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Andy Watters finds there's no place like octagonside to take in UFC wars

Amanda Cooper (blue) and Anna Elmose (red) during Saturday's UFC fight night at Belfast's SSE Arena
Picture by Pacemaker 
Andy Watters at the SSE Arena

Strength, determination, pride… Inside all of us beats the heart of a fighter - UFC promo video

A MEXICAN wave was doing the rounds as Magnus Cedenblad and Jack Marshman battered each other in the octagon.

It had been replaced by a full-on ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole..’ by the time Marshman, who had blood streaming out of his right eye, decked the massive Swede with an equally massive right hand and then jumped on him, hammering him into submission with a salvo of headshots. The crowd roared as the referee jumped in to stop it.

This is UFC. Brutal and brilliant. I’d never been to a bill before and I must say I was very impressed with the skills, the thrills and the atmosphere - it’s not just about blood and men in tight pants. Conor McGregor was there, one of thousands of Dubs in the house and there were am-I-hearing-things renditions of ‘Come on you boys in green’ and ‘The fields of Athenry’ as everyone, ‘the Notorious’ included, got behind Dublin-based Russian Artem Lobov on the undercard,

Lobov apart, there were no Irish fighters - nevermind Belfast fighters - on the bill. Despite that, by 6.30pm the arena was full, the action was relentless and the fans were right into it from start to finish. A guy offered to trade his ticket for a private box for my press pass. “Free beer all night,” he said to sweeten the deal.

Of course, I had to turn him down because, free beer or no, there’s no place like octagonside and every fight on Saturday night was a good scrap - there were no young prospects versus journeymen to pad out this bill.

One of the early preliminaries matched Michigan’s Amanda ‘ABC’ Cooper against Denmark’s Anna ‘Panda’ Elmose. The Dane made her way to the Octogan with Whitney Houston’s spine-chilling, adrenalin inducing classic I Wanna Dance With Somebody pumping out in the background: "Oh, I wanna dance with somebody, I wanna feel the heat with somebody…"

She felt the heat from a few of Cooper’s kicks early on, but then she decked her with a well-timed straight right that left ABC cut over her left eye. The American’s peroxide blond hair was stained pink with blood as the second round began, but she is a tough cookie and had Elmose in a choke hold near the end of the round. In the third, ABC adopted stick-and-move tactics and secured an impressive points win.

Next up, there was a serious change in intensity. No Whitney Houston, no smiles, just the brooding, angry Kevin Lee who came to kick ass and did so against Russian Magomed Mustafaev. Lee is from Grand Rapids, Michigan the home town of Floyd Mayweather and just like ‘Money’ he likes to be himself at all times and if that means he upsets you, well ffff…

Magomed got things going when he hit him a kick in the stomach but Lee recovered and slammed him onto the canvas. Lee, ‘the Motown Phenom’, finally he got the submission he wanted and set off on a victory lap of the Octagon while Magomed received medical treatment.

The ring announcer approached. “What a performance, first off lets…" Lee interupted: “Man, f**k all that. This is a division full of a bunch of bitches. I called out everybody in this division - I’m on my way up man, f**k that.”

Boos and chants of ‘Who are ya? Who are ya?’ rang out as Lee stomped out of the Octagon and headed for the dressing rooms. He was just as bullish later on when he spoke to reporters and called out McGregor.

“I’ll take him on and I’ll put him on his back,” he said.

“Ain’t no timing off your back, ain’t no left hand off your back. That’s for sure.”

He continued: “I don’t care about the Irish. I called Conor McGregor out because I want that fight.

“He’s the champ now in this division and doesn’t have anything but some years on me. “He’s 28, I’m 24, I have years to catch up to him and I wanted him to know that I’m on that ass, that’s all that was about.”

What a press conference that would be eh? Local charities should set up a swear box - they’d make a fortune. The octagon girls posed for selfies with an ever-increasing queue of admirers in the interval before the next contest - a much more respectful flyweight match between Japan’s Kyoji Horiguchi and Russia Ali Bagutinov - began.

Bagutinov was slick and stylish, but Horiguchi’s superior wrestling skills meant he took the decision. Still, he was disappointed: “I want KO,” he said, ignoring his interpreter. “I love KO.” He didn’t get one, but the night was a knockout. I’d definitely go back.


Conor McGregor climbs into the octagon to congratulate Artem Lobov
Picture by Pacemaker  

CONOR McGREGOR joined a raucous SSE Arena crowd to roar his approval from a front-row seat as stablemate Artem Lobov punched his way to a points win over Teruto Ishihara on Saturday night.

‘Notorious’ was on his feet throughout as training partner Lobov, AKA ‘The Russian Hammer’, survived a shock knockdown in the third round to take a deserved win over the gutsy Japanese on the undercard of Gegard Mousasi’s successful revenge mission against Uriah Hall. The Dublin-based Russian was greeted with the biggest cheer of the night from a huge travelling support as he made his way to the Octogon with coach John Kavanagh and McGregor for company.

When the action began, Lobov quickly found the target with a booming straight left that staggered his opponent. Several more followed - all single shots - as Lobov looked to pick him off without following up. Surely for the first time, “Stand up for the boys in green,” rang around the arena as the second round began and again the Russian was the boss.

Afterwards, McGregor vaulted the fence and joined him in the Octagon and the team-mates hugged as Ishihara was propped up by his cornermen. The judges gave Lobov the win on a unanimous decision and there was no doubt that it was the correct call.

Meanwhile, the main event saw Gegard Mousasi exact revenge against Uriah Hall in a reprisal of their September 2015 middleweight rumble. Jamaica-born New Yorker Hall went close with his trademark spinning sidekicks early on, but Mousasi stalked him down and midway through the round he rushed in for a take-down and wrapped both arms around the waist of the American.

With Hall pinned down, taking a ‘ground and pound’ beating and going nowhere, referee Marc Goddard waved it off with four minutes and 37 seconds on the clock: “I have issues with McGregor, but I don’t hate you [Irish] guys, I love you,” he said before leaving the octagon to a standing ovation.

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