Ten days, nine can't-miss fights
The lead-up to Lesnar-Velasquez includes nine high-quality MMA fights
Hardy-Condit, Bisping-Akiyama at Saturday's UFC 120 are must-see bouts
Don't miss the Bellator Fighting Championships in Philadelphia on Oct. 21
Thursday marks the start of a 10-day stretch featuring a massive amount of quality mixed martial arts, capped, of course, by the UFC heavyweight championship fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez. While much of the fan and media focus over this period will center on Lesnar-Velasquez, there are several bouts worth anyone's attention.
Oct. 14, Kansas City
Bellator Fighting Championships, Kansas City Power & Light
Fox Sports Net (check local listings)
Zack Makovsky vs. Ed West
Meeting in the finals of Bellator's first bantamweight tournament after surviving an eight-man field, Makovsky (11-2) and West (15-4) face one more hurdle before either can stand alongside the likes of Hector Lombard, Lyman Good, Eddie Alvarez or Joe Warren. The same card features Bellator's attempt to crown a heavyweight champion when Cole Konrad, a Lesnar training partner, fights British veteran Neil Grove, but it's the 135-pounders who should put on a much better fight.
Makovsky and West aren't yet worthy of top-10 consideration in the bantamweight division, but a win here would put either fighter on that path.
Prediction: Makovsky unanimous decision.
Oct. 16, London
UFC 120, O2 Arena
Spike TV (8 p.m. ET/PT)
Dan Hardy vs. Carlos Condit
Welterweight contenders Hardy (23-7-1) and Condit (25-5) share similar résumés in advance of an important fight as the co-main event of UFC 120 on Saturday. Each fighter has a wealth of experience. Each has fought and won all over the globe. And each brings a varied enough MMA game to be considered truly well-rounded fighters. Hardy has complained about the proliferation of quality wrestlers slowing the pace of MMA bouts. He won't have to worry about that against Condit, a long striker with a mean mix of submissions. Based on their styles, this could be the best fight over the next week and a half.
Prediction: Condit unanimous decision.
Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
The capper to UFC's return to London for the first time in a year and a half, Bisping and Akiyama have much to prove about their worth in the middleweight division. Bisping, 2-2 over his last four fights, should be considered the favorite against Akiyama (13-2), who succumbed to Chris Leben in July in one of the better bouts of 2010. Bisping (19-3) does several things very well, and Akiyama does not appear to have the game to withstand the Brit's high-output striking game. Bisping doesn't bring much power, but what he does have is a deep cardio reserve and a style that puts high pressure on his opposition.
Prediction: Bisping R3 TKO.
Oct. 21, Philadelphia
Bellator Fighting Championships, Liacouras Center
Fox Sports Net (check local listings)
Lyman Good vs. Ben Askren
Two undefeated welterweights vie for the organization's championship in a bout that should provide clarity as to the direction of both fighters' careers. Unlike other Bellator title holders, Good (10-0) has sat on the sideline since capturing the title in June 2009. In Askren (6-0) -- a two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner for his accomplishments in collegiate wrestling at Missouri as well as a member of the 2008 U.S. American wrestling squad that went to Beijing -- Good gets the most high-profile opponent of his career. Askren is still green to MMA, but he's done a nice job so far of turning his grappling prowess into success in the cage.
Prediction: Askren unanimous decision.
Eddie Alvarez vs. Roger Huerta
Unlike Good, Alvarez (20-2) has fought twice since capturing the Bellator lightweight title last year. He's yet to defend the belt, and was set to do so against Pat Curran before an injury spoiled that fight. So Bellator made the best of an unfortunate situation by booking Huerta (21-4), the UFC veteran best known for gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2007 and participating in a street fight earlier this year that was captured by TMZ cameras. Alvarez, ranked sixth at 155 by SI.com, is the better wrestler, and expects that to carry him to victory. Both competitors have a reputation for letting it all go in the cage, which should be the expectation as they headline Bellator's best card since it began promoting MMA in 2009 with a three-round non-title fight.
Prediction: Alvarez TKO R3.
Oct. 22, Fresno, Calif.
Strikeforce Challengers, Save Mart Center
Showtime (11 p.m. ET/PT)
Roger Bowling vs. Bobby Voelker
Before an unfortunate injury in the third round of their fight in May, Bowling and Voelker (22-8) had engaged in a spirited battle meant to give further shape to an improving Strikeforce welterweight division. There's no reason to think they won't pick up where they left off after Bowling (8-0) won a fight forced to the cards after taking a finger to his right eye.
Prediction: Bowling KO R2.
Oct. 23, Anaheim, Calif.
UFC 121, Honda Center
Pay-per-view (10 p.m. ET)
Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann
While the focus of the card is deservedly pointed to Lesnar and Velasquez, it would be unfortunate to dismiss several of the event's undercard fights, no more so than Shields against a dangerous veteran. Shields returns to welterweight in his UFC debut after spending several years bulking up to compete at heavier limits. A win over Kampmann (17-3) would offer proof that Shields (25-4-1) deserves being mentioned alongside the best fighters in the sport, and it would probably put him next in line to fight the winner between Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck.
Prediction: Shields submission R2.
Paulo Thiago vs. Diego Sanchez
Two welterweights in need of a victory, Thiago (13-2) and Sanchez (21-4) have combined to lose their last three. The pressure is on to get back on track with a win, and both seem capable of pulling it off. Sanchez is desperate for a victory after getting thumped by young British prospect John Hathaway in May.
Prediction: Thiago unanimous decision.
Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
Can Schaub take the next step against a veteran like Gonzaga? He'll get a chance to answer that as the evening's action begins in earnest on pay-per-view. Gonzaga, three years removed from a wasted title shot against Randy Couture, is 3-4 in his last seven and hasn't found the consistency that marked the first nine fights of his career. With a record of 11-5, it stands to reason that Gonzaga could be let go from his contract if he loses to Schaub (6-1), a former pro football player looking for a second life as an athlete. Schaub remains unrefined, though he has sparked some interest thanks to an ability to finish fights. Win or lose, he's never been out of the first round.
Prediction: Gonzaga submission R2.
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