This is one of those months where making this list is really difficult because whittling the collection of fights on tap over the next four weeks means cutting out entertaining contests or important opportunities for intriguing talents.
For instance, Thiago Santos has collected four straight stoppage victories over tough, dangerous middleweights and he’s slated to square off with David Branch in Atlantic City. It’s a terrific matchup and an important fight for Santos and for the division.
Then there’s Israel Adesanya’s sophomore appearance against Marvin Vettori, which is a crucial moment for guy that generated a ton of buzz in his promotional debut. Vettori is an excellent prospect in his own right and this fight should be electric. The same goes for Antonio Carlos Junior getting his veteran litmus test against Tim Boetsch.
These are all awesome fights that you should definitely be checking out, but there are so many great matchups on tap this month that none of them made the cut.
This is The 10 for April 2018.
UFC 223: Holloway vs. Khabib – Saturday, April 7 (Brooklyn, New York)
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Felice Herrig
Herrig’s current run of success and career resurgence should be getting more attention. After losing to Paige VanZant, the veteran strawweight took well over a year off to reset and re-evaluate and she’s been on fire since, rattling off four straight victories to re-establish herself as a tough out in the 115-pound division.
Despite suffering the first two losses of her professional career, Kowalkiewicz has remained one of the elite strawweights in the sport. She bounced back from her losses to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha with a unanimous decision victory over Jodie Esquibel last fall and she’s less than two years removed from earning a win over current champ Rose Namajunas.
Things are heating up in the division right now and this fight will absolutely factor into how things shake out in the second half of the year.
The easiest way for me to explain why you have to watch this fight is this:
Felder is an amazing analyst and he has transitioned into that role seamlessly, but it’s his side hustle; he’s a fighter first and foremost, which should tell you how damn good he is inside the Octagon. “The Irish Dragon” has collected three straight stoppage wins with elbows and is never in a boring fight.
You could say the same thing for Iaquinta, who enters on a five-fight winning streak with four stoppages and eight wins in nine appearances since facing Michael Chiesa in The Ultimate Fighter: Live Finale, including triumphs over Kevin Lee, Joe Lauzon and Jorge Masvidal.
These two are going to touch gloves and then beat the ever-loving hell out of each other and it is going to be outstanding.
Renato Moicano vs. Calvin Kattar
Featherweight is having a moment right now. It’s been having a moment for a little while now, but it has really stepped to the forefront in the first three months of this year thanks to Brian Ortega, Jeremy Stephens, Darren Elkins and Mirsad Bektic, among others.
Kattar is part of that collective, having notched his second UFC victory earlier this year in Boston, finishing Shane Burgos in the final round of their Fight of the Night-winning clash at UFC 220. He’s now won 10 consecutive fights and currently sits at No. 13 in the featherweight rankings, with the potential to move even further up the ladder with a victory here.
During his three-year UFC tenure, Moicano has posted a trio of wins against a single defeat, which came in his most recent appearance last summer against Ortega in a contest that won Fight of the Night honors at UFC 214. That was the first loss of the 28-year-old Brazilian’s career and you can be certain he’s eager to get back in the win column and protect his position in the increasingly competitive featherweight ranks here.
Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the UFC women’s strawweight title
The first fight was riveting, even though it only lasted a couple ticks beyond the three-minute mark of the first round.
When Namajunas knocked Jedrzejczyk down for the first time, it was a record-scratch moment because it went against everything people thought about the matchup. Moments before, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier were talking about how Namajunas would need to use takedowns if she was going to dethrone Jedrzejczyk and then she dropped the champion with a right hand.
A clean left hook felled Jedrzejcyzk a minute later, setting up the finish. Now five months later, they’ll run it back with Namajunas looking to show she didn’t simply catch lightning in a bottle at Madison Square Garden and the Polish challenger out to reclaim her place atop the strawweight division.
Just like the first time these two impressive women collided, this one should be captivating from start to finish.
Max Holloway vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight title
As far as short notice replacement fights go, you’re not going to find much better than this, but before singing the praises of Holloway and breaking down this newly minted dynamic clash for the lightweight title, allow me a minute to lament how we got here.
For the fourth time in as a many years, a bout between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson has come unglued. After being inked to face one another in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and never reaching the cage, the long-time rivals felt like they were finally going to meet this weekend in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t meant to be. On Sunday afternoon, news broke that Ferguson was injured and the highly anticipated matchup had come apart once again. It’s disappointing because it was such a compelling, competitive fight, but now it feels like a bout that will forever have to live in our imaginations because after four failed attempts, I think it’s time to completely let go of the idea of Ferguson and Nurmagomedov sharing the cage together.
But from the unfortunate news about Ferguson comes an incredible opportunity for Holloway, who has a chance to become the fifth man to win UFC gold in two divisions and the second fighter to hold world titles in two weight classes simultaneously by jumping at the opportunity to replace Ferguson on Saturday night in the UFC 223 main event.
While the dynamics of the fight have shifted dramatically, this weekend’s finale remains an intriguing clash of styles between the undefeated grappling machine Nurmagomedov and the reigning featherweight champion, who likes to press forward without pause and possesses some of the best striking and takedown defense in the sport.
Can Holloway make history and shake up the lightweight division on six days' notice or will it still be Khabib Time on Saturday evening at Barclays Center?
MORE FROM UFC 223: Official Trailers - Not This Time | Jedrzejczyk talks weight cut |
UFC on FOX: Poirier vs. Gaethje – Saturday, April 14 (Glendale, Arizona)
Battle-tested veterans collide in the co-main event of this year’s third UFC on FOX broadcast from the home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, bringing a fight that was first scheduled to take place more than four years ago to fruition.
Brown enters off a hellacious knockout victory over Condit’s long-time teammate Diego Sanchez in what was expected to be the Ohio native’s final appearance in the UFC cage. But the former TUF contestant collected a devastating finish and felt great coming away from the bout, so he’s postponed the retirement party in order to roll into the Octagon again.
Condit arrives in the Arizona desert on a three-fight losing streak, but only a few months removed from shaking off more than a year’s worth of rust following a lengthy stay on the sidelines. After getting back in the swing of things against Neil Magny at UFC 219, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if this pairing and the relatively quick turnaround (compared to recent years) resulted in a vintage performance from “The Natural Born Killer” in this one.
Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Gaethje fought twice in the UFC in 2017. His first appearance won Fight of the Year and his sophomore effort was the runner-up. He is must-see TV every time he steps into the cage, regardless of who is standing across from him.
It just so happens that he’s once again sharing the cage with another kindred spirit in Poirier, who also enters the Octagon bent on putting on a show no matter what. Since returning to lightweight three years ago, “The Diamond” has collected six victories, one loss and one no contest, turning in entertaining performances in each of those eight appearances while seeing the scorecards only twice.
This should be a non-stop thrill ride from the jump and a definite early candidate for Fight of the Year in 2018.
UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee – Saturday, April 21 (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Aljamain Sterling vs. Brett Johns
This feels like a crossroads fight for both men – not the kind that will define their careers forever, but one that will determine what the next 18 months could look like, for sure.
Johns enters with an unbeaten record and three straight UFC victories. Last time out, he locked up Joe Soto in a calf slicer in 30 seconds and it wasn’t some random, “Look what I found?” finish either; he set it up and had in cinched lickety-split and it was a thing of beauty. If he can push his perfect start to 16 consecutive appearances, “The Pikey” will put himself in the mix with the best in the division heading into the second half of the year.
After building a little momentum with back-to-back wins over Augusto Mendes and Renan Barao, Sterling ducked in for a single leg a little over a minute into his bout against Marlon Moraes and caught a knee to the head that brought his run of success to an abrupt halt. The Serra-Longo Fight Team member is a Top 10 staple, but he hasn’t been able to string together enough wins to make a real push for contention and another setback against the surging Welshman will only increase the distance between Sterling and the upper echelon of the division.
Both have a lot on the line in this one, so expect an absolute barnburner!
Two veteran standouts will look to bounce back from their recent encounters with Brian Ortega in the co-main event of the UFC’s return to the Jersey Shore.
Swanson fell to “T-City” in Fresno back in December, getting trapped in a guillotine choke in the second round after surviving a similar manuever at the end of the first. Three months later, it was Edgar who landed on the wrong side of the results against the surging California native, as “The Answer” was stopped for the first time in his career with 16 seconds remaining in the opening round of their co-main event clash at UFC 222 in Las Vegas.
Now they’re squaring off with one another, eager to prove they’re still every bit the Top 5 talents they were before facing Ortega and that they’ve still got plenty more fight in them before it’s time to call it a career.
As an added bonus, Swanson will be looking for a measure of revenge as well after Edgar halted his six-fight winning streak with a fifth-round submission win a few years ago in Austin.
Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee
Top 10 lightweights collide in a pivotal contest to close out the April slate of action inside the Octagon.
In one corner, Barboza – a 24-fight veteran who has been a fixture in the rankings for the last several years looking to get back in the win column after getting steamrolled by Nurmagomedov last time out.
In the other corner, Lee – a 25-year-old talent who tasted defeat at the hands of the other half of this month’s lightweight championship clash in October after posting five consecutive victories.
Not only is this a critical bout in terms of divisional positioning, but it should be fast-paced and intense from start-to-finish as both have the potential to end the fight in myriad ways and without any forewarning, which makes it a perfect way to wrap up an awesome month inside the UFC cage.