Card By Card is Single Blog Takedown’s rundown of the major MMA events of the month.
No breathers heading into April, folks. There was plenty to enjoy in March for MMA fans, but almost all the major promotions are bringing out their big guns for April to compete with championship college basketball, the return of baseball to the sports calendar… and each other. UFC goes abroad with two of their top three fighters defending belts, Strikeforce premieres its newest big name, WEC launches its first pay-per-view and Bellator returns to light up the YouTubes. Break out your Outlook – it’s going to be a busy month. Seven title fights in April!
WEC is betting big on the California Kid to lead them to the PPV promised land.
Keep in mind that tonight (the 31st) is UFC Fight Night at 8 PM on Spike, with Kenny Florian headlining against Takanori Gomi. Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve, Nate Quarry, and Ross Pearson also compete. Following that will be the season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter, which hopefully this time out will feature fighters with actual, honest-to-God conditioning.
UFC 112: Invincible (April 10, 10 PM ET, PPV): Abu Dhabi! It’s not just a place to mail Nermal anymore. Rather, it’s home to what should be a spectacular card to watch, with an outdoor venue being specially constructed in a place called Ferrari World. Abu Dhabi already has an MMA reputation with an elite grappling championship held there every year. The UFC connection results from the sale earlier this year of a 10% stake in the company to UAE-based Flash Entertainment.
The card is stacked with big names, headlined by a pair of title fights. While Anderson Silva was originally scheduled to defend his middleweight crown against Vitor Belfort, a training injury forces former SBT favorite Demian Maia to step in and see if he can get the world-class striker to the ground so Maia can work his stellar jiu-jitsu. In addition, B.J. Penn looks to add to a winning streak at lightweight with five rounds against Frankie Edgar. Edgar, 11-1, will look to derail Penn with wrestling skills. The other big fight on the card is a matchup of very familiar names to UFC fans. Matt Hughes will step into the cage for the first time in eleven months when he takes on Renzo Gracie. Gracie, who will be making his UFC debut, will of course be trying to avenge the family name – those Gracies, what aren’t they avenging? – after Hughes’ dominant TKO of Royce Gracie way back at UFC 60. Renzo is coming off an even longer layoff, having not fought since 2007.
Strikeforce – Nashville (April 17, 10 PM ET, CBS): A week after UFC 112, Strikeforce heads to Nashvegas with three title fights and one of UFC’s bigger names freshly inked to a contract.
Dan Henderson, last seen obliterating Michael Bisping, will make his Strikeforce debut by immediately stepping in for a title shot. He’ll face Jake Shields, who won a dominant – if tremendously boring – bout against Jason Miller in November for the belt at 185. Henderson can finish fights in a number of ways, giving him an edge over elite grappler but so-so striker Shields. Henderson is a championship wrestler as well, which means that if the fight goes to the ground it should be one heck of a technical exhibition and not the one-sided lay-on that Shields put on Miller.
Don’t sleep on the undercard, either. Gegard Mousasi against “King Mo” Lawal for Mousasi’s light heavyweight championship is one of the most anticipated fights of the year to date. Both men possess awesome striking power; Mousasi backs his with BJJ while Lawal has a wrestling background to help him out. On paper, it should be a top-notch fight, with the added bonus of Lawal’s hilarious showmanship for the CBS fans. In the third title fight, champion Gilbert Melendez will be the underdog against Japanese submissions powerhouse, DREAM champion and consensus #2 lightweight (behind Penn) Shinya Aoki. Aoki is noted for his creative tapout work; look for him to try and show the US fans something special in this one.
WEC: Aldo vs. Faber (April 24, 10 PM ET, PPV): It’s a stacked card for the third week in a row, but this one has some serious business implications as well. For the first time, WEC is taking their show off their cable home of Versus and putting it on pay-per-view. A failure here could accelerate the long-rumored possibility that WEC will be folded into UFC.
If WEC does fail, it won’t be for lack of talent, as they’re putting on an excellent card top-to-bottom. The headliner pits featherweight champion Jose Aldo, 16-1 and fresh off a knockout of Mike Brown for the belt, against “The California Kid” Urijah Faber. Aldo has finished every opponent put in front of him in WEC, although he has yet to face former long-time champ Faber. Faber’s marketability plays a huge role in getting this fight despite two losses to Brown last year, but there’s no question that Faber’s worthy enough to merit a title shot. He’ll have a tough time against Aldo’s hurricane-like speed, however.
The fight under that one is no slouch, either: it’s Ben Henderson against Donald Cerrone in a rematch of a fight that won multiple Fight Of The Year honors for 2009. Will Cerrone finally be able to make the hyper-flexible Henderson tap like he almost did on multiple occasions during their last rumble? Or will Henderson catch Cerrone with a flash submission like he did to unify the titles against Jamie Varner? Or will something else happen? That’s the problem with hypothetical questions. Brown gets another appearance as well in a fight against Manny Gamburyan. Expect the winner of that one to receive the next shot against the winner of Aldo/Faber.
Bellator Second Season (Thursday nights starting April 8th, 8 PM ET, FSN): Bellator’s first season produced highlight after highlight, so MMA fans will be looking to see if they can keep it up in their second year – or if they’ll suffer a sophomore slump.
This year, Bellator returns with four brackets from featherweight to middleweight. The April 8th show features SI coverboy Roger Huerta making his return to MMA after some dalliances with the entertainment world. On April 15th, they’re touting a first-round match with two-time NCAA champion wrestler Ben Askren. Keep an eye on the fights on FSN or, if you miss them, on the highlight shows airing Saturdays on NBC.
Inactive Promotions: DREAM should have had a nice little space for itself above; sadly for them, they were forced to cancel their April 24th event without a big name to hype in Korea. Is the talent pool contracting too quickly for the Asian promotions? World Victory Road finds itself in a similar position. They won’t put on another Sengoku event until June.
image from CageToday