April is drawing to a close. It was a mixed month for the UFC, with a few critically acclaimed and exciting events topped off by one of the strangest pay-per-view events in the history of the company.
After four events in April, the UFC dials it back a notch and presents just two cards in May. But even though we have fewer total fights to pick from, there are still plenty of intriguing matchups to look forward to.
Let's take a look at five you can't miss.
Vitor Belfort vs. Luke Rockhold (UFC on FX 8)
There's plenty to like about this fight.
For starters, it's our first chance to see former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold in the UFC's Octagon. We saw him perform at high levels in Strikeforce, but the question was always there: How would he fare against the top fighters in the UFC's middleweight division? After all, it's one thing to be a champion in a talent-depleted Strikeforce division; it's another thing entirely to cruise to victory in the UFC.
Rockhold has a tough out in his UFC debut. Vitor Belfort seems to be following the Randy Couture path toward becoming an ageless wonder; he looks nearly as good today as he was when he made his UFC debut so many years ago. Of course, it probably helps that Belfort is the recipient of testosterone replacement therapy, which helps him keep the body of a much younger fighter despite advancing years.
Rockhold is currently a slight favorite, which I think is fairly representative of what we'll actually see in the cage. He has the tools to get it done, but Belfort still has that nasty power and, as we saw against Jon Jones last year, a deadly submission game.
Rockhold is ultra-confident of a win, but he'll want to make sure he doesn't get too overconfident or the "old lion" will make him pay. If Rockhold can pull out the victory, you have to assume he'll be calling for a title shot immediately after.
Costa Philippou vs. Ronaldo Souza (UFC on FX 8)
This middleweight clash will be overlooked because of the Rockhold/Belfort main event, and that's too bad.
Riding a five-fight winning streak, Philippou has quietly been sneaking up the divisional ranks. It wasn't too long ago that he was just another middleweight; now, he's a contender. But he's facing what is easily the toughest challenge of his career in Ronaldo Souza, a former Strikeforce middleweight champion who has developed a powerful striking game to go along with his otherworldly submission skills.
It's a little bit weird, if you think about it. Two years ago, we likely would have expected Souza to make his debut against Anderson Silva or another top-ranked middleweight. Instead, he's facing Philippou.
I mean no disrespect to the hard-hitting Cypriot, because he obviously deserves the fight he's getting, but it's a little strange to see Souza stepping into a dangerous fight with a competitor who doesn't have the highest name value in the world.
No matter how it came together, this fight should be awesome and will go a long way toward establishing another contender in the 185-pound title picture.
Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt (UFC 160)
On the surface, I look at this fight and say: "There's just no way Mark Hunt can beat Junior dos Santos."
But then again, maybe he can. After all, I counted Hunt out a long time ago, and I never imagined I'd be speaking of him as a potential title contender in 2013. Never, ever in my wildest dreams. And yet here we are, with Hunt one or two wins away from a title shot.
Can he beat dos Santos? I don't think it's likely, but you never know. He does have extraordinary knockout power, and dos Santos has shown that he prefers boxing to any other aspect of mixed martial arts. If the former heavyweight champ decides to pull the same tactic with Hunt, he could very well find himself on the floor, staring up at the lights.
That's what makes this fight so intriguing: Hunt winning is almost unimaginable, and yet it's totally plausible. Isn't that why we tune into MMA in the first place?
Donald Cerrone vs. K.J. Noons (UFC 160)
I love this fight. A lot.
There's just something about the style matchup that I find appealing. Both guys are technically sound strikers with a flair for the dramatic. If they elect to go in the cage and turn the bout into an all-out brawl, we're all in for a very good time.
Both fighters are trying to right the ship. Donald Cerrone went down to Anthony Pettis in January, while K.J. Noons lost a controversial decision to Ryan Couture in a fight that many people thought he won. Prior to that, he lost a unanimous decision to Josh Thomson.
The interesting question about this fight, at least for me: Will Noons be able to continue the success of other Strikeforce lightweights in the UFC? We've seen Pat Healy and Thomson score big upset wins, and many people believe Gilbert Melendez beat Benson Henderson in their title fight in April.
Noons has all the tools to continue that string of success, but he'll need to be on top of his game in order to stop Cerrone.
Gray Maynard vs. T.J Grant (UFC 160)
Speaking of fights that I love: Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant, a battle of two hard-nosed and powerful lightweights. If that wasn't enough to draw your attention, the winner of this fight earns the next shot at Benson Henderson's lightweight title.
Maynard has been a perennial contender for the last few years, but hasn't competed since defeating Clay Guida last June in one of the worst fights of the year. That wasn't Maynard's fault, of course—it just happened to be the moment that Guida decided to morph from an exciting fighter into a not-so-exciting one.
Grant has been on a tear since dropping to lightweight. He's 4-0, with wins over notable competition like Evan Dunham and Matt Wiman. He's a real threat at lightweight, but he's never faced anyone like Maynard, either. He'll need to fire on all cylinders to come out with a win.
I expect a brutal, grinding and likely wrestling-based battle between these two. That may not be your cup of tea, but that kind of style matchup often results in entertaining fights. All you have to do is look at UFC 159's Fight of the Night between Pat Healy and Jim Miller for a perfect example.
I'm not saying Maynard vs. Grant will be of the same caliber, but I also believe you shouldn't sleep on it.
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