The heavyweight who has trained with Tyson Fury, the Welsh Dragon who matched Conor McGregor’s record and the former Liverpool triallist who survived a drive-by shooting: Meet the next batch of British fighters looking to make waves in the UFC
- Michael Bisping became the first UFC champion from Britain in June 2016
- Leon Edwards and Darren Till are leading the way, but who else is on the rise?
- Sportsmail profiles five of the most promising British athletes in the UFC
No sport has made greater strides on these shores in the last 15 years than mixed martial arts.
In 2007, the British Medical Association was campaigning for the sport, branded as ‘human cockfighting’ by the naysayers, to be banned.
Just nine years later, Britain had its first ever UFC champion after Michael Bisping, from Clitheroe, Lancashire, defeated Luke Rockhold to become middleweight king.
Now, a legion of fighters are looking to follow Bisping’s path to UFC gold, with Birmingham’s Leon Edwards and Liverpool’s Darren Till leading the charge.
But which other Brit’s are looking to make waves on the biggest stage? Sportsmail takes a look at the rising stars.
A swathe of British fighters are looking to follow in the footsteps of Michael Bisping in UFC
Darren Till (L) and Leon Edwards (R) lead the way, but who else is on the rise in the UFC?
Team-mate of Till at Team Kaobon, Tom Aspinall is one to watch in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
The 6ft 6ins Mancunian has been around mixed martial arts his whole life, with his father, Andy, running a number of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms in the north west of England.
Tom Aspinall has burst onto the heavyweight scene and is part of the next wave of stars
The 6ft 6ins Mancunian is unbeaten in three UFC fights after making his debut last year
The 27-year-old racked up a record of 5-2 in the early days of his career, before slim options at heavyweight forced him to take up boxing. He has fought once professionally, winning inside 84 seconds, and was roped in as a sparring partner for Tyson Fury at the age of 22.
‘That was brilliant, it completely changed my mindset spending a lot of time with Tyson because he takes it for what it is,’ Aspinall told talkSPORT.
‘He doesn’t take stuff too serious, he doesn’t go in there with his ego and all that kind of stuff so for a young man, I think I was about 22 at the time, it was just good to be around someone like that.
Aspinall used to be a boxer and was brought into spar with Tyson Fury as a youngster
The 27-year-old also trains with the likes of boxers Joe Joyce (left) and Hughie Fury (centre)
‘I don’t see it as life or death; I just see it as something that I enjoy. If I win, I win and if I lose, I lose and that’s it, I just enjoy it.’
But Aspinall has kept on winning, notching back-to-back wins with Cage Warriors before receiving the call up to join the UFC. He made his debut last July, winning on Fight Island and has racked up two further victories to take his record to 12 wins, two defeats.
Combining technically sound grappling and wrestling with lightning fast hand speed, Aspinall is just getting started at heavyweight.
Fighting out of the Welsh valleys, Jack Shore is looking to make headway in the stacked bantamweight division.
Plenty of UFC newcomers enter the organisation with undefeated records, only to find a stark contrast in level of quality upon entering the big show.
Jack Shore is undefeated in 13 fights and believes the UFC is on the cusp of a Welsh takeover
‘Tank’ has made the transition from Cage Warriors to the bright lights of the UFC with ease
But Shore, 26, has made the transition from Cage Warriors to the UFC seamlessly, having won his first two bouts to take his professional record to 13 wins, no defeats.
‘Tank’ defeated Nohelin Hernandez in his UFC debut back in 2019, before submitting Aaron Phillips on Fight Island last July. Shore is next in action on April 10, taking on fellow up-and-comer Hunter Azare on the undercard of Darren Till vs. Marvin Vettori.
Coached by his father, Richard, at Tillery Combat Gym in Blaenau, Gwent, Shore has been singled out as a fighter with genuine title potential. The 26-year-old believes he is leading a movement of top quality Welsh fighters entering the UFC.
The Welshman takes on Hunter Azare next month as he looks to climb the 135lbs rankings
‘We’re just tapping into our talent pool,’ he said of the Welsh scene after his Fight Island win to Cageside Press. ‘You give us five years, the Welsh will be taking over the UFC, I guarantee you.
‘I’m just proud and happy to be a part of the best guys in the world. Even outside the top 15 there’s plenty of well known names there now, and I’m pretty sure after a performance like that, they are going to start taking notice of who I am.
‘So, you know, maybe one more fight and I can start pushing to get a number by my name.’
Shore’s predicted Welsh takeover of the UFC will surely include Mason Jones.
Last year, the 25-year-old achieved a feat that only Dan Hardy and Conor McGregor have done before him: become two-weight world champion with Cage Warriors.
Those are two big names to be attached to, and Jones has called on UFC chief Dana White and matchmaker Sean Shelby to give him the toughest fights possible as he looks to make his ascent up the lightweight division.
Wales’ Mason Jones made his UFC debut in January and is in an exclusive club of fighters
And The Dragon gave UFC fans an indication of what to expect from him in his debut bout against Mike Davies on Fight Island.
The Welshman put on a frenetic pace and engaged in an all-out war with his American rival, with the pair walking through brutal shots over the course of 15 minutes to the acclaim of Daniel Cormier octagonside.
Despite losing via decision, the bout was labelled Fight of the Night and Jones pocketed a $50,000 bonus, a very welcome sweetener having lost his unbeaten record.
A post shared by Mason Jones (@masonjones95)
He is the third ‘champ champ’ in Cage Warriors history, with Conor McGregor and Dan Hardy
The Dragon earned a Fight of the Night bonus in his thrilling UFC debut against Mike Davies
Jones is used to throwing himself in the deep end, relishing the challenge of taking on bigger, stronger rivals. The 25-year-old believes he has the mental strength that will take him to the top of the sport.
‘You have got to have that mindset to be the best in the world and I am going to be the best in the world,’ he told the UFC’s YouTube channel.
‘One day I will be at the top of the tree and I will be the best in the world. It is only a matter of time for me.’
The Miracle. Lerone Murphy’s story is quite extraordinary, and the Mancunian is using his near-death experience to spur him on to a UFC title charge.
Murphy, 29, was a promising footballer, having had trials at Liverpool as a youngster. He also trained with Stockport County and FC United until a knee injury ended his career at 16.
Lerone ‘The Miracle’ Murphy survived a near-death experience and is thriving in the UFC
The featherweight turned his attention to boxing, learning the sport under uncle and legendary Manchester boxing trainer Oliver Harrison, who had taken the likes of Amir Khan and Rocky Fielding under his wing during his career.
However, Murphy’s life took a dramatic twist at 21. After leaving a barber shop in Manchester suburb Fallowfield, he was shot three times – twice in the neck, once in the face, in a drive-by shooting.
The 29-year-old survived the attack and has gone onto thrive in mixed martial arts. He made his UFC debut against Zubaira Tukhugov, team-mate of Khabib Nurmagomedov, in September 2019.
The Mancunian survived a shooting at 21 and is undefeated across 11 professional MMA fights
The fight was scored a split decision draw, and Murphy has since gone onto beat Ricardo Ramos and Douglas Silva de Andrade to take his record to 10 wins, no defeats and one draw.
‘I try to keep it as a positive in my life, spur me on, do better, rather than have it hanging like a negative. I try not to look back, but look forward,’ Murphy told Insider of the shooting.
‘I’m a striker, and I throw with exciting technique, but I feel I’ve not yet got to show the best of me, yet. In the perfect world, I want four fights this year, get into the top-15 at the back end of the year.
‘Obviously, my goal has to be title, otherwise what are we doing this for? Get the title, and create a better life for me and my family.’
One to watch in the women’s strawweight division, Cory McKenna has been earmarked as a future star from a very early age.
The baby-faced Welsh fighter, 21, has looked destined for the UFC since making her Cage Warriors debut in 2018 and made her breakthrough last year when she won a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series.
McKenna has worked under the tutelage of famed gym Team Alpha, headed by UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber.
Young gun Cory McKenna is a baby-faced assassin destined to do big things at strawweight
The 21-year-old won a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series and trains with Team Alpha
The gym, based in Sacramento, California has developed three UFC champions, with Cody Garbrandt, TJ Dillashaw and Deiveson Figueiredo all thriving under Faber’s guidance.
The 21-year-old made her UFC bow last November, clinching a unanimous decision victory over Kay Hansen to get her UFC career up and running. With two knockout wins, one submission and three decision victories, McKenna certainly knows how to mix things up and keep her opponents guessing.
‘She’s tough, she’s well rounded, she’s willing to bang, she’s got great ground work she’s sweet as can be, she has great interviews. She is sweet but when she gets in there she is a killer,’ White said when handing McKenna a contract on his Contender Series.
‘My only reservation with her is she is super young, I’m on the fence with her. She is young and could get a lot more experience but I have just got back from vacation and I’m in a great mood so let’s give her a shot!’
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