During a month loaded with important MMA, here are 10 bouts that stand out for more than just compelling matchmaking:
Easily the best fighter plying his trade in March, St. Pierre returns against an opponent he should dominate. Even still, his bout on March 27 against Hardy, who in spite of his deficiencies isn't a pushover, remains the month's most intriguing.
In his last three fights, the UFC welterweight champion needed 14 rounds to defeat
Common wisdom suggests Hardy comes into the fight ill-equipped for this moment -- a belief based largely on his showings against mid-tier competition.
The "interim" tag makes this five-round heavyweight title tilt less important than it might seem from the outside. There remains, however, plenty to note when top-10 fighters Mir, 30, and Carwin, 35, meet at UFC 111.
Making his first defense of the Dream featherweight championship, Fernandes faces an interesting challenge on March 22 in Yokohama, Japan, against Hansen, a veteran who has campaigned primarily in the lightweight division. (The card is available to American audiences live on HDNet.) There is a significant gap between 154 pounds and Dream's featherweight limit of 139, and it's hard to imagine the cut won't be extremely difficult on the 30-year-old Norwegian challenger.
A rematch of a 2006 bout that resulted in Fitch, 32, stopping Alves, 26. The fighters, ranked No. 2 and 3 in the world respectively, meet again March 27 at UFC 111. Both men have improved tremendously over the last three years, and each was overwhelmed in five-round decision loss to St. Pierre.
As dos Santos, 25, shot up the heavyweight ranks, Gonzaga, a former title contender in the UFC, sputtered. Based on their current trajectories, dos Santos should walk into the March 21 bout -- a first for UFC on Versus -- favored against a fellow Brazilian who has struggled against upper-crust opponents.
In 2005, Gomi was considered the best lightweight in MMA. Not so anymore, although the 31-year-old Japanese fighter's entree into the UFC could go a long way in helping resurrect his career. He won't catch any kind of break in his first UFC-promoted bout on March 31 in Charlotte, N.C. Florian, 33, seems well suited to stifle an all-to-often under-motivated fighter.
The headliner for UFC's first venture on Versus, Jones-Vera brings together athletic light heavyweights on March 21. Jones, 22, returns for the first time since suffering a disqualification loss -- the first blemish of his career -- to
Attempting the fourth consecutive defense of his Shooto featherweight title (132 pounds), Ueda, 32, shouldn't have much trouble in Osaka, Japan, on March 22 against Katsumura, whose resume reads like a series of speed bumps.
Nelson, who won Season 10 of
Lombard, a 32-year-old former Olympic judoka from Cuba, has a great-looking record, but his level of opposition leaves quite a lot to be desired. Santore, a journeyman from California, won't provide any boost to the way in which fans and media perceive Lombard's MMA ranking, but he certainly knows how to turn a professional fight into a brawl.