Prior to UFC 204, there were grievances regarding its start time. Many felt it was a true insult to expect the British fans to attend a show on their own shores at such an hour. However, the complaints quickly dispersed as the Manchester Arena seemed to be booming from the get-go on Saturday night in undoubtedly the biggest mixed martial arts event to grace British soil.
The aura this show brought with its unique start time felt special. For all the Mancunians in attendance, it really felt like they had all banded together to watch one of their own, and in a way that’s exactly what they did. As they filled the venue in quick succession and set the tone for what remained the same level for the entire card, the UFC can certainly walk away from here knowing not just what’s possible, but that it’s very much doable should Bisping bring the title back to Manchester again.
It doesn’t take much to tell that the UFC excels in London. However, up north in Manchester, where the last packed out show was UFC 105 in 2009 after the debacle that was UFC’s last trip in 2013 due to a Bisping eye injury, there was a feeling of some risk involved with this start time.
The difference in the British reach since the UFC’s last trip to Manchester three years ago is substantial. Ironically, you can weigh that heavily on the back of McGregor luring new eyeballs into the sport, but since then the European MMA market has excelled and learned to rightfully demand more.
Granted, there were no plans in the UFC’s diary for the organisation to return to Manchester. Michael Bisping was the only reason to come back. If it wasn’t for Bisping, almost all the UK shows would be happening in London. However, as Michael shook things up, the UFC will have realised a thing or two themselves. The market is strong here and the amount of Scottish and Irish accents heard around fight week speaks volumes of that.
This was a card that will live on in the memory of exceeding all expectations with nine finishes in eleven fights. For a European fight night, this would have been a very strong card. For an actual UFC pay-per-view, many were overlooking it and those who missed out missed something extremely special.
A new leaf has been turned. Saturday night was a special and crazy glimpse into the future of massive cards in UK, and one wouldn’t be surprised if the organisation returns within the next twelve months with a strong follow-up card – whether or not that adheres to the U.S. times, the sport and this isle’s athletes have begun their boom in the UK. After this weekend it’s evident that things are only just getting started.
Follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Williams