There may not be any UFC events this weekend, but once the calendar turns to April, there will be more than enough action for fight fans, as the Octagon travels to Abu Dhabi, Quebec City, Orlando, and Baltimore with four stacked cards. So what are ten key matchups to check out next month? Read on to find out.
10. Kyle Noke vs. Patrick Cote - The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale
A pair of former Ultimate Fighter contestants turned Ultimate Fighter coaches are set for a welterweight collision with their home country’s honor on the line. Representing Team Canada is Quebec native Patrick “The Predator” Cote, who earned a unanimous decision win in his 170-pound debut at UFC 158. And representing Team Australia is New South Wales’ born Kyle Noke, who scored a 45 second TKO in his welterweight debut at UFC 152. After an engaging TUF Nations season, the power of Cote will take on the speed of Noke.
9. Roy Nelson vs. Minotauro Nogueira - UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson
It’s a main event heavyweight struggle between bonus hunters that is somehow flying under the radar. The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner and TUF 16 coach Roy “Big Country” Nelson has shown off his vaunted punching power in the UFC by taking home all six of his Octagon wins via knockout, and he has been awarded four Knockout of the Night bonuses in the process. Not to be outdone, former PRIDE heavyweight champ and former interim UFC heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira has scored a bonus in each of his last four UFC winning performances. If the fight goes to the ground, both fighters have owned BJJ black belts for years. There’s a highlight reel finish at the end of this one, whichever way it turns out.
8. Shayna Baszler vs. Sarah Kaufman - The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale
Rematch! A classic “striker vs. grappler” clash, which could/should have had its part deux in a variety of organizations, but it could not be happening at a better time than now. The relentless conveyer belt of kickboxing combinations will be provided by former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman, who put on a great show in her UFC 166 battle with Jessica Eye. The limitless litany of limb-twisting or neck-choking holds will be provided by the debuting TUF 18 alum Shayna “The Queen of Spades” Baszler, who owns 14 of her career 15 wins via submission. And, folks, there are two famed “twisters” on there. In their first meeting in Strikeforce, Kaufman took the tangle by unanimous decision, and in this rematch the stakes will be quite high, as both will be aiming for their first Octagon win.
7. Michael Bisping vs. Tim Kennedy - The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale
Everyone wants to fight Michael Bisping! And, it’s Tim Kennedy’s pleasure to do it. In this middleweight main event melee, The Ultimate Fighter 3 winner Michael “The Count” Bisping will be making his 20th Octagon appearance to scrap with top contender Tim Kennedy, who is enjoying a three fight win streak, including his Knockout of the Night of Rafael Natal in November. As for “The Count,” Bisping has been dealing with injuries for the better part of the past year, but did earn a unanimous technical decision in his last outing at UFC 159 against Alan Belcher. Meanwhile, Special Forces Operator Kennedy rebounded from a conservative win in his UFC debut to have a fast and powerful victory over Natal at UFC Fight for the Troops 3. The two have been duking it out on social media for some time, and now, they’ll ditch the keyboards for the four-ounce gloves.
6. Edson Barboza vs. Donald Cerrone - UFC on FOX: Werdum vs. Browne
Arguably, the most talent-rich weight class in the UFC is the lightweight division. The top 15 rankings are awash in possible title contenders who could all give each other a run for their money. With that being said, the odds on favorite Fight of the Night for UFC on FOX: Werdum vs. Browne would have to be the possible strikers’ duel between knockout artists Edson Barboza and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Following his first career loss, Barboza has scored three straight wins inside the Octagon, including the action-a-plenty Fight of the Night winning bout against Danny Castillo in December. And “Cowboy” has delivered back-to-back stoppage and award-winning performances with a submission of Evan Dunham in November and a knockout of Adriano Martins in January.
5. Rafael dos Anjos vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov - UFC on FOX: Werdum vs. Browne
Speaking of the 155-pounders’ shark-infested waters, Rafael dos Anjos and Khabib Nurmagomedov are on five fight win streaks inside the Octagon. For the latter, “The Eagle” appears to be unstoppable, with an undefeated 21-fight career, and he has yet to show an ounce of weakness in his overall MMA game. On the flipside, dos Anjos went back and forth with UFC wins and losses until 2012, when he began a five fight win streak. The BJJ black belt has made great strides in both striking and wrestling, and is clearly an ever-improving fighter. As for the Dagestani Nurmagomedov, he’s shown abilities in all areas, but the most amazing aspect of his game is that no one has been able to stop his takedowns - no one.
4. Yoel Romero vs. Brad Tavares - UFC on FOX: Werdum vs. Browne
It’s the irresistible force versus the immovable object as knockout artist Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero collides with the polished kickboxing of Brad Tavares. Over the past year, no fighter has been more off-the-wall exciting than the 2000 Cuban Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Romero. From his flying knee KO entrance into the UFC ranks to orchestrating one of the greatest come from behind TKO wins against Derek Brunson in January, Romero is simply must-see-TV. Meanwhile, the unwavering Tavares is quickly becoming an Octagon general who can control the action and range for the entirety of the scrap. The Ultimate Fighter 11 alum is currently commanding a five fight win streak and, under the tutelage of K-1 kickboxing great Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo, appears to have the utmost confidence in his striking, as well as his takedown defense.
3. Jake Ellenberger vs. Tarec Saffiedine - UFC 172
If the 170-pound division is truly “wide open,” then this clash is coming at the perfect time. On one side of the cage, Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger, who owns eight wins inside the Octagon with five KO finishes, including the Knockout of the Night over Nate Marquardt at UFC 158. Up until his less than inspiring bout with Rory MacDonald last July, Ellenberger was thought of as one of the most explosive and exciting forces in the division. On the other side of the cage, the final Strikeforce welterweight champion, Tarec “Sponge” Saffiedine, who made his successful UFC debut in January, which extended his winning streak to five. While Ellenberger’s stand-up is thought of brutal and quick, Saffiedine’s technical kickboxing can systematically break down his opponent like his leg destruction of Marquardt in the final Strikeforce bout.
2. Travis Browne vs. Fabricio Werdum - UFC on FOX: Werdum vs. Browne
With UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez rehabbing from shoulder surgery until the end of this year, the division’s greatest battle will be to decide its number one contender. Not much needs to be said of any person who wins three straight Knockout of the Night bonuses besides ‘that’s incredible,’ and Travis “Hapa” Browne has been just that. Browne recovered from his lone loss with gusto and has scored three straight first round KOs over the three toughest tests of his career. Since returning to the Octagon, PRIDE and Strikeforce veteran Fabricio Werdum has won three straight, with each performance more dominant than the next. The highly-decorated BJJ black belt has also displayed some terrifying stand-up skills with his one-sided Fight of the Night beating of Roy Nelson and his quick TKO of Mike Russow at UFC 147.
1. Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira - UFC 172
Title fight! While many in the Twitterverse or on the message boards are looking past this clash in hope for Jon Jones’ fabled rematch with Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson, one would doubt that a single person at Jackson’s MMA is not supremely focused on the man-beast Glover Teixeira. We’re talking about a joint product of UFC legends Chuck Liddell and Pedro Rizzo who is on a 20 fight win streak with 18 stoppages whose starting point predates Barack Obama’s presidency. Obviously, Teixeira is undefeated inside the Octagon, and he is also coming off back-to-back bonus-winning first round finishes. And then, there’s the UFC light heavyweight champion Jones, whose reign as champ began before President Obama won re-election and has continued to where “Bones” is now statistically the greatest title owner the division has ever known. Six successful defenses, four bonuses, and Jones came out on top of arguably the greatest title fight in UFC history against Gustafsson at UFC 165. Of course, a war like that one would change any fighter, and it will be very, very interesting to see how the seemingly unstoppable Jones has changed.
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