The final countdown is well and truly on for UFC Fight Night 204, which takes place at the O2 Arena in London on March 19. The full card has now been announced, and while top billing has understandably been given to Tom Aspinall’s heavyweight showdown against Alexander Volkov, the London crowd will only have eyes for local hero Nathaniel Wood.
A make or break year
The past couple of years have been tough for everyone, but especially for young athletes like Wood who were just entering their prime when everything was interrupted in early 2020. With things back to some sort of normality, the 28 year old from the south London district of Morden knows he has to make up for lost time if he is to establish himself at the top of the sport.
Wood’s last fight was at UFC 254 when he lost a tightly fought bout to Casey Kenney by a unanimous decision. The result might not have gone his way, but his performance impressed everyone, including Dana White who gave him a round of applause. He also walked away with a fight of the night bonus.
A broken hand has kept him sidelined since and forced him to withdraw from a scheduled fight against Jonathan Martinez last September. However, he confirmed he is now back to full fitness and feels confident he can get back to winning ways when he faces tenacious young Ukrainian Liudvik Sholinian. Wood told The Sun’s Chisanga Malata, “I reckon we could pick up Fight of the Night very easily. But I’m going to be comfortable wherever the fight goes.”
London might be a sprawling metropolis of nine million, but when its sports fans get behind one of their own, it has a small-town feel. We’ve seen the local support from everyone from Frank Bruno to Ronnie O’Sullivan over the years, and Wood will be able to feed off that same energy from a partisan local crowd at the O2.
He’s expected to be a warm favourite with the bookies, but regardless of the odds, he’s likely to be the most heavily backed fighter on the card, both by those at the O2 and via online punters. Over the past couple of years, sports fans across the board have been finding out how online betting works, and Wood can look forward to receiving plenty of backing from cyberspace.
Who else is on?
In addition to London’s local hero, there will be nine other UK fighters on the card at the O2. Aspinall will face the biggest challenge of his career in the headline fight against Volkov and is currently a 6-5 shot with the bookmakers.
Other eye-catching match ups include Icelandic legend Gunnar Nelson in his first fight for three years and the diminutive but hard hitting Cory “Poppins” McKenna. The 22 year old from Wales faces the biggest challenge of her fledgling career against former strawweight champion Elise Reed.