Written by Ty Reynolds @MMAtylander
April will be a busy month in the world of MMA, with several major cards taking place in the 30 day period. Here are some top match-ups to pay attention to in that timeframe.
#5. Chris Curtis (c) vs. Nah-Shon Burrell for the CES MMA Welterweight Championship- CES MMA 34, April 1st:
Chris Curtis (13-4-0) will attempt to defend his CES MMA welterweight title for the first time when he steps into the cage against the tough and experienced Nah-Shon Burrell (12-6-0) in the main event of CES MMA 34, which will air live on AXS TV.
Curits, who is coming in on a 3-fight winning streak including his championship winning performance against Gil de Freitas last January, is one of the top welterweight prospects outside of the UFC and Bellator and will be looking to further that reputation by picking up another impressive finish. Burrell, a UFC, Bellator, and Strikeforce veteran, is a quality striker who should test his older, yet less seasoned opponent’s ability to handle a step up in competition.
The likelihood of a high paced, action packed contest is high since both fighters are known for engaging in exciting battles.
#4. Andrey Koreshkov (c) vs. Benson Henderson for the Bellator MMA Welterweight Championship- Bellator 153, April 22:
Koreshkov vs Henderson is one of the most high profile contests ever promoted by Bellator and is clearly the top fight in the history of their welterweight division.
Andrey Koreshkov (18-1-0) has only been defeated once, by Ben Askren in 2013, and is coming into the bout riding a 5-fight winning streak. His last trip to the cage was a dominant performance against Diego Lima, with the win earning him the
promotions welterweight championship. “Spartan” will be facing the toughest challenge of his career, however, on the 22nd. If Koreshkov can defeat Henderson, his stock will soar, bringing a massive amount of new credibility to Bellator’s welterweight title.
Former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (23-5-0) will be making his Bellator debut when he challenges for Koreshkov’s 170 lbs. strap. Winning would earn him his third major title, one for each major promotion he has competed in. No fighter in MMA history has been able to achieve such a goal, so for “Smooth” to pull off the feat would be nothing less than incredible.
#3. Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza- UFC 197, April 23
Even though both men are coming off losses (consecutive ones for Pettis) this is still something of a dream match-up for many fans. The high level striking styles of Pettis and Barboza is almost guaranteed to produce an incredible fight and the possibility of a devastating finish is undeniable. If it weren’t for the astonishing depth of the UFC’s lightweight division this could’ve easily been a title fight, as both men have displayed unreal ability on their feet at times in the past.
On top of that fact that this is simply an excellent match-up, the stakes are extremely high for both men, as well.
Pettis (18-4-0), a former UFC and WEC lightweight champion, is in desperate need of a win if he wants to stay near the top of the weight class and earn himself another chance at gold. A third consecutive loss would be devastating to those aspirations, so the Duke Roufous protege is under substantial pressure to perform up to his ability.
While not in quite as demanding of a spot as his opponent, Barboza (16-4-0) also needs to come out of the contest with his hand raised if he expects to ever climb to the heights that Pettis has achieved. Viewed as a surefire future contender for years, Barboza has still yet to notch a truly signature victory in his career. He hasn’t been knocking off scrubs, but every time he has taken a shot at the true title contenders at lightweight he has been mowed down and sent back to the midcard. This may be his last opportunity to finally live up to his potential, so failure against Pettis could be a huge blow to his career.
#2. Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov- UFC on Fox 19, April 16
It’s taken almost two full years, but Russian grappling wizard Khabib Nurmagomedov is finally on the verge of making his return to the Octagon, and he couldn’t be stepping back in with a better match-up. “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson is the perfect test and the winner of UFC on Fox 19’s main event is almost guaranteed the next shot at Rafael dos Anjos 155 lbs. title (assuming Conor McGregor doesn’t jump back into the lightweight fray).
This is an incredible fight, but still very risky matchmaking. The 22-0-0 Nurmagomedov is certainly capable of handling anyone in the division on his best day, but after more than 700 days away from competition, one has to wonder if he may be taking on more than he can handle in his first fight back. Cage rust is a real concern no matter how good, or great, a fighter is, but “The Eagle” has accepted the challenge, nonetheless.
Even with Nurmagomedov’s layoff, though, a victory for Ferguson (20-3-0) will be the most significant of his career and will take his current run to 8 wins in a row and 14 out of his last 15. Those are scary good numbers, especially considering how stacked the division he competes in is. If he can do enough to earn the “W,” Ferguson will be sitting pretty when it comes to his chances of fighting for a championship.
#1. Daniel Cormier (c) vs. Jon Jones for the the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship- UFC 197, April 23:
He couldn’t get there without scaring the hell out all of us, but Jon “Bones” Jones (21-1-0) is now ready to put on the 4 oz. gloves and attempt to regain the championship that he never lost inside the Octagon. The bout was in jeopardy of happening after Jones endured a couple of nights on the cell block after once again failing to obey the rules of the road (seriously?) but all the legal hurdles seem to be cleared and he should be ready to go on the 23rd. It’s been over a year since MMA fans have enjoyed the privilege of witnessing arguably the greatest fighter in the history of MMA ply his craft, so Jones’ return is certainly a welcome one.
If he wins, it could be his last bout at light heavyweight, so there is more on the line for him than just the opportunity to regain the championship. He could find himself challenging for the UFC’s heavyweight title by the end of the year if he is successful, something that would propel his legacy even further up the hierarchy of history.
The stakes are also exceptionally high for Daniel Cormier (17-1-0). The current champion will surely be hellbent on defending his title, but will also be fighting for more than just the right to leave Las Vegas with his championship intact. Cormier will be fighting for the opportunity to erase the only setback on his record and to fully legitimize his reign over the 205 lbs. division. Many fans and media have viewed his time with the title as nothing more than an interim period between Jones’ abruptly ended championship run and his return to reclaim it. Cormier will be competing to make sure history doesn’t view him as something, akin to a paper champion, so expect his motivation to succeed to be at an all-time high come main event time near the end of the month.