a staple of the middleweight division over the past few years. Amongst active 185-pounders, Vettori currently sits at fourth for most octagon time, fifth for most strikes landed and most takedown landed, as well as second in significant strike defense, defending 63 percent of the significant strkes thrown his way.
Roman Dolidze's (12-1) four fight winning streak seems to be grabbing the attention of the rest of the middleweight division. His three knockout wins since joining the UFC is good enough to put him into the top three amongst active 185-pounders, and another knockout win would see him join former champion Israel Adesanya, amongst others, for the second most amongst active middleweights.
UFC 286 'rest of the card' facts
This will be the UFC's second pay-per-view event in England. The previous one was back in 2016 with UFC 204, when Michael Bisping defended his middleweight belt against Dan Henderson in the main event.
The card features 15 fights, with 11 of them containing a British fighter. Strangely enough, Edwards is the only British fighter to be featured on the main card.
A total of four former Cage Warriors champion will make the walk towards the octagon this Saturday. Jai Herbert, Jake Hadley and the debuting Christian Leroy Duncan will compete during the early prelims, whilst no.15 ranked featherweight Jack Shore will headline the featured preliminary bout.
Juliana 'Killer' Miller will make her full UFC debut since winning The Ultimate Fighter 30 back in August, 2022. Miller will be hoping to become the 10th TUF winner to go on and win a UFC title, joining a list including Forest Griffin, Kamaru Usman, and Carla Esparza to name a few.