If there were ever a time for Bellator Fighting Championships to get a foothold in the MMA mainstream landscape, April would be it.
The world's largest non-Zuffa promotion will run four times this month, compared to two events for Strikeforce and just one for the UFC. However, that one is going to be pretty, pretty big in case you haven't heard.
Without any delay, the action starts Friday in Stockton, CA.
Friday, April 1
While their second show of the month is the one to watch, Friday's Strikeforce event is still newsworthy, as it's the first one held under the Zuffa banner, headlined by 155-pound prospect Justin Wilcox vs. Rodrigo Damm (loser of three of his last four).
How this series evolves will be intriguing to watch, as these are definitely shows for the hardcore fans. There are some Challengers alums returning to the show (David Douglas, Lorenz Larkin), giving it some form of continuity, but overall Challengers events aren't really newsworthy.
However, with Zuffa in charge, that could change over time.
Saturday, April 2
Bellator picked a great night to have a stacked card, as there is no competition from UFC or Strikeforce, leaving them to promote Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez vs. Pat Curran all to themselves.
Besides Alvarez vs. Curran, Rick Hawn vs. Lyman Good sits in the co-main event spot with Toby Imada vs. Patricky Freire and the debut of former UFC'er Ben Saunders on the undercard. Toss in some other fights with UFC-experienced guys (Matt Veach, Dan Cramer), and this should be a nice little show.
Yours truly will be there live reporting on all the action on BleacherReport.com/MMA, starting at 7 pm EST. Join us, won't you?
Saturday, April 9
One week later, Bellator goes head-to-head with Strikeforce, going with Welterweight Champion Ben Askren vs. Nick Thompson in a non-title fight, Jay Hieron vs. Brent Weedman and Michael Chandler vs. Lloyd Woodard.
I would assume an 8 pm airtime so as not to run head-to-head with an interesting card down the dial.
Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley
San Jose, CA—Showtime
One of the more interesting fights Strikeforce has had on the books for some time finally comes to fruition, as Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz defends his gold against Paul Daley, not exactly a Zuffa-loving dude.
This is the first major event under the Zuffa banner, so if there are any major changes in production, methinks you'll start to see them here. Be on the lookout for subtle differences, but one thing I'd guarantee to hear post-event from the fighters: Things ran better and smoother than ever before.
The undercard has some interesting tilts with Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez returning for the first time in over a year to defend against Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki vs. Lyle Beerbohm and Gegard Mousasi vs. a mystery opponent, as Mike Kyle pulled out this week with a hand injury.
The game truly changes on April 9th.
Saturday, April 16
Another unopposed night for Bellator features two non-title bouts with Bantamweight Champ Zack Makovsky vs. Chad Robichaux and Featherweight Champion Joe Warren vs. Marcos Galvao. The show will also feature two featherweight tournament semifinals fights.
Saturday, April 23
Only two fights are official for this show, as the 205-pound semifinals are set with Rich Hale vs. D.J. Linderman and Tim Carpenter vs. Christian M'Pumbu. If you saw the first-round fights, these two should be really, really fun. I'll be interested to see what else they have on the show as support.
Saturday, April 30
Well, if the UFC was only going to have one event this month, there is no better way to roll out than in front of 55,000 rabid Canadians as the UFC makes its Toronto debut with UFC 129. In case you hadn't heard, Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields for the Welterweight title is the main event.
In the co-main event, Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo makes his long-awaited Octagon debut against native son Mark Hominick, while Randy Couture tries to single-leg Father Time one more time against former 205-pound champ Lyoto Machida, desperate for a win.
Also on the card, Ben Henderson returns and the entire undercard (Spike, Facebook and non-televised) is US vs. Canada (nine fights in all), making for an insane and very energetic atmosphere.
Josh Nason is a New England-based freelance MMA journalist that contributes to FIGHT! Magazine and WrestlingObserver.com. He frequently does radio/podcast appearances and asks for your "like" for ESPN Boston to cover MMA. Follow him on Twitter.