UFC Fantasy Matchmaker April 2014 Edition

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UFC Fantasy Matchmaker April 2014 Edition
Eric Jamison/Associated Press

There is an art to matchmaking in combat sports.

While some fights come together with natural ease, most bouts are formed through a hectic process of evaluation. Several aspects need to be graded on each side of the table before committing to the matchup.

Whether or not a fight makes sense in the divisional scheme, timing and making sure both fighters stand to gain similar rewards are the most pressing issues that come to mind. Then, of course, there is the most important aspect of a potential fight: Will both competitors be willing to mix it up and put on a show?

The unfortunate part of the process comes when all of these criteria are met, and the fight fails to deliver. That said, the UFC showcases far more exciting tilts than flat fights these days, which goes to show just how good Joe Silva and Sean Shelby are at their jobs.

The 2014 campaign is well underway and fight fans have been treated to a storm of action-packed tilts from all corners of the UFC roster.

Every weight class under the promotional banner is in full swing, as champions are set to defend their titles, prospects will be looking to make good on their hype and savvy veterans will continue to battle to keep their footing in their respective divisional hierarchies in the coming months.

Every month we like to give you a batch of potential matchups that would serve as relevant additions to divisional pictures and title races. While this installment is coming late in the month, MMA road trips and other projects have bumped it back on the schedule. Nevertheless, this month's offering will be in close proximity to May's lineup, but there is always room for more fantasy matchmaking.

Let's take a look at the April offerings for Fantasy Matchmaker: April 2014 edition.

 

Roy Nelson vs. Mark Hunt

There are many different elements of inner-cage violence that draws the eyes of fans to a fight, but there is none perhaps more appealing than the potential to see the one-shot knockout.

While technical matchups that create stylistic chess matches are great for the hardcore demographic of the fighting faithful, matchups where the leather is going to fly with reckless abandon can elevate pulses across the board.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

With this in mind, Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt have been doing some of the best work the knockout business has seen in recent years. "Big Country" and the "Super Samoan" have been turning out lights in the heavyweight division at a consistent rate as they've been settling the opposition in brutal, highlight worthy fashion.

Due to the instability of the divisional ranks, the respective paths of these two heavy-hitters have never crossed, but it could very well be time for this collision of iron-chinned, brick-handed sluggers to step into the Octagon together.

Since winning the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter, Nelson has been one of the premier knockout artists in the heavyweight collective. The Las Vegas native has claimed a slew of victims with his signature overhand right and proven time and time again that if the 36-year-old touches his opponent's chin with one clean shot, the long sleep will abruptly follow.

There is no more prominent and painful example than what the former IFL champion did to MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his most recent outing.

After several minutes of back-and-forth action in their main event tilt at Fight Night 39 in Abu Dhabi, Nelson launched a missile of a right hand that ushered "Big Nog" into oblivion. The former Pride and UFC interim champion dropped lifeless to the canvas, as Nelson turned to acknowledge the crowd appreciation for his walk-off home run. 

While defeating Nogueira isn't going to catapult him to the front of the line for a title opportunity, it will guarantee his next opponent will come from the elite ranks of the division, and Mark Hunt could very well be that next draw.

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Where the New Zealand native started out sluggish under the UFC banner, the former K-1 champion has quickly risen to become a major player in the heavyweight mix.

The 40-year-old put the brakes on a six-fight losing streak by finding success in four consecutive outings, which included a blistering knockout victory over Cheick Kongo and a one-punch annihilation of Stefan Struve that shattered the Dutchman's jaw in March 2013.

The gritty powerhouse may have suffered a loss to Junior dos Santos and battled to a majority draw with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in his two most recent showings, but his hard-nosed performances in both showings have only served to elevate his stock with the UFC's fanbase.

More than ever before in his career, people want to see Hunt work his craft against opponents who will stand and trade with him, and there is no fighter more game in that regard than Nelson.

Both fighters have well-deserved reputations for looking for the finish. A potential pairing of these two heavyweight sluggers would certainly be a "must-watch" affair. 

 

Urijah Faber vs. Dominick Cruz

A typical situation in MMA sees a fighter either rise or fall due to their success or lack thereof inside the cage. That said, there are some athletes who wind up in strange situations, and both Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber are members of that club.

The "California Kid" has been a perennial contender in whatever weight class he has chosen to inhabit. The Team Alpha Male leader held the WEC featherweight tile for an impressive stint, but after failing to retain the strap and a lopsided loss to champion Jose Aldo, the Sacramento resident decided to drop down into bantamweight waters in late 2010.

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The 34-year-old made an immediate impact in the 135-pound ranks and earned a title shot against champion Dominick Cruz in his third showing in the weight class. Faber would come out on the losing end of a hard-fought battle with "The Dominator," but his status as one of the best in the division wouldn't be tarnished for long.

He would steamroll Brian Bowles in his next outing and set up a trilogy bout with Cruz. Unfortunately, the Team Alliance member would suffer a substantial injury, and the former WEC 145-pound title holder would face Renan Barao for the interim title.

While Faber come out on the losing end of the fight with Barao at UFC 149 in 2012, then again in the main event of UFC 169 earlier this year, he's absolutely demolished everything put in his path outside of title contention.

Outside of current title challenger and teammate T.J. Dillashaw, Faber has cut like a buzzsaw through the rest of the potential contenders in the division, save for Cruz, that is why this fight makes sense.

The recently stripped bantamweight champion has been on the sidelines with a knee injury for more than two years, and his attempts to come back have all ended in shambles. With multiple timelines set that all eventually fell through due to his inability to get his knee back to health, UFC President Dana White drew the proverbial line in the sand with his unification bout against Barao at UFC 169.

If Cruz couldn't make the fight, he would be forced to vacate the title, and several weeks out from the clash in New Jersey, that is exactly what happened.

Eric Jamison/Associated Press

Where an immediate return against Barao seemed a bit crazy back in February, it would only seem more so if Cruz decided to reschedule the fight later in the year.

It is understandable that Cruz wouldn't want to come back outside of the title realm, but returning from what could realistically be a three-year absence from the Octagon to face a fighter who has remained as busy and looked as dominant as Barao, would be a steep hill for even someone as proven as Cruz to climb.

That's why a return bout against Faber makes sense. Both men are in a current state of limbo, and it's the type of high-profile fight people could get behind. Their feud goes back to their time in WEC, and rescheduling their trilogy fight would serve to pump some solid lifeblood into a division that certainly needs as much as it can get.

 

Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller

PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

There are some fights that need the "hard push" to sell, but a matchup between Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller wouldn't be one of them. Both men bring the ruckus every time they step into the cage, and their respective places in the lightweight picture has set up a potential clash between these two gritty scrappers.

While "Cowboy" hasn't quite kicked up enough dust to warrant a title shot, he's certainly built some buzz around his name and some solid momentum in the lightweight ranks.

The Albuquerque transplant suffered a setback against Rafael dos Anjos back in August 2013, but he has since rattled off three consecutive victories, all coming by way of highlight-reel-worthy finishes. Those performances have Cerrone knocking at the door of the contender's tier at 155 pounds, but he's still one solid win away from being seriously considered for a shot at the strap.

Enter Jim Miller. 

David Becker/Associated Press

The New Jersey native has been a staple in the elite-level of the lightweight division for years, and he has his eyes on getting his own crack at the title. While the AMA-trained fighter has suffered several setbacks over the past three years, he's still strung together wins on a consistent basis and remained relevant in an increasingly competitive division.

That said, the 30-year-old has found his groove as of late, as he's gone 3-0, 1 NC over his last four showings, which have included back-to-back first-round submission finishes over tough competition.

With making the bout between Cerrone and Miller, the UFC would cover two bases with one shot. First and foremost, there is no way a fight between these two animals would not be entertaining, and second, the bout would serve as an eliminator of sorts, as the winner would stay in the hunt for a title shot and the loser would be reshuffled back into the stacked lightweight deck.

 

Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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