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Five Fights to Watch the first week of April


From time to time, we've done "Fights to Watch" summaries here on MMAFighting when there's been a loaded month of fights on the calendar.

The upcoming week, though, calls for a special edition. On three consecutive nights, there will be three events worth watching from three promotions.

Thursday, Bellator in Atlantic City features the most anticipated main event since the season-opening card. Friday, the all-women's Invicta promotion returns. And Saturday, the UFC returns to Sweden for UFC on Fuel 9.

So without further ado, here's a look at five fights to watch this week alone:

1. Pat Curran (18-4) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (12-1-1), Bellator, April 4, Atlantic City: Bellator featherweight champion Curran got the company's Spike TV era off with a bang with a slow-burning thriller of a win over Patricio "Pitbull" Freire on the debut Spike show in January. Curran expressed his desire to fight as often as he can, and the company grants him his wish as he defends his title against Shamhalaev. The Russian transplant and Team BombSquad fighter is a replacement for Daniel Straus. Shamhalaev is testing the limits of the Bellator tourney-and-title shot concept, as he's fighting for the fourth time since October. His most recent win was a second-round knockout of Rad Martinez on Feb. 21, which won him the Bellator season seven tournament. Will Curran and Shamhalaev be willing to stand and trade? If so, this fight could be one to remember.

2. Jessica Penne (10-1) vs. Michelle Waterson (10-3), Invicta 5, Kansas City April 5: In October, Penne became the first Invicta titleholder, as she knocked Naho Sugiyama from the ranks of the unbeaten and was crowned inaugural atomweight (105 pounds) champion. At Invicta 5, Penne becomes the first Invicta champ to attempt to defend her title, and the Huntington Beach, Calif. native will have her work cut out for her when she meets Waterson. The competitor known as "The Karate Hottie," a Jackson's MMA fighter, overcame a slow start in MMA (2-2 in her first four fights) and has won eight of her last nine, seven of which have been via stoppage and six of which were in the first round. Penne, likewise, has shown a propensity to keep her fights from going to the judges, with six wins via submission and another two via TKO.

3. Sarah Kaufman (15-2) vs. Leslie Smith (5-2-1), Invicta 5, Kansas City April 5: Former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Kaufman makes her return to the cage after losing to Ronda Rousey last August. Much has changed in women's MMA since then, of course. Kaufman is among the bantamweight fighters who will compete in the UFC; but before then, she'll take a fight against Smith. Smith might not have a Rousey-esque unbeaten record, but the 30-year old Cesar Gracie fighter has proven she is willing to mix it up. Smith rides a three-fight Invicta unbeaten streak into this match, including a memorable pair of bouts against Kaitlin Young (a Smith TKO win and a split draw). Smith knows she can make her name by spoiling Kaufman's last fight before she departs for the UFC.

4. Ross Pearson (14-6) vs. Ryan Couture (6-1), UFC on Fuel 9, Stockholm, Sweden, April 6: This fight's intriguing for what's going on outside the Octagon as much as inside. Couture, of course, was caught in the middle of the dispute between his father, Randy, and UFC president Dana White. White has sworn he won't hold the younger Couture's last name against him; Couture, for his part, quite frankly reacted more in a more mature manner than either side in the dispute. But the fight's also intriguing inside the Octagon as well. Couture's won his past four fights, though the most recent was a controversial decision over K.J. Noons on the final Strikeforce card. He takes a big step up in competition when he meets Pearson. Pearson, in his return to lightweight, looked like he was back where he belongs when he fought George Sotiropoulos. Granted, we have a habit of judging fighters based on their last performance, but ... you saw that fight, right?

5. Alexander Gustafsson (15-1) vs. Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2), UFC on Fuel 9, Stockholm, Sweden, April 6: Gustfasson made waves a few weeks back on The MMA Hour, when he said his plan for this fight was to finish Mousasi, and then call out light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. That's a tall order against a fighter like Mousasi, a kickboxer who has only lost once in his past 22 fights and has never been knocked out in his career. Mousasi has something to prove, as well, as fans on these shores might remember him more for his draw with Keith Jardine and loss to "King Mo" Lawal then the guy who mowed down opponents across the world. But if Gustafsson looks impressive against Mousasi, on the heels of his strong victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, it will be hard to deny the lanky Swede his title shot.

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