There aren’t very many weekends like this left on the 2011 calendar.
With yesterday’s monumental announcement of the UFC’s new television deal with FOX and the debut event being slated for November 12, there are just four Saturdays between UFC 134 and UFC 140 without a major event. Four — that’s it. Between numbered events, Fight Nights, the TUF 14 Finale, and Strikeforce, we’re jammed until just before January.
This weekend, however, isn’t about the big boys. The UFC and Strikeforce are both on hiatus, but that doesn’t mean we’re without some interesting fights and stories in the sport.
Here’s our look at the fights and fighters that pique our interest over the weekend.
Superior Cage Combat 2 – Las Vegas, Nevada
John Gunderson (31-11-2, facing James Birdsley)
Gunderson has split a pair of fights since exiting the UFC after a loss to Yves Edwards. The reason he’s on our radar this weekend is that he’s the first Team Tompkins fighter to step into the cage since the sudden passing of that group’s leader, Shawn Tompkins.
John Alessio (31-14-0, facing Waachim Spiritwolf)
Another one-time UFC competitor with ties to Tompkins; Alessio worked with “The Coach” at Xtreme Couture.
“The Natural” had a seven fight winning streak snapped last time out, losing to Siyar Bahadurzada in the semifinals of the United Glory welterweight tournament. If I’m not mistaken, he turned down an opportunity to compete in the UFC to stay in the tournament.
It should be interesting to see if Alessio can get back into the win column and resurface on the UFC’s radar as they head towards another Canadian show in December.
Justin Buchholz (11-6, facing Thiago Meller)
The Team Alpha Male member is coming off an impressive finish of fellow UFC cast-off Steve Lopez in the main event of SCC 1. After a back-and-forth battle in the opening two rounds, Buchholz nailed Lopez with a “footercut,” knocking him out and sending the audience at Bally’s into a frenzy.
He’s put together back-to-back wins after a stretch with five losses in six fights. With the success of the rest of the Alpha Male team in the UFC and Strikeforce recently, another solid win would increase Buchholz’s profile and bring him one step closer to returning to the big leagues.
Josh Neer (30-10-1, facing Blas Avena)
“The Dentist” has won five of six since being bounced from the UFC, the lone loss coming in his not-so-super superfight against Bellator lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez. Each of those five wins have come without seeing the second round — two submissions, two technical knockouts, and an injury — with his most recent victory coming against Jesse Juarez.
Welterweight seems to be a good fit for Neer, who competed at lightweight in the UFC, and a fourth straight win would definitely put him back on the radar.
Bellator Fighting Championships 48 – Mohegan Sun Casino (Uncasville, Connecticut)
Ricco Rodriguez (47-11) vs. Seth Petruzelli (13-6)
The curiosity alarms have to be going off for every fight fan with this one.
Rodriguez is a former UFC heavyweight champion who had the potential to be something incredibly special in the cage. After battling his weight and substance abuse issues for a number of years, he’s in the midst of a rebuilding process.
The 1998 ADCC Absolute Division champion has posted an 18-2 mark over his last 20 fights, and brings a 12 bout winning streak into this one. It’s hard to believe that “Suave” is just 33-years-old, but it’s true.
What ups the ante in this one is that Rodriguez is facing “The Kimbo Killer” a.k.a. “The Silverback” a.k.a. Seth Petruzelli. He bounced back from being bounced from the UFC once again with a win in April, is always entertaining, and can never be counted out of a fight.
The freak show factor is high with this one, even if it shouldn’t be.
Cole Konrad (7-0) vs. Paul Buentello (29-13)
Konrad defends his Bellator heavyweight title for the first time since winning the strap against Neil Grove last October. The unbeaten two-time former National champion from the University of Minnesota is a suffocating wrestler, and faces a bit of a step up in competition in this one.
As I’ve said before, unbeaten heavyweights are hard to come by, and when they do turn up, I’m going to pay attention.
Bellator seems like the ideal home for Buentello. He’s not good enough for the UFC, but he had enough of a name that he can be an attraction in the heavyweight ranks for the best non-Zuffa owned organization in the sport.
“The Headhunter” is dangerous enough standing to test Konrad, but there is a very good chance he gets taken down and dominated for the entire 15 minutes. Still, I want to see how the champ does against a more seasoned and skilled opponent, even if it is just Buentello.
Pat Curran (15-4) vs. Marlon Sandro (19-2)
All the other fights on this list have been curiosities; this one is a legit battle between two quality featherweights, and I really and truly can’t wait to see it.
Curran has been a revelation for Bellator over the last few years. He came out of nowhere to win the second lightweight tournament, then went the distance with Eddie Alvarez. Now he’s dropped to ’45 and marched to another final after a pair of impressive wins over Luis Palomino and Ronnie Mann.
While he hasn’t been as explosive as he was in some of his bouts in Japan, Sandro has earned a pair of solid wins to reach this point. A top 5 featherweight in just about every set of rankings you could consult, the Nova Uniao product is a win away from facing Bellator’s 145 pound champ Joe Warren.
It’s hard to say how this one is going to play out. Sandro prefers to stand, but has outstanding jiu-jitsu and takedown defense if needed. Curran doesn’t mind throwing hands either, and likes to mix in some wrestling as well, so it will be interesting to see where each fighter commits in this one.