January 26, 2023

When the big show rolls back into town in March, it will be seven long years since the UK played host to a major UFC pay-per-view card.

UFC 286 has been announced as the numbered event on March 18 at London’s O2 Arena and Leon Edwards is expected to headline a trilogy bout against Kamaru Usman.

It has all the makings of the biggest MMA night ever seen on British soil. In 2016, the last numbered card on these banks, Michael Bisping defended his middleweight title in a five round bout with old foe Dan Henderson in Manchester.

So much has changed in the years since then, so what was the UFC landscape like back then, what were the sport’s biggest stars and where are they now?

Michael Bisping defeated Dan Henderson (left) when the UK last had a numbered UFC card

Michael Bisping defeated Dan Henderson (left) when the UK last had a numbered UFC card

It makes sense to start with the main event. The Manchester Arena was rocking after a crowd fueled by a day and night of booze stayed up into the early hours to accommodate the American TV audience.

Bisping had become the first-ever British UFC champion and was rewarded with a title defense against Henderson, the American veteran who knocked him out earlier.

Bisping survived a tough early knockdown and snuck back in typical style to win a decision. It was Henderson’s last fight as he retired, as the champion lost to Georges St-Pierre.

He fought one more time, getting a bad knockout from Kelvin Gastelum before taking on his role as an expert and analyst for the UFC.

Until this year, Bisping was the only British fighter to win the title in the UFC

Until this year, Bisping was the only British fighter to win the title in the UFC

None of the co-main event combatants are still in the promotion either. Gegard Mousasi, who won over Vitor Belfort via TKO with a head kick, only had two more fights in the UFC before jumping ship to join Bellator, where he went on to become champion.

Belfort, meanwhile, would only win one more fight, leaving after a savage forward KO by Lyoto Machida in his final fight.

He did some exhibition boxing and knocked out Evander Holyfield.

Neither Gegard Mousasi (right) nor Vitor Belfort (left) remain under contract with the promotion

Neither Gegard Mousasi (right) nor Vitor Belfort (left) remain under contract with the promotion

Leon Edwards fought for the sixth time in the UFC on the pre-lims of UFC 204.

What a journey ‘Rocky’ has been on since those early days. He defeated Albert Tumenov on the night and had been defeated two fights earlier in his first clash with Usman.

Next year will come full circle, this time with Edwards as the headliner against the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’, who competes as champion at home.

He’s won every match he’s competed in since UFC 204, finally becoming Britain’s second UFC champion this year in remarkable fashion with Usman’s instantly iconic KO.

Leon Edwards sent Albert Tumenov to the UFC 204 pre-lims in 2016

Leon Edwards sent Albert Tumenov to the UFC 204 pre-lims in 2016

Edwards won the title by knocking out Kamaru Usman this year and they will fight again

Jimi Manuwa knocked out Ovince St Preux on the main card and the heavy-handed Brit retired in 2019 after four consecutive defeats. St Preux remains an active UFC fighter, but has failed to win two consecutive bouts since 2017.

Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann took center stage this year, both winning in style at the O2 shows in March and July respectively.

They will most likely be featured at UFC 286 in March, but where were the Next Gen fighters in 2016?

Pimblett was the newly crowned Cage Warriors champion and made a real name for himself on the domestic circuit.

While McCann had only fought professionally in MMA four times. She would sign for the UFC two years later and go through a roller coaster of ups and downs before enjoying an incredible 2022 with two sensational knockouts.

Pimblett is of course the co-main event for UFC 282 this weekend and is emerging as a huge star, still undefeated in the UFC.

Paddy Pimblett (pictured) has become a UFC star and is undefeated in the organization so far

Paddy Pimblett (pictured) has become a UFC star and is undefeated in the organization so far

The UFC itself went through a major transition period in late 2016, the last time the UK hosted a pay-per-view event.

The company had just been sold that summer for $4 billion in the strongest indication that it would become the international behemoth it is today.

Dana White remained in his post as UFC president, but it was the year the Fertitta brothers made money and walked away with an incredible profit after transforming the organization.

The balance of power in the cage has also changed significantly in the intervening five years.

In October 2016, Conor McGregor was fresh off his Nate Diaz rematch victory

In October 2016, Conor McGregor was fresh off his Nate Diaz rematch victory

Conor McGregor was almost at his peak after getting revenge on Nate Diaz and being just a month away from his best performance in demolition of Eddie Alvarez to become UFC two-weight champion.

Since then he has won just once, beating Donald Cerrone and breaking his leg in a second straight loss to Dustin Poirier last year. His return is scheduled for next year and, as always, the date, opponent and venue are eagerly awaited.

In 2016, Demetrious Johnson was the pound-for-pound king.

He would fight four more times before leaving to join ONE Championship and now Alexander Volkanovski is on top of the pile. The Australian had not even fought in the UFC in October 2016.

Other big names were still on the scene. Khabib Nurmagomedov was the number 1 contender in lightweight who would go on to prove himself as a formidable champion, retiring undefeated two years ago.

And Ronda Rousey was on her career comeback, still licking her wounds from the Holly Holm knockout and preparing for what would be her last fight in the UFC, being destroyed by Amanda Nunes in December.

Israel Adesanya, now one of the UFC’s biggest stars – albeit recently dethroned as middleweight champion – was still making his way in MMA.

Israel Adesanya (pictured) still found its way through fighting in China in 2016

Israel Adesanya (pictured) still found its way through fighting in China in 2016

He fought in China and had less than a dozen matches on his resume.

None of the current UFC champions topped the stack in 2016, with Nunes and Stipe Miocic the only ones still competing at a high level.

The landscape has changed dramatically both inside and outside the octagon since the UFC’s last numbered event in the UK.

Next March will be a celebration of emerging British talent, particularly Edwards, who is desperate to follow in Bisping’s footsteps by securing a glorious first title defense at home.

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