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Five fights to watch in May

Amanda Nunes faces Raquel Pennington at UFC 224.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

April was an undeniably wild ride in mixed martial arts. But the train keeps rolling in May with a sneaky good slate of fights. Here are five to watch this month:

May 12: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC), Bellator 199, San Jose, Calif., Paramount Network

The Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix got a breath of fresh air last weekend, as Fedor Emelianenko electrified the MMA world with his 48-second finish of Frank Mir at Bellator 198. Emelianenko will meet Chael Sonnen in the semifinals, and the final slot in the other semifinal matchup will be determined at Bellator 198.

Ryan Bader, the Bellator light heavyweight champion, has found his new company to his liking, winning both of his fights since jumping over from the UFC. Overall he’s won four straight and nine of 10. “King Mo”, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, has won two of his past three, including a decision over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at Bellator 175. Lawal hasn’t won consecutive fights since winning two in one night in a RIZIN tournament on Dec. 31, 2015. The Bader-Lawal winner takes on Matt Mitrione in the next round for a spot in the finals.

May 12: Amanda Nunes (15-4) vs. Raquel Pennington (9-5), UFC 224, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, pay-per-view

Remember when the UFC women’s bantamweight title was passed around like a hot potato, going from Ronda Rousey to Holly Holm to Miesha Tate to Amanda Nunes in a span of eight months? Just two years ago we were in the middle of that stretch, but it seems like so much longer. Nunes brings a six-fight winning streak back home to Brazil with her as she seeks her third successful title defense. Raquel Pennington, meanwhile, has almost sneakily rounded her way into the top contender’s spot. The Colorado Springs native has won four fights in a row and five of her past six. Her most recent win, over Tate at UFC 205, sent the latter into retirement. Although the UFC has not been pushing it as such, the bout marks the first time two openly lesbian fighters will compete for a championship.

May 25: Kevin Aguilar (13-1) vs. Thanh Le (8-1), Legacy Fighting Alliance 40, Dallas, AXS TV

It’s a milestone night for AXS, which has continuously supported up-and-coming fighters and regional mixed martial arts longer than any television station. LFA 40 in Dallas will mark the cable network’s 400th MMA broadcast, and it promises a banger of a main event with a featherweight title unification fight. Kevin Aguilar, the champion, is on a five-fight win streak. He’s also fighting for the first time since last July due to an injury. In his absence, Thanh Le won an interim title with a second-round TKO of Bobby Moffett at LFA 31 in January.

With Aguilar earning 10 of his 13 wins via stoppage and Le getting finishes in all eight of his victories, not to mention a combined 16 knockouts, AXS’ 400th fight event promises fireworks.

Rafael Carvalho
Rafael Carvalho’s fourth Bellator middleweight title defense is his biggest.
Bellator

May 25: Rafael Carvalho (15-1) vs. Gegard Mousasi (43-6-2), Bellator 200, London, Paramount Network (tape delay)

Gegard Mousasi has held championships everywhere from Strikeforce to DREAM to Cage Warriors over the course of his memorable career. Can he add Bellator gold to his collection?

It’s not going to be as easy as it might appear at first glance. Rafael Carvalho might be MMA’s lowest-profile major champion, something which should change if he can score his highest-profile victory. Carvalho has quietly won 15 bouts in a row — with 12 knockouts — and will look to make his fourth defense of a title he won in October 2015. Mousasi, for his part, has won six consecutive fights and eight of his past nine, including a highly debated decision over Alexander Shlemenko at Bellator 185 in Mousasi’s Bellator debut.

May 27: Stephen Thompson (14-2-1) vs. Darren Till (16-0-1), UFC Liverpool, FOX Sports 1

Darren Till could hardly be better set up for his chance to seize the mantle as Britain’s next big star, with the unquestioned greatest fighter in U.K. MMA history, Michael Bisping, close to riding off into the sunset. The undefeated Till will headline in his hometown on May 27.

But while the UFC is giving him every opportunity to make it big, they’re not giving him any sort of easy task in the Octagon: Thompson’s only loss in the past six years was a razor-thin decision to current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and Thompson rebounded from that loss with a nice win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217. The 25-year-old Till is 4-0-1 in the UFC with three straight wins, including a first-round finish of Donald Cerrone in Poland last time out.