10 Must-See MMA Fights in the Month of March
Queue the confetti. The celebration for a sensational month of fights is almost under way.
With divisional bragging rights and title hopes at stake, the onslaught of mixed martial arts brutality this March may produce the best four weeks of action in 2014.
From Alexander Gustafsson's return to a new champion being crowned in the UFC welterweight division, from a Bellator light heavyweight grudge match to a replay of one of the best fights in MMA history, expectations are at an all-time high.
Here are 10 must-see fights for the month of March and why they'll produce memorable fireworks.
10. Matt Mitrione vs. Shawn Jordan
As one of the only featured heavyweight bouts of the month, Matt Mitrione vs. Shawn Jordan should be an absolute war.
With both former top prospects coming off defeats, you know darn well they'll come out swinging.
Jordan should look to utilize his strong frame and ability to take opponents down, but Mitrione is one of the hardest punchers in the division, so "The Savage" must be cautious.
Either way, this has Performance of the Night written all over it, especially on a rather lackluster UFC Fight Night main card this Saturday in Macau, China.
9. Michael Johnson vs. Melvin Guillard
Officially on the cusp of the lightweight division's illustrious Top 10, Michael "The Menace" Johnson needs a victory over Melvin Guillard at UFC Fight Night 38 on March 8 to secure his future title hopes.
After destroying Gleison Tibau in December, Johnson has already been pegged by some people as the next best thing when it comes to budding contenders. But until he gets through the heavy-handed arsenal of Guillard, none of that matters.
For Guillard, this will be a chance to get back into the thick of things at 155 and fend off a hungry talent in Johnson, who is stepping in for the injured Ross Pearson.
This is an awesome stylistic matchup that could lead to one heck of a brawl. Just don't be surprised if Johnson's range and fluidity reign supreme.
8. Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard
I know what you're thinking, and you're probably right: Every Jake Shields fight is boring.
Now while that's as true as the sky is blue, it's not every day that Shields has to fend off a 170-pound powerhouse like Hector Lombard.
So while we know what the veteran is going to try and do with his lay-and-pray grappling, there's a very good chance that his efforts will be thwarted by Lombard's raw strength and ability to land leather to chin.
This sort of grappler vs. striker meeting always packs a surprise. But if recent accomplishments have anything to do with it, "Lightning" should find a quick home for his strikes en route to impressing his fellow welterweights at UFC 171 on March 15.
7. Diego Sanchez vs. Myles Jury
While on paper this seems like a distinct mismatch in favor of Diego Sanchez, Myles Jury is the one who's undefeated.
Now fighting a guy as demonic and mentally imposing as Sanchez is a different animal, but Jury is as cool, calm and collected as they come.
Blessed with natural dexterity and budding striking that is fueled by precision and range, "Fury" should create a storm for "The Dream" at UFC 171.
But until we actually see Sanchez get defeated by a young whippersnapper, let's just assume he'll get his hand raised with each eyebrow blown off.
6. Attila Vegh vs. Emanuel Newton
Bellator CXIII will take place on March 21, and it will be a doozy.
Light heavyweight champion Attila Vegh will be making his return to the cage to take on interim kingpin Emanuel Newton, who has made a name for himself after securing four victories in 2013, including two wins over the uber-popular Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal.
Vegh and Newton met once before back in 2012 when the champ eked out a split decision, but that was a different time. Newton is peaking now, and his current momentum is the stuff made of sheer brilliance.
It's important to understand that Vegh will be fighting for the first time since early 2013, but as one of the best finishers in the sport, the Slovakian should have no problem taking over where he left off.
This is one of the best title fights of the year and one that should not go to the judges.
5. Kelvin Gastelum vs. Rick Story
Kelvin Gastelum is young (22), skilled and tough enough to one day contend for a welterweight title.
But until he weaves his way up the divisional ladder and surpasses more prominent names, he'll have to conquer immediate threats like Rick Story.
As one of the bigger fighters in the weight class, Story is a tough out for anybody—just ask Johny Hendricks. So while his days of relevant title runs are over, he's still one of those guys who can outpush and outpressure on any given night.
Fortunately for fight fans who love toe-to-toe barnburners, Gastelum is gamer than most. If he wants to continue his rise to stardom and remain perfect in the record department, he'll have to keep his patience and stay the course at UFC 171.
4. Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa
Some people believe this is a matter of throwing Jimi Manuwa to the wolves and allowing Alexander Gustafsson to get back into the win column before a championship rematch with Jon Jones.
Now while that may be true in a variety of ways, no one should sleep on "Poster Boy."
In his three UFC appearances, Manuwa's opponents have suffered dearly. Two of them were unable to continue due to injury, and the other lost via a doctor's stoppage.
So, for the people not paying attention, Manuwa is a killer. He doesn't just go out there to score points and win rounds like most of these softies—he goes in there to bruise and batter.
Will he find that type of success against a world-class striker like "The Mauler" at UFC Fight Night 38? On a good day, maybe.
Let's see if March 8 is a good day for Manuwa.
3. Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley
What's not to love about this fight?
One of the hottest welterweights in the world in Tyron Woodley will be stepping up in competition to challenge the ultra-dangerous and always game Carlos Condit.
They are two of the very best at what they do. The winner of this UFC 171 showdown—especially if it's Condit, based on his overall track record—should get the next shot at welterweight gold.
While that's something to aim for, the fight at hand possesses its own degree of greatness.
Condit is as well-rounded as they come and has never been finished by strikes. His stand-up game continues to thrive on the heels of timely kickboxing and excellent range work.
But if Woodley is able to get off early and impose his raw athleticism, all of that might go out the window for "The Natural Born Killer."
2. Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson II
A little more than two years ago at UFC 139, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Dan Henderson collided in one of the greatest mixed martial arts fights of all time.
Back and forth they went with heavy blows, splintering knees in the clinch and steel chins that are better suited for tank doors. Their efforts left little to the imagination as every ounce of blood and sweat left their beings in classic form.
But hey, why not try it again?
I'm not sure if their rematch at UFC Fight Night 39 on March 23 will take anything away from their first epic encounter, but having somewhat stumbled since then, Rua and Henderson should provide as much grit this time around as they did back in 2011.
If everything goes as planned, fight fans will witness another five rounds of pure combative bliss.
1. Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
UFC 171 will mark the first time in nearly six years that a new UFC welterweight champion will be crowned.
While former divisional king Georges St-Pierre will be missed, this is a good opportunity for the UFC to embark on a new journey.
Whether or not top contenders Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler have what it takes to remain on top of the weight class has yet to be determined, but their upcoming battle on March 15 will make history.
Will it be Hendricks' well-planned power shots and elite wrestling that ring true? Or will Lawler's raw strength and wild knockout blows catch the hard-headed, bearded barbarian?
In any result, this fight will mark the start of a fresh beginning, and that alone is exciting.
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