20 Fights to Look Forward to in April

Andrew Saunders@SaundersMMACorrespondent IIApril 2, 2012

20 Fights to Look Forward to in April

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    The UFC dry spell is finally coming to a close. Only a mere two weeks away, I can already taste the sweet flavors of a well-crafted UFC knockout. After a long March where we found ourselves flipping between the Ultimate Fighter Live and a stellar season of Bellator, April is here, and we've got a lot to look forward to.

    There are no Strikeforce, Titan Fighting Championships, DREAM, M-1 or ProElite bouts this month, but an independent fight did manage to work its way onto our list, alongside some highly anticipated UFC and Bellator contests that are sure to deliver both big-name stars and high-quality MMA action.

    This is a list of the top 20 fights that MMA fans should look forward to seeing this month.

Cyrille Diabate vs Jorgen Kruth

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    While this fight certainly lacks the name-brand value of the others on this list, it makes up for it with what promises to be a standup masterpiece. 

    Known in his home country of Sweden as one of the greatest kickboxers and muay thai specialists of all time, 37-year-old Jorgen Kruth has made his way into mixed martial arts. With a 5-0 record, Kruth has yet to allow any opponent to see the second round.

    When he makes his UFC debut on April 14th at UFC on FUEL TV 2, he squares off with fellow kickboxer and muay thai artist Cyrille Diabate. Diabate is 2-2 inside the UFC and will be fighting for his job, so expect "The Snake" to put on an impressive performance.

    MMA purists who enjoy a good striking battle are in for a treat, which is why this bout has made it into my list. 

Brian Rogers vs Bruno Santos

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    Over the years, Bellator has been the host of many highlight-reel knockouts. Patricky Pitbull's knockouts of Toby Imada and Kurt Pellegrino have left fans speechless. Likewise, Pat Curran has sent shivers down our spines when he separated Marlon Sandra and Joe Warren from consciousness.

    Joining the Spectacular Knockouts Club is Middleweight tournament fighter Brian Rogers. In his quarter-final bout against Vitor Vianna, Rogers wobbled his opponent with a right cross and followed it up with a stunning flying knee. 

    Rogers plans to deliver the same sort of entertainment when he meets the undefeated Bruno Santos at Bellator 66 on April 20. "Google it! I'm going to throw it, and you're not going to stop me." 

Efrain Escudero vs Mac Danzig

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    In a battle of Ultimate Fighter winners, lightweights Mac Danzig and Efrain Escudero will both be in desperate need of a win at UFC 145 on April 21.

    Winner of season eight of TUF, Efrain Escudero has already been handed his walking papers by the UFC brass after coming in overweight in his loss to Charles Oliviera. It took a 5-1 stint on the independent circuit and an injury to TJ Grant for Escudero to be offered a roster slot back in December.

    Under similar pressure, Mac Danzig, the winner of season six, has seen had his hand raised in only two of his last seven appearances. A loss in this fight would spell disaster for his career and likely result in a pink slip.

    An animal is most dangerous when its back is against the wall. If you need an example of that, take a look at Danzig's performance against Joe Stevenson.

Marcos Galvao vs Ed West

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    Last April, Marcos Galvao was robbed of a decision win against Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren. After three hard fought rounds, it was clear to most that Galvao had just pulled off a major upset. When the scores were read, there was a lot of disappointment, but the fact remained that Bellator had a new rising star.

    Galvao defeated Chase Beebe in the quarterfinals of last year's bantamweight tournament and lost via split decision to Alexis Vila in the semi-finals. That bout was hotly contested, as several pundits were split as to who the victor was. 

    Galvao returns for the Season Six quarterfinals against Ed West, a bantamweight who also lost via split decision in the Season Five semi-finals. Catch this fight at Bellator 65 on April 13th.

Dennis Siver vs Diego Nunes

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    German striker Dennis Siver has won in seven of his last nine UFC bouts. A four fight win streak put him in contention for a crack at Frankie Edgar and the coveted lightweight championship, but a loss to Donald Cerrone sent him back to the beginning of the line.

    Instead of working his way back through the crowded lightweight pack, Siver has decided to make a move down to the featherweight division in hopes of finding greener pastures. When he gets there, he will meet Diego Nunes, who holds a record of 17-2, and boasts victories over former champion Mike Brown and contender Manny Gamburyan.

    With a repertoire of spinning kicks and hard knees, Nunes is a threat on the feet, but we can only speculate as to who will have the upper hand when this bout takes place at UFC on FUEL TV 2 on April 14th.

Marlon Sandro vs Alexandre Bezerra

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    Marlon Sandro is probably Bellator's best featherweight who isn't named Pat Curran. With an impressive record of 21-3, along with four BFC wins and experience in Shooto, Sengoku and Pancrase, Sandro is a 35-year-old fighter who does a great job of hanging with the young bloods. Marlon needed less than four minutes to dispatch of his quarterfinal opponent via rear naked choke.

    Alexandre Bezerra is a fast rising star in Bellator and has already put together five wins in the organization. His only career loss came to UFC standout Charles Oliveira back in 2009. His wins have come with several choke variations, as well as a brutal heel hook to Douglas Evans back in November.

    Not only will this bout determine a finalist for the Season Six featherweight tournament, but it should be an action packed affair that gives fans a terrific thrill. Catch this fight at Bellator 64 on April 6th.

Paulo Thiago vs Siyar Bahadurzada

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    We have not seen enough of Paulo Thiago lately. Due to elbow injuries, Thiago was forced to drop out of scheduled bouts with welterweights Mike Pyle and Johny Hendricks.

    On April 14th at UFC on FUEL TV 2, the Brazillian SWAT force member will welcome Golden Glory standout Siyar Bahadurzada into the UFC.

    Siyar holds 20 professional victories, and 16 of them have come via stoppage, while Thiago holds the illustrious Fight Night Triple Crown: Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night award bonuses. This fight promises to be an action-packed contest in which neither man backs down.

Matt Brown vs Stephen Thompson

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    At UFC 143, undefeated Stephen Thompson made his highly anticipated debut. With an undefeated kickboxing record of 56-0, a stunning knockout was both expected and delivered in his bout with Dan Stittgen.

    However, UFC welterweight Matt Brown thinks that he deserved the Knockout of the Night bonus, based on his 2nd round knockout of Ultimate Fighter alumni Chris Cope. 

    "The guy he was fighting—no offense to the guy, but I don't think he belonged in there at all," Brown said. "Cope was at least a formidable matchup for me. 

    Three days after this statement was made, the UFC announced that Brown and Thompson will meet on the FX preliminary portion of UFC 145.

    Thompson has fantastic technique, while Brown is a gritty beat-em-up kind of brawler. While Brown wouldn't necessarily object to a standup battle, he is a smart enough fighter to know that his key to winning this fight is to take advantage of Thompson's inexperience in the grappling department.

Rick Hawn vs Lloyd Woodard

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    Rick Hawn battled Jay Hieron in a back and forth war at Bellator 43 in the finals of the Season Five welterweight tournament. After 15 minutes of action, Hieron was awarded the controversial split decision victory, which gave Hawn his first professional loss.

    Nearly one year later, Hawn's shadow looms over the semi-finals of this years lightweight tournament. Standing in his way is fellow once-beaten Lloyd Woodard, whose only loss comes at the hands of current lightweight champion Michael Chandler.

    Woodard advanced to the semi-finals by submitting highly-touted competitor and heavy favorite Patricky"Pitbull" Freire.

    Both men hold an identical record of 12 wins with one loss, and both men are looking to win their first Bellator tournament. When the cage doors close at Bellator 66 on April 20, Woodard will attempt to pull off another upset and move one step closer to the finals.

Todd Duffee vs Neil Grove

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    In a battle of former UFC competitors, Todd Duffee and Neil Grove will square off in the sophomore effort of India's Super Fight League. The event is still waiting to announce it's exact date, but it has been confirmed that the event will occur sometime during the month of April.

    Duffee is trying to shake the cobwebs off after a 2010 knockout loss to Alistair Overeem. Prior to that, a loss to Mike Russow led to Todd's ejection from the UFC. Duffee did not fight at all in 2011, so it will be interesting to see how much his game improved in his 16 months away from competition.

    Grove is coming back after a 3-3 stint in Bellator ended in October of last year. His only UFC bout came at UFC 95, where he lost via heel hook to Mike Ciesnolevicz in the first round.

    While Grove's nickname is Goliath, his opponent's physique is more in tune with that of his moniker.

    This bout clearly isn't going to headline any major events, but it's exciting to see the return of such a highly touted prospect like Duffee who stepped away for an extended absence

Maiquel Falcao vs Jesse Taylor

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    On April 20, Bellator 66 will be the host of a middleweight battle between two controversial former UFC talents, Jesse Taylor and Maiquel Falcao.

    After getting kicked out of the finals of The Ultimate Fighter due to behavioral issues, Taylor has put together a record of 14-5 since his 2008 departure from the UFC, which includes victories over former UFC Middleweight champion Murilo Bustamante, current BAMMA champion Tom Watson and PRIDE standout Denis Kang.

    Despite an impressive win in his Octagon debut against Gerald Harris, Falcao was released without fighting a second time for the UFC due to charges stemming from a 2002 assault case in Brazil. Falcao suffered a heart attack in November of last year.

    Taylor replaces Vyacheslav, who was removed from the tournament due to restrictions in his contract with M-1 Global, which prevents him from competing in Bellator.

Travis Browne vs Chad Griggs

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    When heavyweights Travis Browne and Chad Griggs collide, the lights are going to go out for somebody, and it's going to happen quickly.

    Chad Griggs is a Strikeforce import who is best known for his stoppage victory over Bobby Lashley back in 2010. Since that time, Chad would go on to win two more fights for Strikeforce. All 11 of Griggs' professional victories have come due to strikes, and he would like to continue that trend at UFC 145 on April 21st. 

    Browne has fought for the UFC four times, has secured victories over Stefan Struve, Rob Broughton and James McSweeney and has a 2010 draw with Cheick Kongo. Bleacher Report ranks Browne as the No. 10 Heavyweight in the world.

Miguel Torres vs Michael McDonald

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    In a battle between the No. 5 and No. 6 ranked bantamweights in the world, Miguel Torres will duke it out with rising star Michael McDonald on the PPV portion of UFC 145 on April 21.

    Miguel Torres is returning to the UFC for the first time since his dismissal earlier this year after a Tweet gone wrong. The former WEC champion looks to continue building momentum after his November victory over Nick Pace.

    McDonald holds a 14-1 record and at the age of 21, has already gone back and avenged his only loss. Currently Michael is riding the wave of a three fight win streak in the UFC. He has already received Fight of the Night and KO of the Night honors in his young career.

    This fight will show us exactly how good McDonald is, because Angel is an experienced veteran with a lot of big fight experience.

Brian Stann vs Alessio Sakara

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    It's Italy vs America when Italian boxer Alessio Sakara takes on former middleweight contender Brian Stann at UFC on FUEL TV 2 on April 14.

    Stann will look to rebound from his Fall loss to Chael Sonnen, while Sakara is returning for the first time since welcoming Chris Weidman to the UFC last March. 

    Both men prefer the standup game, and after seeing that Stann's hand are capable of putting down iron-chinned warriors like Chris Leben, we are certainly in for some fireworks.

    It is interesting to note that Sakara has not fought more than once during a calendar year since 2008.

Bellator Bantamweight Championship: Zach Makovsky vs Eduardo Dantas

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    Bellator 65 on April 13 will feature the Bantamweight Championship bout between Season Five winner Eduardo Dantas and reigning champion Zach Makovsky.

    The 23-year-old Dantas defeated Wilson Reis, Ed West and Alexis Vila to earn this title shot.

    Makovsky won his championship when he defeated Ed West in the finals of the Season Three tournament. Although he has yet to defend his title, Zach has been successful in two non-title bouts while waiting for a contender to emerge.

Bellator Heavyweight Championship: Cole Konrad vs Eric Prindle

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    The second title fight on Bellator 65 was not originally scheduled to take place. When Thiago Santos found himself unable to make weight for his tournament final bout with Eric Prindle, Prindle was awarded the tournament crown and the title shot that comes with it.

    Instead of having Prindle wait for a title shot down the line, Bellator was able to convince champion Cole Konrad to compete sooner than expected.

    Konrad is a two-time NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion and is undefeated in his MMA career. Prindle has a similar record of 7-1 (1) and defeated Abe Wagner and Ron Sparks en route to his tournament final.

Alexander Gustafsson vs Thiago Silva

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    When Antonio Minotauro Nogueira was forced out of the headlining spot at UFC on FUEL TV 2, there weren't many available light-heavyweights who were willing to step in on short notice against the rapidly rising Alexander Gustafsson. When the dust settled, one man raised his hand: Thiago Silva.

    Silva recently gave his thoughts on his upcoming bout:

    "My prediction is that I will fight hard like a true warrior. Everybody knows my style. When I step in the Octagon, I go to kill or die, and I will do the same on April 14th, and I will be ten times more aggressive because this fight is very important for me."

    With such high intensity already, we can only imagine the kind of battle we see once these two step into the cage.

    Gustafsson has gone 5-1 inside the UFC, winning all of his fights via stoppage. He holds victories over Matt Hamill, James Te Huna and Vladimir Matyushenko.

Bellator Welterweight Championship: Ben Askren vs Douglas Lima

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    At Bellator 64, the first title defense of the season will take place when Welterweight champion Ben Askren defends his gold against Douglas Lima.

    Askren is a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion. Askren has used his wrestling to rattle off nine consecutive wins, which included the Bellator Season Two tournament championship and a successful title defense against Jay Hieron last fall.

    Lima is currently riding a nine fight win streak and earned his title shot by defeating Steve Carl, Chris Lozano and Ben Saunders to win the Season Five welterweight tournament.

Eddie Alvarez vs Shinya Aoki II

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    Bellator 66 will be headlined by a rematch featuring two of the top-ranked lightweights outside of the UFC.

    Eddie Alvarez was a longtime Bellator lightweight champion who was recently dethroned in an epic battle with Michael Chandler. Prior to that bout, he had requested the opportunity to avenge a 2008 loss to Japanese submission machine Shinya Aoki. Aoki won their first bout via heel hook in the first round.

    Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney finally was able to put the bout together for April 20th at Bellator 66. 

    Alvarez and Aoki have both been ranked highly despite not competing inside the UFC. Both men have experienced losses to a high level opponent which has knocked them down the food chain a bit, but this fight has a lot of implications on the lightweight division. With Alvarez no longer holding Bellator gold, the UFC could come knocking after a win.

UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship: Jon Jones vs Rashad Evans

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    The biggest fight of April just may be the biggest matchup that the light-heavyweight division has to offer. 

    The rivalry between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans goes back a year. When Evans had to pull out of his scheduled bout with light-heavyweight champion Shogun Rua, his friend and campmate Jon Jones was offered to be his replacement.

    Both men, as members of Team Jackson, had sworn that they would not face off against a teammate. Coach Greg Jackson voiced his disapproval of the idea of Evans and Jones squaring off.

    Rashad has left Team Jackson and began working with the Blackzillians, a camp that includes Anthony Johnson, Tyrone Sprong, Roy Jones Jr., Melvin Guillard and more.

    We could go on and on about the incredible backstory behind this bout, but as readers of Bleacher Report, you know enough about this fight to know exactly why you should be excited.

    UFC 145 is April 21st on PPV.