UFC: 7 Fights to Watch While You Are Waiting for UFC 145 'Jones vs. Evans'
UFC 145 is an incredible six weeks away, an absolute lifetime for MMA fans fed on a diet of monthly UFC events.
There are a couple of smaller UFC shows to satisfy the viewers for whom UFC really does equal MMA, but for more open-minded folks, there is plenty else to offer.
ONE FC is only two shows old, but it is already firmly established as the No. 2 promotion globally behind the UFC. March 31st is their best card to date, and any one of about six fights could have made its way onto this list—I just picked my two personal favourites.
Bellator features heavily because of the sheer quantity of card they have scheduled, and then there is the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Final, which could also be accurately described as en eliminator in which the winner (and possibly the loser) will receive a contract in the UFC heavyweight division.
UFC die-hards will have the latest installment of The Ultimate Fighter to keep them content, but anyone who is willing to look around in order to find the most entertaining fights won't have to look too far.
Ranked from most interesting to least interesting, these are the top fights to watch out for between now and April 21st.
Melvin Manhoef vs. Yoshiyuki Nakanishi
ONE Fighting Championship 3, March 31st, Singapore
Melvin Manhoef might not be the best MMA fighter out there, but he could well be the most exciting.
His fights almost always end in stoppages—33 times he has fought, and only once has he been the distance.
Anyone doubting Manhoef's credibility need look no further than 2008, when he took less than 20 seconds to KO Mark Hunt, who is now in contention for the UFC heavyweight title.
There aren't too many middleweights capable of doing that.
It takes two to tango, and Yoshiyuki Nakanishi might just be a dream partner for Manhoef from the fan's point of view. Six of his 11 wins have come with a KO or TKO, and he has only been the distance once in 13 fights.
Whereas Manhoef's original opponent, BJJ black belt Renato Sobral, would have gone for an immediate takedown, there is a good chance that Nakanishi will back himself in the stand-up exchanges.
The Japanese fighter is the reigning deep light heavyweight champion, he is only 26 years old and could well be the next big fighter to emerge from Japan.
This matchup is a recipe for fireworks, and fun for the fans is guaranteed.
Shinya Aoki vs. Eddie Alvarez
Bellator 66, April 20th, Cleveland
Shinya Aoki is probably the biggest name outside of the Zuffa umbrella right now, and Eddie Alvarez is a good opponent for him.
They already met once and Aoki won with a quickfire submission, but the second meeting should be a bit more competitive.
It will be an interesting test for Aoki, because his last few fights have not been against top-10 lightweights, but his Muay Thai seems to have hit a completely new level since he started working with all the world-champion trainers at Evolve MMA.
Alvarez has 13 KOs/TKOs to his name, and in the past any fighter with knockout power would have felt he had a chance against Aoki, but these days the Dream lightweight champion is much more of a formidable force in the stand up.
Aoki has already beaten Alvarez once, and Alvarez is coming off a loss to Michael Chandler, which might diminish interest in this fight, but it shouldn't.
Aoki has won his last seven and Alvarez has won seven out of his last eight, so make no mistake—these are two of the top lightweights in the world.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Thiago Silva
UFC on Fox, Sweden, April 14th
This is the biggest fight in Swedish MMA but not such a significant matchup for the rest of the world.
On paper, Silva has won only one of his last four fights and is lucky to still be in the UFC after attempting to cheat his way out of a urine test after his decision win over Brandon Vera.
He did at least own up, which is more than most fighters in a similar situation would have done, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
Gustafsson is a rising star in the UFC with five wins—all stoppages—and only one loss at the hands of Phil Davis.
He is 13-1 overall and could well be in title contention if he can get past Silva.
The Brazilian badly needs to win if he wants to remain in the UFC, and while this isn't the most exciting main event in UFC history, it could still be a pivotal moment in the career of the Swedish fighter.
Kevin Belingon vs. Masakazu Imanari
ONE Fighting Championship, March 10th, Singapore
Masakazu Imanari is an MMA legend who has faced a lot of the best fighters in the world and has held titles with Deep at both bantamweight and featherweight.
He is an out-and-out specialist who is quite simply the best in the world at leg locks.
Kevin Belingon is a name you can expect to hear a lot more about.
He is 9-0 and is widely tipped to make it into the UFC—if he chose to drop down to 125 pounds, he would be instantly welcomed into their flyweight division.
Imanari will be the best fighter Belingon has ever faced and this is a classic battle between an experienced veteran and a precocious youth.
If Belingon wins, he instantly becomes one of the best bantamweights in the world, and if Imanari wins, he reminds everyone why he has been rated as one of the best fighters at his weight for more than a decade.
Ben Askren vs. Douglas Lima
Bellator 64, April 6th, Ontario
Both men have won their last nine fights, but Lima is a lot more experienced.
The reigning Bellator welterweight champion has 25 fights on his record with four losses, but he has taken his career to the next level recently.
Askren is 9-0 in his MMA career, but six of those wins have come inside the Bellator organization, so he is much more seasoned than most fighters would be at this stage of their MMA careers.
If Lima can become the first man to defeat Askren, it would cement his status as being the best welterweight without a UFC contract. A win for Askren would make him the most exciting prospect in the division.
Ben Saunders vs. Raul Amaya
Bellator 64, Connecticut, March 30th
Ben Saunders has shown that there is life after the UFC.
He went 4-3 in his spell there but then went on to win his next four fights impressively, reaching the Bellator 170-pound tournament final before losing to Douglas Lima.
He will want to get back on the winning track by beating a man who has never been beaten before, Raul Amaya.
Amaya is 9-0 in professional MMA, but all his fights have been in minor league organizations, and he has never been up against anyone quite as good as Saunders before.
This will be a tough, tough test for Amaya—there is no shame in losing to Saunders, but a win would instantly establish him as one of the best welterweights outside of the UFC.
For Saunders, it will be another chance to show that he himself is a top 170-pound fighter and that his loss to Lima was little more than an aberration.