April always provides excitement, with cold winter days often giving way to spring’s warmth. Flowers bloom, baseball begins and kids enjoy their favorite outdoor activities. The sport of mixed martial arts offers thrills of its own, from the regional scene to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and all points in between.
Here are 10 fights to monitor during the month:
Gordon, TKO Major League MMA’s flyweight champion, has won six of his last seven fights. The Ontario native has a knack for finding the finish, with nine of his 11 professional victories not seeing the scorecards. Gordon looks to take down his opponents, at which point he constantly chains together submission attempts until his adversary finds himself trapped in one with tapout as the only means of escape. Gordon believes in his grappling chops so strongly that he is willing to pull guard to get a fight to the canvas. Sherbatov was a contestant on Season 24 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The former Xcessive Force Fighting Championship titleholder joined the show as a highly touted prospect, which resulted in a No. 2 seed. However, the Russian was upset by Eric Shelton in the first round of the tournament. Since “The Ultimate Fighter,” Sherbatov has gone 3-1 with a victory over former Bellator MMA champion, Zach Makovsky. The southpaw wrestle-boxer has a well-rounded skill set that should give him the opportunity to live up to expectations, but at 30 years of age, the time has come for him to put it all together.
One Championship “Roots of Honor”
Santos has 78 professional MMA fights under his belt, but he might be best known for his no-contest with Ben Askren back in 2015. Though the fight lasted just over two minutes, Sapo stuffed seven takedown attempts from the former Olympian and even landed two of his own. The fight was far more competitive than expected, but it was stopped when Askren poked Santos in the eye and left the Brazilian unable to continue. The two were set to rematch later that year, but Santos missed weight and was accused by One Championship CEO Victor Cui of being scared of Askren. The American Top Team product will need to display his great sprawl-and-brawl game when he meets Nakashima in the cage. The former University of Nebraska wrestler knows his best avenue for winning centers on closing the distance and using takedowns to dominant his opponents. He has used that game plan to rack up a perfect 10-0 record, including notable wins over Derrick Krantz and Kyle Stewart. The MMA Lab member has continued to show growth in his striking, especially with his kicks. Nakashima is not as decorated as Askren is as a wrestler, but he does use his striking to set up his entries better. It will be intriguing to see if he can find the openings against the 39-year-old Santos, who has gotten his hand raised in 11 of his last 13 fights.
Anders finds himself in a must-win situation against Rountree. The former University of Alabama linebacker burst onto the MMA scene, quickly rising through the ranks due to his explosiveness and raw ability. During his journey to UFC main-event status, he picked impressive wins over the likes of Brendan Allen, Rafael Natal and Markus Perez. The climb to the top might have come a little too quickly, however, as he has lost three of his last four fights. “Ya Boy” has bounced back and forth between light heavyweight and middleweight while trying to carve out his spot in the UFC pecking order. Rountree is similar to Anders when it comes to raw potential. “The War House” is primarily a striker, and his punches pack quite a wallop. All three of his UFC wins have come by way of knockout. The southpaw’s strikes sometimes tend to lose technique and become sloppy hooks, though if one of them lands, it can instantly separate an opponent from consciousness. The bane of Rountree’s existence has always been his grappling, but it should not be much of a concern against Anders, who will likely be willing to exchange blows on the feet with the former “Ultimate Fighter” contestant.
UFC Fight Night 149
Saint Petersburg, Russia
The older sister of current UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko steps into the Octagon for the second time while trying to keep her perfect record intact. When it comes to the striking department, Shevchenko might be superior to her sister. In fact, with a 39-1 professional kickboxing record, the Tiger Muay Thai representative is one of the most decorated strikers in women’s MMA. The southpaw jumps in and out of range, landing a combination while easily darting away from counterpunches. She has pinpoint accuracy with her hands and often finishes combinations with powerful kicks to all areas of her opponent’s body. Much like her sister, Shevchenko is quite strong in the clinch and has underrated wrestling skills. While “The Panther” has the tools necessary to join her sister at the top of the UFC rankings in the near future, Modafferi represents a huge step up in competition. The former title challenger is not much of an athlete, but she uses her experience and grit to find ways to pick up victories. Her unorthodox striking can be difficult for opponents to figure out, but her takedowns, ground striking and submission skills make her one of the tougher tests in the 125-pound weight class. The Syndicate MMA rep holds victories over the likes of Marloes Coenen, Andrea Lee and Barb Honchak. Shevchenko ranks as one of the most intriguing fighters to ever come out of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but at 34 years of age, she does not have the luxury to slowly move up the rankings. UFC brass understands that her time is now, evident by the fact that the organization has matched her with someone as accomplished and experienced as Modafferi.
Rizin Fighting Federation 15
Lawal has experienced mixed success when he has traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun. In 2015, he won the Rizin Fighting Federation openweight grand prix, only to fall in the quarterfinals the following year. This run sums up a majority of Lawal’s career. When the three-time freestyle wrestling national champion is at his best, he does things like capture the Strikeforce light heavyweight title. When he is not on his game, he loses in disappointing fashion to fighters like Rafael Cavalcante, Emanuel Newton (twice) and Liam McGeary. Due to his wrestling chops and pocket boxing skills, Lawal is still one of the best light heavyweight fighters in the sport and hopes that facing a fighter he has already beaten will help him snap a two-fight skid. Lawal might have a tougher task with Prochazka than he did back in 2015, when he won knocked out the Czech on New Year’s Eve. Since losing to “King Mo,” Prochazka has won seven straight fights, defeating six of those opponents by way of first-round knockout. “Denisa” is a finishing machine, with only one of his 23 wins going to the judges. While Prochazka will be at a huge disadvantage in the wrestling department, he should be able to pick apart Lawal on the feet with his high-volume attacks and bone-crushing power. At 26 years old, Prochazka is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Can he find a way to overcome the Lawal’s craftiness in this intriguing rematch?
Titan Fighting Championship 54
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
It comes as a bit of a surprise that Soares did not receive a call from UFC matchmakers when they were putting together their lineup for the promotion’s first show in Fort Lauderdale. The Miami native is one of the best fighters coming out of Florida and could have been solid pickup for the UFC. The Titan Fighting Championship titleholder is exactly what the UFC looks for in a fighter. He is undefeated, and he finishes fights. Over his 12 professional bouts, Soares has won 10 times by stoppage. “The Speciman” is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with strong takedowns, and he quickly looks to take his opponent’s back when he gets the fight to his desired location. Even though he picked up a knockout in his most recent appearance, submission skills remain his strongest asset. Hutchinson is a fellow Floridian who sports a 7-2 record, with his losses only come by way of split decision. The southpaw is a precision striker who works behind an active kicking game. He has good timing on his takedowns and choses position over submission. At 32 years old, Hutchinson looks to be in prime position to make a run at earning a position in a larger promotion. UFC President Dana White will be in attendance at the event to tape an episode for his “Lookin’ for a Fight” series, so the winner of this scrap could find himself in the UFC sooner rather than later.
Legacy Fighting Alliance 64
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The Legacy Fighting Alliance has long operated as a feeder system for the UFC, providing opportunities for fighters like Jackson and Gigliotti, the latter having already competed inside the Octagon twice. Jackson appeared on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2017 and was engaged in a back-and-forth struggle with Kyle Stewart before dislocating his ankle. He also represented the Blackzilians on Season 21 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” going 1-1 during his time on the show. Jackson is not an expert in any single area of the fight game, but he can hold his own in the standup and on the ground. All three of the Jamaican-born welterweight’s losses have come to UFC veterans. Gigliotti started his pro MMA career with seven consecutive finishes before joining the UFC roster and suffering back-to-back defeats to Trevor Smith and Gerald Meerschaert. He has not competed since he submitted to an anaconda choke from Meerschaert at UFC Fight Night 102 in December 2016.
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 104
Shore has developed a cult following in Europe. His supporters have so much belief in him that the most ardent among them have taken to getting “Jack Shore’s on Fire” tattoos. The excitement over the Welshman might be because he has the tools not just reach a top platform like the UFC or Bellator but the skills to be one of the top fighters in his weight class. On the feet, Shore throws a stinging jab, chopping leg kicks and powerful hooks and uppercuts. If the fight hits the ground, the reigning Cage Warriors Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder swarms his opponents with ground-and-pound and an active submission game that has netted him 10 wins via tapout as an amateur and professional. Malone is a promising young fighter out of Scotland. He dropped his first professional bout but has been perfect since, winning five of six contests by way of stoppage. “Boom Boom” is quite strong for the weight class, has quick hands and chain wrestles takedown attempts well. From top position, he is an adequate grappler who sinks submissions when opportunities present themselves. Both men fought at Cage Warriors 100, where Malone requested a title fight with Shore. “Tank” agreed, and the organization moved to matche these two talented Europeans against each other.
UFC on ESPN 3
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
With the UFC bantamweight title picture in disarray after former champion T.J. Dillashaw relinquished the 135-pound crown due to a United States Anti-Doping Agency violation, fighters are jockeying for position in what is now a wide-open division. The winner of the Lineker-Sandhagen showdown could find himself in the discussion for a title shot, particularly Lineker, who more often than not lives up to his “Hands of Stone” nickname. The compact Brazilian throws everything hard and with bad intentions, evident by his six knockout wins -- including his highlight-reel finish on Brian Kelleher in his most recent outing -- inside the Octagon. The former flyweight personifies violence, but that does not mean he throws heat wildly. In fact, Lineker is one of the most technical pocket boxers in the UFC. Since moving up to the UFC bantamweight division, the Jungle Fight veteran has gone 6-1, with his only loss coming to the aforementioned Dillashaw. Sandhagen enters the biggest fight of his career with an impressive 10-1 record. His only defeat came against Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Jamall Emmers in February 2017. Since joining the UFC, the Elevation Fight Team product has collected three wins, all of them by way of stoppage. He is long and lengthy and uses footwork and stance changes to open up different angles to attack his opponents. The former Sparta Combat League champion presses a relentless pace with a high volume of creative strikes. Lineker’s power matched against Sandhagen’s tenacity makes for a must-see attraction.
San Jose, California
Macfarlane after capturing the women’s flyweight title has slowly but surely morphed into one of the faces of the Bellator MMA organization. “The Ilimanator” owns a perfect 9-0 record, with eight stoppage wins. The only fighter to reach the judges’ scorecards against Macfarlane was Emily Ducote, an opponent the Hawaiian stopped in a November 2017 rematch. The Team Hurricane Awesome standout is not known for her striking acumen, but she is an absolute force on the ground. The former high school wrestling champion has strong entries on her takedowns and nice trips in the clinch. Once on top, Macfarlane rains heavy blows and is skilled at finding a submission. She pulled off a slick triangle choke against former UFC strawweight title challenger Valerie Letourneau in her last fight. Arteaga is not much of an athlete, but she makes up for her shortcomings with inane toughness. The Idaho native is a wrecking ball who does not stop. From the second the bout starts, Arteaga stays in her opponent’s face and forces a firefight. She loves to bite down on her mouthpiece, slide into the pocket and throw wildly in a bid to see if her adversary can match her toughness. Arteaga’s most dangerous strike is her overhand right. Though the flyweight fighter’s biggest weakness is her takedown defense, she does a good job at quickly working back to her feet. While she does not have an undefeated record to match Macfarlane, her two professional losses resulted in close split decisions.