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Old 03-31-2009, 06:10 AM #1
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Default 10 April Tussles Worth Watching

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Where are the big super fights -- Fedor Emelianenko-Randy Couture, Anderson Silva-Robbie Lawler and Urijah Faber-Norifumi Yamamoto? Why are top-ranked fighters like Jake Shields and Eddie Alvarez taking on inferior opposition? Is mixed martial arts headed in the same direction as boxing, where the big stars are protected?

Truly intriguing bouts -- let alone cards -- are few far and between these days, at least for the fans who grew up on the Pride Fighting Championships and UFC mega cards around the turn of the millennium. Still, fight fans looking for entertaining scraps -- regardless of country, name value or promotion -- have a lot of choices. While the heart of MMA beats in North America, the rest of the world has intriguing battles to offer, as well.

Here are 10 April tussles from around the globe that fans should not miss. As always, this list does not focus only on the major bouts you already know to watch but rather on fights from all over the planet that are worth seeing.

10. Koji Oishi vs. Maximo Blanco
Pancrase “Changing Tour 2,” April 5 – Tokyo

Pancrase veteran Oishi has recovered well from his embarrassing return to the Octagon four years ago and has gone 5-2-1 in his last eight fights. The 31-year-old wrestler has also dropped from welterweight to lightweight and has fared much better in the new division. In the co-main event at Pancrase “Changing Tour 2,” he will take on Blanco, the Venezuelan “Loose Cannon.” Three of the Sengoku training player’s four career MMA bouts have lasted less than one minute, so do not blink.

9. Rolles Gracie vs. Ricardo Romero
Ring of Combat 24, April 17 -- Atlantic City, N.J.

Whenever a Gracie steps into the ring, the MMA community takes notice. This time, Pan American Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion Rolles Gracie looks for his second MMA win. His first appearance inside the ring, an easy first-round submission, came inside the International Fight League in September 2007. East coast promotion Ring of Combat lured him out of his one-and-a-half-year fighting hiatus by pitting him against Romero, a once-defeated knockout artist. Though far more experienced, does Romero have what it takes to hang with the Gracie black belt?

8. Arunas Andriuskevicus vs. Alexander Gustafsson
The Zone Fighting Championship “Dynamite,” April 25 -- Gothenburg, Sweden

The fight with the highest knockout probability this month originates from Sweden, where two of Europe’s premier light heavyweight strikers will face each other inside the cage. Local hero Gustafsson has mauled opponents from Finland to Dubai, causing promoter Marko Gyllenland a real headache when trying to match up the 6-foot-5 banger. Andriuskevicus, a kickboxer from Luton, England, has accepted the challenge and will try to put the first dent in the undefeated Gustafsson’s armor.

7. Mark Bocek vs. David Bielkheden
UFC 97 “Redemption,” April 18 -- Montreal

Deep on the UFC 97 undercard, below the middleweight title fight between Anderson Silva and Thales Leites, two of the most technical BJJ black belts in the lightweight division and two of the most underappreciated fighters in the UFC will fight for survival inside the Octagon. Ironically, Sweden’s Bielkheden was planning to prepare for his upcoming bout at American Top Team, until he found out that his next opponent was a member of the Florida-based gym.

6. Jason "Mayhem" Miller vs. Kala Hose
Kingdom MMA, April 18 - Honolulu

“Mayhem” returns to the ring 10 months after receiving a rare BJJ lesson at the hands of two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu absolute world champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The Californian cult hero also returns to the state of Hawaii, where he holds a 9-1 record and has beaten numerous local standouts, including Egan Inoue, Ronald Jhun and Falaniko Vitale. His opponent, Kala “Kolohe” Hose, wants to do the same to Miller as he did to Phil Baroni last year -- outlast him and beat him down. Has Miller trained enough despite being busy with his MTV show “Bully Beatdown”? We’ll see.

5. Wagnney Fabiano vs. Fredson Paixao
WEC 40 “Torres vs. Mizugaki,” April 5 -- Chicago

After his original World Extreme Cagefighting debut against Jose Aldo was cancelled due to a short and inconclusive flirtation with Sengoku, black belt extraordinaire Paixao was give a second chance by matchmaker Sean Shelby. This time, he was booked against Fabiano, the once-defeated former IFL champion. For those unfamiliar with his escapades, Paixao is a multiple-time BJJ world champion, and many consider him one of the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioners of the decade. How much ring rust will he have after almost two years on the sidelines?

4. Jan Blachowicz vs. Igor Pokrajac
World Free Fight Challenge 8, April 18 -- Ljubljana, Slovenia

The main event of the top Balkan promotion’s eighth effort pits Polish up-and-comer Blachowicz against Pokrajac, Mirko Filipovic’s main sparring partner. Blachowicz, a teammate of everybody’s favorite MMA cannibal, Mamed Khalidov, won the KSW 8 light heavyweight tournament in 2008. He also submitted Pokrajac’s countryman, Maro Perak, in December, handing him his first career defeat. Pokrajac, who has won six straight fights, will try to effectively use his mixture of wrestling and kickboxing to avenge Croatia.

3. Tyson Griffin vs. Rafael dos Anjos
UFC Fight Night 18, April 1 -- Nashville, Tenn.

Griffin makes work easy for the UFC marketing department, as he has won the promotion’s “Fight of the Night” award four times; perhaps they should call him Mr. Fight of the Night. He has also beaten Brazilian opponents in three consecutive fights. A man who is fiercely determined to end that streak is Gracie Fusion’s dos Anjos. He gave UFC fans a moment to remember, as well, when he was brutally knocked out by Jeremy Stephens in his promotional debut in November. Needless to say, he plans to bounce back with a vengeance.

2. Shinya Aoki vs. Hayato "Mach" Sakurai
Dream 8, April 5 -- Nagoya, Japan

Remember the last time Aoki was beaten fair and square outside of a tournament format? It was in August 2005 against -- yes, you guessed right -- “Mach” Sakurai. Since then, Aoki has soared upwards in his colorful spandex pants and become the poster boy for Japanese MMA, while Sakurai has seemed satisfied with taking on and beating up jobbers and second stringers. Is Sakurai still the better fighter? Their careers appear headed into totally opposite directions.

1. Frank Shamrock vs. Nick Diaz
Strikeforce “Shamrock vs. Diaz,” April 11 -- San Jose, Calif.

Love him or hate him, Shamrock remains one of the last fighters who is gold on the microphone and inside the ring. Everybody who watches his fights walks away satisfied -- win, lose or draw. He also has a unique ability of making his opponent a star, as well. Love him or hate him, Diaz is one of the last fighters who does not care about the when, where and who of combat sports. A true student of the game, he already provided several merry moments at the pre-fight press conference for this main event -- an intriguing matchup between the old guard and the new.
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