The month of April is as action-packed as they come under the UFC banner.
A solid mixture of championship tilts, grudge matches and bouts that have the potential to affect divisional pictures are set to hit the Octagon every remaining weekend of the month. Despite the chaos that surrounded UFC on Fuel TV 9, the UFC's second visit to Sweden delivered on all fronts and set the tone for would should be a fantastic run of fights.
Benson Henderson squares off with Gilbert Melendez in a "champion versus champion" scrap. Light heavyweight phenom Jon Jones puts his title on the line as Chael Sonnen will look to derail the "Bones" train.
Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher will bring two months of beef to an end when they trade face punches in Newark. The highly-touted former Olympian Daniel Cormier will also make his long-awaited UFC debut when he locks up with two-time former heavyweight champion Frank Mir in San Jose.
If this mixture of high-profile fights weren't enough, this run will also see the 17th winner of The Ultimate Fighter crowned and Miesha Tate and Cat Zigano will become the second-ever women's bout to take place in the UFC.
To sweeten the deal for the UFC fanbase, every card with the exception of UFC 159 will take place on free television, making April an unofficial "fan appreciation" month for the promotion.
While the bouts listed above will undoubtedly get the majority share of the attention, there are three fights remaining on the dockets I believe are "can't miss" and certainly worth checking out.
All three bouts standout for different reasons in my mind. Whether these dust-ups will produce a title shot, prove which fighter belongs in the divisional upper-tier or is going to be stylistic ruckus, fans need to keep an eye on them over the next few weeks.
Travis Browne vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
All the attention these days seems to be focused on the title picture in the heavyweight division, so it comes as no surprise the clash between Browne and Gonzaga isn't generating much buzz around the MMA community.
The 30-year-old Hawaiian had plenty of steam behind him heading into his bout with Antonio "Big Foot" Silva last October at UFC on FX 5. The Jackson's MMA-trained fighter was undefeated his first five showings under the UFC banner, with the only blemish coming from a draw against Cheick Kongo at UFC 120.
Unfortunately, Browne's run of success would take a detour against the Strikeforce convert, as a highlight-reel worthy knockout cooled the heat surrounding "Hapa" for the time being.
A victory over Silva would have removed the prospect label Browne had been carrying and put him into the title picture in the heavyweight division. While the loss to the Brazilian was certainly a setback, if Browne is able to get back into the win column in impressive fashion against Gonzaga, it would serve to make up for the ground he lost in defeat.
Another interesting note in the matchup is the stigma which surrounds "Napao." The former No. 1 contender to the heavyweight crown has proven to be the definitive "gatekeeper" in the weight class. The fighters who have defeated Gonzaga (Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos, Shane Carwin) have either gone on to fight for the title or positioned themselves at the top of the divisional hierarchy. On the other hand, those who have come out on the business end of their fights against Gonzaga have drifted away into heavyweight obscurity.
When this stigma—along with Browne looking to rebound from his first loss are factored into the equation—it makes this bout with Gonzaga a crucial outing in his career.
The stakes are equally high where the Brazilian is concerned. After back-to-back losses cost the submission ace his job with the UFC, Gonzaga has made the most of his second chance finding success in his two showings since making his return to the organization.
Gonzaga's most recent performance was a one-sided defeat of veteran Ben Rothwell at UFC on FX 7 in January. After getting the best of "Big Ben" throughout the opening frame, Gonzaga latched onto a fight-ending guillotine choke in the opening minute of the second round to secure the victory.
While two solid victories have sparked talk of a career resurgence for Gonzaga, a win over Browne would carve that notion in stone. Despite a loss in his most recent outing, Browne is a still a highly-touted prospect in the division and a victory in Las Vegas at the TUF Finale would have Gonzaga a step outside of the top 10 rankings in the weight class.
Urijah Faber vs. Scott Jorgensen
It may seem strange Faber is perpetually involved in a UFC title picture, but "The California Kid's" track record speaks for itself. Despite having lost his past five attempts to claim championship gold under the UFC banner, The Team Alpha Male leader has kept himself within striking distance of yet another title opportunity.
How does Faber continue to get title shots you ask? The long answer would include a brief description of being the most marketable fighter competing in the lower weight classes, but the short answer would be that he absolutely wrecks every opponent he faces outside of title bouts. The most recent example came at the expense of veteran Ivan Menjivar, as Faber needed less than a full round to dispose of the El Salvadorian via rear-naked choke at UFC 156.
The performance could have earned Faber another go at the bantamweight title, but with his defeat against interim champion Renan Barao still fresh in the minds of both the UFC brass and fanbase, it made sense for the 33-year-old to take another step before getting a title shot.
With champion Dominick Cruz still sidelined with a nagging knee injury and Renan Barao slated to defend his interim title this summer against Eddie Wineland, a victory for Faber over Jorgensen will most likely solidify the former WEC featherweight champion earning another opportunity to fight for the title.
The same set of circumstances holds true for Jorgensen, and the bout against Faber certainly carries a large amount of significance. After suffering the first back-to-back defeats of his career, "Young Guns" stopped his backslide cold with a first-round submission victory over John Albert at UFC on Fox 5 in December. Where his win in Seattle put him back on the right track, a victory over Faber would serve to catapult Jorgensen up the divisional rankings.
To be within striking distance of a title shot is not unfamiliar territory to Jorgensen, as the Idaho-based fighter is just north of two years removed from a failed title opportunity against Cruz at WEC 53. In most divisions, two consecutive victories wouldn't be enough to solidify contender status, but with the 135-pound weight class being somewhat thin, Jorgensen can make a huge move by defeating the Sacramento-native.
In addition to the potential title shot which lingers in the balance, the throwdown between Faber and Jorgensen should be a lights-out affair. Both possess solid wrestling skills and are well known for pressing the action, which should make their collision this Saturday nothing short of explosive. Where Jorgensen may have a slight edge in the power department, Faber's speed has proven to be difficult to handle.
Outside of the cage, Faber and Jorgensen are personal friends. But this won't hinder their attempts to plant leather on one another's faces and get their hand raised at the end of the fight. With a potential title opportunity at stake, this should guarantee the punches, kicks and elbows fly in furious fashion.
Tim Means vs. Jorge Masvidal
Fans will have to look a bit further off the beaten path for the third scrap on the list as Tim Means and Jorge Masvidal will engage in violence on the FX portion of the UFC on Fox 7 card. While this bout holds no bearing on titles or divisional pictures, it is precisely the type of fight that can set the tempo for the rest of a card and is an example of matchmaking at its finest.
Where Masvidal made solid strides in his career fighting for Strikeforce, the upcoming bout with Means will be his first under the UFC banner and will bring a new level of competition. The 155-pound weight class is a shark tank, and the fight with Means in San Jose will be a great gauge as to which talent level of the division Masvidal currently stands. Granted, the 28-year-old recently competed for the Strikeforce lightweight title, but there is no comparison when it comes to the roster depth in the UFC's 155-pound weight class.
The fight will be the perfect opportunity for Masvidal to make a first impression to a new fanbase. The Miami-based fighter brings an exciting, striking-based style to the cage and will be looking to finish the bout from jump street.
In the past, Masvidal has benefited from facing opposition who push forward, and if Means stays true to previous outings, the New Mexico-based fighter will be looking to constantly engage from the onset.
If there is one word that describes the way Means conducts business inside the cage, it's aggressive. "The Dirty Bird" has a Carlos Condit-esque attack where he uses his length and range to set up a brutal assault of punches, knees, elbows and kicks.
The Power MMA-trained fighter has proven put-away power in his striking game as he displayed in his most recent outing against Justin Salas at UFC on FX 3. From the opening bell Means put the smoke on Salas, dropping him several times with heavy shots before closing out the action with a flurry on the canvas.
When Means steps in against Masvidal, it will be a matchup of two aggressive strikers who refuse to play it safe. While victory is the ultimate motivator for both, a mutual love of the scrap will put this tilt on the violence radar.