His last fight did not work out he wanted. English veteran Brad Pickett lost to Marlon Vera via TKO in the third round in what was his retirement fight. “One Punch” looked sharp throughout the first two rounds, but then was caught by a high kick from Ecuadorian prospect Vera. Seemingly disappointed about the outcome, Pickett laid down his trademark trilby he has always been wearing on the way to the Octagon.
The hometown crowd in London's O2 Arena honored the veteran with applause after the bout, and it became apparent that a pioneer of European mixed martial arts has sung his swan song that night. When Pickett rose through the ranks and was signed by WEC back in 2009, he not only represented England and the United Kingdom but was also a face of the European scene. A whole generation of fighters from the Old Continent broke into the leading promotions of the 2000s. Many of those fighters are now close to retirement or already retired.
Croatians Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic said ‘goodbye’ at a Rizin event last December. England’s Michael Bisping is expected to retire once he loses the UFC middleweight title. Netherlands’ Alistair Overeem is still trying to get another title shot at heavyweight, though his days are numbered as well. This leaves the question what the future holds for the MMA scene in Europe.
Obviously, Ireland’s Conor McGregor is a global superstar. Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk terrorizes the women’s strawweight division. And Francis Ngannou, an athletic specimen from France, could reach for the prestigious heavyweight title in the UFC fairly quickly. Nevertheless, it appears as the UFC does not value the European market highly. An occasional event in the UK, where fans are desperately waiting for big fight cards and even a card with Jimi Manuwa and Cody Anderson in the headliner can draw a gate of two million Dollars, here; every other year a show in Germany or an Eastern European country there—a serious attempt to cater to the European audience looks differently.
This might open the door for Bellator. The Scott Coker-led promotion has scheduled several events in Europe, all headlined by some of their more valuable talents. Rory MacDonald and Paul Daley will compete for the welterweight title at a London show in May that also features Michael “Venom” Page and Liam McGeary. Rafael Carvalho and Melvin Manhoef will headline an event in Torino, Italy, on April 8. A week later, Eduardo Dantas will defend his bantamweight title in Budapest, Hungary, with Joe Schilling competing in a kickboxing match against Alexander Negrea.
So three of their next five shows will take place in Europe. And some more could be scheduled soon. Meanwhile, the UFC has only four more cards there until the end of the year, unless the promotion will add events in October or November. It does not seem far-fetched that Bellator could take over the market and become the go-to organization for European talents—especially those who hold sponsorship deals with European companies.
Although several promotions in the UK are doing a great job and produce talent on a regular basis, the lack of so-called “super camps” and the limited opportunities to make a living in MMA still forces many ambitious fighters to move to the United States. Finish investor Jarno Kukila recently started the first all-European promotion EuroFC and might change the situation on the continent in the long run. But for the time being, it is still a race between UFC and Bellator, from which the former might withdraw for whatever reason.
The times, they are a changing.