As far as months go, I feel like April gets overlooked.
Situated between the end of winter and the spring months everyone actually enjoys, it seems like most people just kind of look at April as another month, even though it kicks off with a day where pulling pranks of people is accepted, a number of important religious holidays (that can be accompanied by presents and/or candy), Patriots’ Day, Earth Day and Arbor Day.
That’s a solid slate of events, yet April doesn’t get nearly as much love as March or May or June and it can’t hold a candle to the summer and fall.
But there are three deep events delivering a slew of solid fights into the Octagon this month, and just as you shouldn’t sleep on April as a quality month, don’t sleep on this month’s fight cards either.
Here’s a look at some of the key matchups to keep an eye on.
This is The 10 for April 2017.
UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson (Saturday, April 8 – Buffalo, New York)
There isn’t a lot of room for error in the lightweight division and with the competition for space in the upper echelon ongoing and ultra-tough, both Brooks and Oliveira enter this one needing to make a statement in order to stay afloat in the deepest talent pool in the UFC.
Brooks enters off a third-round stoppage loss to Alex Oliveira in October where a broken rib limited his ability in the cage and the Brazilian coming in significantly over the lightweight limit hung a cloud over the contest. Following a 12-fight turn in the 145-pound ranks where he missed weight on four occasions, Oliveira (no relation to Alex) returns to lightweight in hopes of restarting his once-promising career.
Both are in need of bounce-back performances following recent poor showings – Oliveira more so, having lost three of his last four – and with a lightweight turning in a breakout performance on seemingly every event, a tepid decision just won’t do. Both are capable of being contenders and with their backs against the wall, Buffalo should get the best out of “Ill Will” and “Do Bronx.”
You have to tip your cap to former middleweight champion Weidman. Coming off consecutive losses – the first two setbacks of his career – the Long Island native could have looked for an easier matchup, a less dangerous pairing where a return to the win column seemed likely.
Instead, he’s facing one of the hottest fighters in the division. That’s either a testament to his toughness and determination or a bad decision that just hasn’t been proven as such just yet, but either way, this showdown with Mousasi should be outstanding.
While Weidman has been finished in each of his last two appearances, his 31-year-old adversary is rolling, winning four straight with stoppages in each of his last three. Long considered one of the more enigmatic and mercurial talents in the sport, Mousasi seems to have put it all together and is eyeing up the top of the middleweight division.
Sitting on press row when these two squared off for the vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 187, me and everyone else in those seats damn near hit the floor when Johnson floored Cormier with the first big shot that connected. “DC” steadied himself, recovered and ultimately put Johnson through the grind, finishing him in the third. But “Rumble” has needed a tick more than seven minutes to dispatch his last three opponents, felling them all with similar punches to the one that dropped Cormier and set up this rematch.
Cormier gets dogged for not having defended his title since beating Alex Gustafsson at UFC 192 in October 2015, like the events just days prior to UFC 200 were somehow his fault or something he welcomed. But after carefully handling Anderson Silva in July and being forced to postpone this bout in December, the champion has something to prove too and he knows it, which should make the sequel even better than the first bout between these two elite competitors.
UFC on FOX: Johnson vs. Reis (Saturday, April 15 – Kansas City, Missouri)
Before you think I’m crazy for including a matchup between two guys you might not have heard about before, press pause and trust me on this one.
Duquesnoy is one of the best prospects in the entire sport – a championship-level talent with the potential to be a superstar in the UFC in the next couple years.
A two-weight champion in BAMMA and unbeaten in his last 11 bouts, the 23-year-old French bantamweight has been drawing rave reviews and high praise for the last couple years, and he has the opportunity to make an immediate impact in the talent-rich 135-pound ranks. In Williams, he faces a tough wrestler looking to regain momentum after being sidelined since collecting his first UFC victory – a 23-second submission of Alejandro Perez at UFC 188.
Will the 35-year-old Arizona State alum halt Duquesnoy’s rise before it even gets started, or will the hyped newcomer make a splash in his Octagon debut?
Nothing more really needs to be said other than “Jacare is fighting ‘The Reaper,’ or that the third- and sixth-ranked fighters in one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC are set to clash, but why not stretch it out a little bit more just for fun?
After icing Vitor Belfort with relative ease last spring, Souza missed out on a fight with Luke Rockhold in November and then took a “stay busy” assignment against Tim Boetsch in February, where he reminded everyone why he’s considered one of the top contenders in this stacked division by tapping out “The Barbarian” in 3:41.
All Whittaker has done since moving to middleweight is win five straight, culminating in a first-round stoppage victory over Derek Brunson in Melbourne on the card that was supposed to be capped by Souza and Rockhold. Boasting quick, explosive hands and an adamantium chin, the 26-year-old former TUF winner can establish himself as a legitimate title threat with a win in this one.
While this is a compelling matchup on its own, the fact that it could determine the next title challenger in the strawweight division ups the intrigue for this co-main event clash.
Sidelined for 18 months with various injuries following her successful promotional debut, Waterson returned in impressive fashion on FOX back in December, submitting Paige VanZant in the first round to establish herself as a serious player in the 115-pound ranks. Namajunas took notice and quickly started lobbying for a bout with the Jackson-Winkeljohn product and now she gets her wish.
The former TUF finalist came out on the wrong side of the split decision in her last fight against Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 201, but continued to show further improvements in defeat. Still just 24 and poised to step into the cage for the tenth time as a professional, Namajunas’ UFC career has been a baptism by fire and, at some point, no one should be surprised if the Milwaukee-raised, Denver-based contender puts it all together and delivers an eye-opening performance in the cage.
Originally scheduled to take place last summer at UFC 201, an injury forced Johnson to the sidelines and Reis back into the depths of the flyweight division, where he had to watch as “Mighty Mouse” returned and successfully defended his title against TUF 24 winner Tim Elliott in December.
But after a pair of victories, the Brazilian veteran finally gets his shot as Johnson looks to equal Anderson Silva’s record for the most consecutive successful title defenses in UFC history.
Reis looked good earning wins over Hector Sandoval and Ulka Sasaki while trying to maintain his place in the pecking order. Once a hyped prospect, the now 32-year-old has rounded out his arsenal under the stewardship of Eric Del Fierro at Alliance MMA and brings a wealth of experience into the biggest fight of his professional career.
What more can be said about Johnson at this point? He’s dominated the flyweight division since it was first introduced, standing as the one and only man to wear its championship belt, and he has a chance to equal a record that felt untouchable as Silva kept extending it during his lengthy reign atop the middleweight division.
“Mighty Mouse” is one of the all-time greats and this potential history-making encounter is must-see TV.
UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov (Saturday, April 22 – Nashville, Tennessee)
While the previous week’s event closes out with a flyweight title fight, one of the key contests happening a week later in Music City, USA should help sort out the contenders’ picture in the 125-pound division going forward.
A Tennessee native, Ortiz has been a fixture in the Top 15 since arriving in the UFC a little over three years ago with a third-round finish of Jose Maria Tome. Since then, the 28-year-old has shared the cage with some of the best in the division, splitting eight bouts while climbing to No. 8 in the rankings.
Moreno used the final three months of 2016 as his personal coming out party, surprising everyone with his upset win over Louis Smolka on short notice in October before collecting a second straight victory two months later against Ryan Benoit. This pairing with Ortiz is a step up in competition for the 23-year-old Mexican and should provide a good indication of where both men sit in the flyweight pecking order.
The original Ultimate Fighter (sorry Forrest) and last man standing from the inaugural season of the reality television staple, Sanchez’s career now mirrors his fighting style: even when you think there is no way for him to possibly keep moving forward, he continuously proves you wrong and keeps moving forward.
Back in November, the 35-year-old lightweight spoiled Marcin Held’s promotional debut, walking up the cage wall to escape a first-round guillotine choke before grinding out the final two rounds to earn his 29th career win. Now he welcomes Iaquinta back to the cage, looking to halt the Long Isl and native’s progress before it gets started the same way he did to Held last time out.
“Raging Al” returns in an interesting position, riding a four-fight winning streak that includes victories over Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon and Jorge Masvidal, but two years removed from his last appearance, leaving him in no man’s land in the lightweight division for the time being. On the ascent prior to his sabbatical, the Serra-Longo Fight Team member showed strong wrestling, good hands and the intensity to match Sanchez in a “Who’s more crazy?” contest, which means this one should be outstanding from start to finish.
Cub Swanson takes on Artem Lobov in the main event of Fight Night Nashville on April 22" align="center" />
Cub Swanson vs. Artem Lobov
After a six-fight winning streak was followed by consecutive losses that knocked him from contention – and left him with more broken bones – Swanson took a year off to recharge and rediscover his passion for the sport. Returning in April of last year, “Killer Cub” collected three victories in 2016, culminating in his Fight of the Year classic with Dooho Choi at UFC 206.
Now the featherweight father-to-be aims to extend his winning ways against the durable and dangerous Lobov in a fight that speaks volumes about Swanson’s competitive spirit and has the potential to rival his clash with “The Korean Superboy.”
A two-fight winning streak landed Lobov a grand opportunity – a chance to instantly establish himself as a contender in the featherweight division at a time when the 145-pound ranks have never been as deep and competitive. But timing is everything and his fan-friendly swing-for-the-fences style promises to create an explosive mix when combined with Swanson’s slick and unpredictable offensive arsenal.
Mark my words: this will be a highly combustible affair and a great way to end an entertaining month of action in the Octagon.