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Sunday, January 17, 2010

MMA's Top 10 fighters are ready to fight , spring 2010 !?

The past few months in the mixed martial arts world have seemed frantic, as most of the biggest-name fighters have been out of action for a variety of reasons. But the opening months of 2010 could be looked back upon as the calm before the storm. The first weekend of March begins an eight-week period where almost every top fighter in the sport will compete, as they return from injuries, contract disputes and even movie sets.

Over an eight-week period between March 6 and May 1, as many as nine of the top 10 in the current Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings are scheduled to compete and the summer brings the return to the spotlight of superstars Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz.

Highlights of how the spring and early summer are shaping up:

March 6: World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion Brian Bowles (No. 8 pound-for-pound) and the man he won the title from, Miguel Angel Torres (No. 9), face separate opponents at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on a WEC event promoted in conjunction with the annual Arnold Fitness Expo. Bowles defends against Dominick Cruz, while Torres faces Joseph Benavidez, likely leading to a showdown of the winners.

March 27: UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (No. 2) returns to action after eight-and-a-half months from a torn abductor muscle to face Dan Hardy in the main event of the show in Newark, N.J., that includes the Mir vs. Carwin fight. What is significant about this date is that it is the night before World Wrestling Entertainment’s annual WrestleMania, meaning it will be a weekend battle of what would likely be two of the biggest pay-per-view events of the year, assuming boxing can’t pick up the pieces and put together Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather later in the year.

April 10: UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn (No. 4), the only UFC champion who remained healthy during the second half of 2009, defends his title against Frankie Edgar. The front-runner location for this card is Abu Dhabi, but backup locations including Dublin and Manchester and Newcastle, England, are in discussion if the Abu Dhabi deal isn’t finalized. Middleweight champion Anderson Silva (No. 1) may also return from surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow to face Vitor Belfort. The latter fight is not official for April 10 but has been the date under discussion.

April 17: Fedor Emelianenko (No. 3) returns from hand surgery on a CBS show. The date has not been officially announced, but the promotion has told fighters involved the event will be held on this date. He would face, most likely, Fabricio Werdum on the same show that Dan Henderson (No. 10) challenges Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields. This would be Henderson’s first fight in more than nine months, between his contract expiring with UFC and the two sides talks of a new deal falling apart, and Henderson signing with Strikeforce. No location has been announced for the show.

May 1: Lyoto Machida (No. 5) and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (No. 7) have a rematch in Montreal after the most disputed decision of 2009, when Machida retained his UFC light heavyweight title on Oct. 24 in Los Angeles. The six months break between fights happened because Machida had surgery on his left hand. The show also features a grudge match coming off Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” with former light heavyweight champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Rashad Evans.

Jackson will be returning after a 14-month layoff caused by the filming of “The Ultimate Fighter” and then shooting the role of B.A. Baracus in “The A-Team” movie. The winner of that match is likely to be next in line for a title shot, and the grudge match nature of Jackson vs. Evans combined with the heated title rematch puts this show as the front-runner for the biggest pay-per-view event of the early part of the year.

The lone top 10 pound-for-pounder not fighting during that window is WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. (No. 6), who will be defending against former champion Urijah Faber in what will likely be promoted as the biggest featherweight match in MMA history. At last word, WEC was trying to secure a pay-per-view date for the match, which conceivably could come as early as April or May.

Another major return on the books is Chuck Liddell, who at 40 is still probably one of the three most popular fighters in the sport. Liddell, who was on the fall season of “Dancing with the Stars,” will be seen as a coach, with longtime rival Tito Ortiz, during Season 11 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which debuts March 31 and airs through June. Liddell hasn’t fought since an April first-round knockout loss to Rua, which at the time looked to be his final fight. The Liddell vs. Ortiz match, a rematch of a 2006 match which is still one of the three biggest pay-per-view events in MMA history, will take place at the end of the season.

Lesnar’s return still a question

Of the sport’s biggest players, the only two major question marks as to when they will fight next are UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and the most popular women’s star, Gina Carano.

Lesnar remains on the sidelines after a series of health complications. UFC president Dana White, at the request of Lesnar, has refused to talk about his biggest drawing card’s health situation since Lesnar got an update from his doctor Jan. 5. Lesnar suffered an attack of diverticulitis, essentially a perforated intestine, in November after two months of various health issues.

White had noted before the appointment that if Lesnar needed major surgery on his intestines, a strong possibility, it would put him out of action for more than a year, perhaps end his career and force him to vacate his championship. If he didn’t need surgery, he would likely fight much sooner.

The UFC has already announced a Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin match on the March 27 show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for the interim heavyweight championship. If Lesnar is going to fight in the next six months, the winner of this match would be the obvious choice in opponent, in what would likely be one of the most successful pay-per-view matches in company history.

While not discussing specifics of his health, one of Lesnar’s coaches, Greg Nelson, has said Lesnar would definitely return to fighting faster than people expect.

“Brock Lesnar is definitely coming back to fight,” said Nelson on in the Internet show MMA Live. “He’s just kinda coming up slowly, training, getting his body ready, and being smart with his recovery. He’s been going into the doctor and making sure everything is going well and he’ll make sure to go in for a couple of more tests to make sure he’s 100 percent ready to train when he starts up.”

Marty Morgan, who heads Lesnar’s camp and has worked with him dating back to college at the University of Minnesota, also said this past week that Lesnar would fight again but wouldn’t give a timetable as to when.

It is possible Lesnar could come out of his troubles healthier, because the disorder would force changes in his diet. Lesnar was never a stickler for what he ate, since he was notable for being a hard trainer dating back to college and could get away with eating what he wanted.

Lesnar has lost weight and hasn’t trained seriously since an episode that hospitalized him for two weeks. But if the remnants of the disease don’t allow him to regain the level of size and strength he had in the past, he would be in trouble because there is no major fighter in the sport so reliant on pure power and the ability to physically manhandle their opponents through wrestling than Lesnar. As a heavyweight who competes at around 280 pounds, Lesnar’s size, strength and wrestling ability allowed him to beat Randy Couture for the heavyweight title in only his fourth professional fight, and then stop former champion Mir in his fifth.

As for Carano, Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker said that the woman who put women’s MMA on the map, who is currently shooting the lead role in the Steven Soderbergh movie, “Knockout,” will likely return during the second quarter of the year.

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