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Five fights to watch in April

After something of a lull in March, MMA’s big event calendar swings back into gear in April, with a pair of UFC events, more Bellator cards, and some here-and-there cards around the world. Here are, in chronological order, five fights worth your time this month:

Cee Jay Hamilton vs. Jesse Bazzi, LFA 7, Greenville, S.C., April 7, AXS-TV:

LFA kicks into high gear with three events in April, the first of which is headlined by a battle of two of the sport’s top rising flyweights. Hamilton (10-4), a Georgia native, has won five fights in a row, including a head-kick knockout of Cory Alexander in the 25th minute of their matchup last time out. The Michigan-based Bazzi, meanwhile, is 6-1, with a victory over Jared Scoggins, the brother of UFC competitor Justin Scoggins, in his last fight.

Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi, UFC 210, Buffalo, April 8, PPV:

Sure, Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson are in the main event of UFC 210. But it’s a re-run, the second of three such UFC PPV headliners in a row, and in this case, there’s little reason to believe the rematch will go any differently. But if you’re looking for a reason to drop $60 on UFC 210 anyway, the middleweight co-feature bout is as solid a reason as any. Mousasi (41-6-2), a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, has been outspoken in looking for a big-name fight after winning four in a row and six of seven, and he’s finally gotten his wish. Weidman (13-2), meanwhile, has gone nearly two years without a victory, as he dropped the UFC middleweight title to Luke Rockhold, then was knocked out by Yoel Romero at UFC 212. For Weidman, this is an opportunity to show he’s still in the top tier of the middleweight shark tank. For Mousasi, it’s the chance to prove what he’s known about himself all along.

Gegard Mousasi vs Thiago Santos
Gegard Mousasi has been kicking butt and taking names.
Esther Lin

Rose Namajunas vs. Michelle Waterson, UFC on FOX 24, Kansas City, April 15, FOX:

The co-feature bout of UFC on FOX 24 is the latest step in Waterson’s journey to the top. Waterson (14-4) commanded attention in December with a one-sided, first-round finish of Paige VanZant at UFC on FOX 22 in the most-watched UFC free TV fight in three years. That was Waterson’s first fight in a year and a half, so she’s not quite ready for UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. But the UFC is smartly capitalizing on Waterson’s momentum by putting her right back on network TV in another consequential bout. Waterson squares off with the popular Namajunas (5-3), who has won three of her past four fights, but is looking to shake off a loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in her last fight.

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Anthony Birchak, RIZIN 5, Yokohama, Japan, April 17, iPPV:

Among the more curious UFC cuts in recent months was that of Birchak. The Tucson native was coming off a win, and two in his past three fights, at bantamweight when the UFC let him go. Like many others in recent months, Birchak (13-3) lands on his feet and finds himself in a featherweight matchup against the veteran Kawajiri (35-11-2), who is looking to shake off a submission loss to Kron Gracie on New Year’s Eve.

UFC Fight Night 90 Photos
Anthony Birchak will travel halfway around the world in search of his third win in his past four fights.

Daniel Straus vs. Patricio Friere, Bellator 178, Uncasville, Conn., April 21, Spike:

One of the most underrated rivalries in the history of the sport has a fourth go-round with the Bellator featherweight title on the line. Freire won the first encounter at Bellator 45 in 2011, winning the Bellator season four tournament in the process. In the most memorable match between the two, at Bellator 132 in 2015, Friere retained the featherweight title by submitting Straus with 11 seconds in the fourth round of a bout in which Straus was easily winning on the scorecards. Straus, an American Top Team fighter, finally caught “Pitbull” in their third matchup, taking the belt by unanimous decision at Bellator 145 in Nov. 2015. Straus (25-6) has been out with injuries since, while Freire (25-4) is looking to rebound from a lightweight loss to Ben Henderson last summer.

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