Now that UFC 95 is in the books and we have a chance to breathe we can begin to look towards the future. The UFC, WEC & Strikeforce all have some major shows coming up on the horizon. Affliction has a card tentatively scheduled for June that will feature a main event of WAMMA heavyweight champion Fedor Emilienanko taking on Josh Barnett. Other than that bout no other fights have been announced or even speculated upon. What I intend to do is take a quick glance at the fights coming up that are either for championships, have title implications such as providing a fighter with number 1 contender status and fights that are meaningful to their promotions.
First up we have WEC 39 which will take place on March 1st from Corpus Christi, Texas. The main event features featherweight champion Mike Brown taking on Leonard Garcia in a bout that will determine who gets to fight Urijah Faber afterwards. I watched Brown destroy Faber at WEC 36 back in November. This is a matchup between two hard hitting fighters who both possess pretty good all around skills. Brown is the more seasoned of the two but Garcia is fighting in front of his hometown crowd. Whomever walks away from this fight will not do so unscathed and will have to look forward to facing Faber who himself will be looking for redemption and his featherweight title back.
Just six days later we are treated to UFC 96 and excuse me for being sarcastic but I am a firm believer in the fact that any card featuring Keith Jardine in a main event is a lackluster card at best. He will take on Rampage Jackson in a bout that will determine whether Rampage or Lyoto Machida faces light heavyweight kingpin Rashad Evans at UFC 100 or shortly thereafter. What I don’t understand is why Evans isn’t facing Jackson on this card as opposed to Jardine. They both fought on the same card in December (UFC 92) and are both in the prime of their careers. I see this as a way for the Jackson camp to get an up close and personal view on Jackson as Jardine is being made a guinea pig in order to enhance Evan’s chances against Rampage. The other bout on the card with slight implications is in the heavyweight division as undefeated Shane Carwin takes on Gabriel Gonzaga. This is a chance for Carwin to show he belongs with the best and it is also another opportunity for Gonzaga to showcase his world class skills but to also debunk the theory that he can be ill-prepared and come unprepared.
April 1st brings us UFC Fight Night 18 which precedes the 9th installment of The Ultimate Fighter this time pitting fighters from the United States going up against fighters from the U.K. Michael Bisping will lead the Brits while Dan Henderson will lead the Red, White & Blue. They are scheduled to meet at UFC 100 in July. One fight on the FN card has really caught my attention and that is former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit taking on Martin Kampmann. I believe if Condit wins and is impressive in doing so he could be an candidate to fight the winner of GSP-Thiago Alves which is set for UFC 100 as well. If Kampmann wins he will be well on his way to becoming a serious threat at 170. This card also features the return of Junie Browning who continues on his road to redemption against Cole Miller. Browning who made a world class ass of himself on TUF 8 showed the skills and a new found attitude when he defeated Dave Kaplan on the TUF 8 finale. Lightweight winner Efrain Escudero and light heavyweight winner Ryan Bader will also be featured on this card.
WEC 40 may very well be the card I am anticipating the most as one of my favorite fighters will be showcased. Bantamweight champion Miguel Torres will defend his title in front of his hometown crowd against the undefeated and dangerous Brian Bowles. I look at Torres as a top 5 pound for pound fighter and am eagerly anticipating him either moving up to featherweight to fight Faber or the WEC finding him some legitimate competition after Bowles.
SOS- Strikeforce on Showtime debuts on April 11th with a grudge match between two of the best trash talkers around today. Nick Diaz looks to avenge his mentor Caesar Gracie who was knocked out in just 21 seconds by his opponent the always dangerous Frank Shamrock. This will be contested at a catch weight of 179 and will not be short on fireworks. Two questions loom as this fight approaches, is Shamrock’s arm fully recovered from the injury he sustained against Cung Le and how ill Diaz fare fighting almost 20lbs heavier than he is accustomed to. Next up is a rematch between Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson and the man he defeated for the title Gilbert Melendez. Thomson handled Melendez pretty easily back in June of 2008 and the loss was the second in three fights for Melendez after starting his career with 13 straight victories. Former EliteXC welterweight champion and Diaz teammate Jake Shields battles perennial underachiever Joe “Diesel” Riggs. We will also be treated to a battle between two hard hitting middleweights as Scott Smith takes on Benji Radach. Strikeforce is starting off with a great card as they look to capitalize on their recent acquisition of the Pro Elite contracts and their new found partnership with Showtime.
UFC comes back to pay-per-view on April 18th with UFC 97 from Montreal. This card overall is pretty tame but it does feature two of the UFC’s biggest draws in Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell. Silva takes on Thales Leites for the middleweight championship and I wouldn’t count on a repeat of Silva’s last performance in which he danced and made no attempt at putting his opponent away when he fought Patrick Cote at UFC 90. Liddell takes on the disappointing Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the night’s co-main event. A win would not only help Liddell’s confidence but I believe would set him up for a title shot if he was able to defeat a top contender afterwards. The UFC would love nothing more than to see Liddell come back to prominence. Rua on the other hand not only needs a victory but he needs to be impressive on doing so. The former Pride superstar looked awful in losing to Forrest Griffin and barely beat a 44 year old Mark Coleman at UFC 93. Rua has a huge fan base but even his most staunch supporters will not put up with another lackluster performance.
Last but not least we have UFC 98 on May 23rd featuring a bout to determine the undisputed heavyweight champion as interim champion rides his made for TV movie against larger than life heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. Frank Mir was very impressive in defeating and becoming the first man to ever stop Antonio Rodrigo Nougeria in December. Lesnar defeated the returning hero Randy Couture one month before at UFC 91 in November, These two have a history and a story that would have played out well in Brock’s WWE days. As many of you know Lesnar and Mir met in Brock’s first journey into the octagon at UFC 81 in February of 2008. While Mir won that fight with a knee bar he was thoroughly dominated by Lesnar and if not for an ill advised point deduction and unnecessary stand up by referee Steve Mazagatti the outcome may have been different. Either way these two have a lot riding on this fight as Lesnar looks to prove he is for real and Mir looks to show that the first fight was not a fluke. The ultimate grudge match will take place the same night as welterweights Matt Serra and Matt Hughes finally go toe to toe. They were originally scheduled to fight at UFC 79 all the way back in December of 2007!! Serra got hurt and Hughes was once again humbled by GSP that night. Hughes went on to get knocked out by Thiago Alves at UFC 85 in June of 2008 and suffered a knee injury which has caused the long delay. I for one am looking forward to these two beating the crap out of each other and Serra sending Hughes home to his farm.
I know it is a lot to take in but there are a lot of cards coming up and it’s never too early to start discussing these fights. We all have a lot to look forward to as the months come and go. After these events we have UFC 99 in Germany which will feature a fight between Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin along with a returning Caol Uno. Then in July the mother of all cards will take place as the UFC will hold their historic UFC 100 card. I will get to those soon when more fights have been announced. Let me know what you think. Did I leave any important fights out? We have plenty of time to discuss.