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Sifting through a busy combat sports schedule to find fights worth watching

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Back in the day, conventional wisdom said you'd be nuts to go head-to-head against the undisputed biggest draw in combat sports.

Those of a certain age can remember when Mike Tyson was king. You didn't often see other major promoters attempt to run shows head-to-head the nights he fought, did you?

But times have changed. This weekend, Floyd Mayweather Jr. returns to the ring, where he'll meet Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas.

And there will also be more mixed martial arts events than even the hardest-core fan can possibly take in. Bellator, RFA, and OneFC return to action Friday. Saturday, we've got a UFC Fight Night and World Series of Fighting 13, while across the pond, both Cage Warriors and BAMMA are in action.

For those so inclined, Bellator (Spike), RFA (AXS), and WSOF (NBCSN) are available on basic cable (the thing you pay good money for that promoters often call "free"), while the rest can be found online.

There are two ways to look at this weekend's glut of combat sports action.

An optimist's take is that this is a sign the sport is as healthy as ever. Ever since MMA started to break big nearly a decade ago, a segment of the fan base has been on a relentless search for signs the sky is about to fall. Maybe its a residual effect from what happened the first time MMA became popular, when the sport was nearly legislated out of existence and took years to recover. Regardless, perhaps the business isn't at its UFC 100 peak at the moment, but seven events on four continents over the course of 48 hours make the idea things are all about to come grinding to a halt seem a little silly.

But on the other hand ... the weekend doesn't exactly seem chock-filled with must-see fights, either. Here's an exercise: How many of you, without clicking off this page and doing a Google search, can name which show Matt Manzanares will headline? (Answer: RFA 18). At least back in the days when following MMA meant waiting a couple months for the next UFC and/or waking up at ungodly hours to watch PRIDE, you more often than not had several fights you were contemplating, anticipating, and possibly salivating over for weeks.

So with that in mind, here are a handful of fights to keep an eye on, and maybe even take a peak at as you wait for Mayweather to hit the ring:


LC Davis (21-6) vs. Zeilton Rodrigues (12-3), Bellator 124, Plymouth Township, Michigan: The less said about the light heavyweight title main event between Emanuel Newton and Joey Beltran, the better. (OK, we will say one thing: as long as Beltran, 2-5 (1NC) in his recent fights, is fighting for a belt, then it can't be said Joe Soto was this year's least deserving title challenger). Rather, the most interesting fight at Bellator 124 is this bantamweight main card bout. WEC fans will remember Davis as the guy who blitzed to three straight wins at featherweight, then dropped fights to Josh Grispi and Raphael Assuncao and became "where are they now" fodder. Well, Davis has won four out of his past five, including his Bellator debut in March, and is on the brink of renewed relevance. Rodrigues, meanwhile, is a 32-year-old Nova Uniao product. And he lives up to the camp's reputation as killers, with 11 finishes in his 12 victories.

Matt Manzanares (7-2) vs. Alexandre Pantoja, RFA 18, Albuquerque: By taking its show on the road in recent months, the RFA has slowly let the rest of the country in on the secret those in its Southern California backyard figured out awhile back: RFA events provide fans some of the best bang for their buck of any live MMA promotion. An RFA championship is all but a golden ticket to the UFC, as the likes of Sergio Pettis, Pedro Munhoz and others have proven (OK, and some of those others have popped, but hey). In this case, the show is headlined by a flyweight title fight, as Manzanares, out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, defends his title. And it promises fireworks: Manzanaras has six finishes in his seven wins; Pantojas is a Nova Uniao product who has won seven straight and has 10 stoppages overall.


Gleison Tibau (29-10) vs. Piotr Hallman (15-2), UFC Fight Night 51, Brasilia, Brazil: When Bigfoot Silva went to a lackluster decision over Andrei Arlovski as the co-feature to Alistair Overeem's knockout of Brett Rogers back on a 2010 Strikeforce show, did you walk away thinking "Man, I can't wait for a Bigfoot-Arlvoski rematch?" Yeah, neither did we. So, while UFC Fight Night 51 looks on paper to be nothing special, the lightweight co-main in Brasilia looks like one you shouldn't sleep on. It seems unfair to use the term "gatekeeper" for Tibau, because he's been around so long by this point, with nearly two dozen UFC fights, that the term "survivor" seems more appropriate. Hallman, meanwhile, is an MMA Lab import from Poland. He's 2-1 in the UFC, and has earned post-fight bonuses for each of his two wins. A victory over someone as respected as Tibau would signal it's time to take Hallman seriously at 155.

Nicolas Dalby (12-0) vs. Gael Grimaud (19-6), Cage Warriors 72, Newport, Wales: Europe's premiere MMA circuit didn't just wither up and die once Conor McGregor left to become a UFC star. The company returns to action in Wales with a welterweight title fight. Dalby (12-0), who fights out of Denmark, has seven finishes in his 12 fights and most recently head-kick KOd Sergei Churilov to take the welterweight title vacate by Cathal Pendred. Grimaud (19-6), of Toulouse, France, went five rounds with Pendred before losing a decision last year, but has since rebounded for two wins in a row, including a finish of Bruno Carvalho in his last fight. (Update: the injury bug knows no bounds, as Grimaud pulled out of the fight just before Friday's weigh-in with a back injury. Cory Tait vs. Toni Tauru for the vacant bantamweight title, originally the co-main, is the new main event).

Marlon Moraes (13-4-1) vs. Cody Bollinger (16-2), WSOF 13, Bethlehem, Penn.: There's no getting around the fact WSOF's debut in the Philadelphia market is a bit on the thin side in terms of star power. Fortunately, the show's headlined by one of the fighters who helped put WSOF on the map. Moraes is one of the most exciting fighters outside the UFC, winning five in a row under the WSOF banner. This was supposed to be the first defense of Moraes' WSOF bantamweight title, but Josh Hill had to drop out due to an injury with less than two weeks to spare. Stepping in is Bollinger, a Joe Stevenson-trained fighter out of the Inland Empire, who has won both of his WSOF fights. The bout is a non-title, 140-pound catchweight bout, but Moraes has vowed to hand the belt over Bollinger should Bollinger win.