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Summer 2008 carries a packed MMA calendar


With The Ultimate Fighter 7 finale kicking things off June 21, the summer of 2008 could go down as a tremendously important stretch for the sport.

But, if nothing else, the season will certainly be notable for its packed calendar: two blockbuster Ultimate Fighting Championship cards, Donald Trump's newest baby, Affliction, culminations of two Dream grand prix tournaments in Japan, and the return of MMA to CBS (CBS-EliteXC returns July 26 and has already started scheduling an October card).

Joining an announced rematch between EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Scott Smith at Unfinished Business on July 26 are Jake Shields and Antonio Silva, each of whom may fight to raise the card's title bouts to three.

Lawler and Smith met for the first time on CBS' initial foray into MMA on May 31 in Newark, N.J. But as the two seemed to be well on their way toward earning "Fight of the Night" honors, Lawler accidentally poked Smith in the eye, resulting in a no contest call by the ref. And after the card drew an average 4.85 million viewers, CBS seem to jump on the idea of a Lawler-Smith rematch.

According to EliteXC Vice President Jared Shaw, Shields' opponent for the newly created 170-pound title will be determined this week. Potential challengers include International Fight League champion Jay Hieron, former Bodog champ Nick Thompson, or the recently motivated Paul Daley.

Shields was in line to fight Drew Fickett for the vacant title before injuries nixed the bout. If Silva appears on the card (it's not a guarantee that he will, right now) he could face IFL heavyweight champion Roy Nelson, or Robert "Buzz" Berry, who knocked out Ken Shamrock in March.

Unfinished Business, which appears destined for St. Louis, may also feature women's MMA again as Shayna Baszler-Kelly Kobald is being discussed as potential follow-up to the first card's Gina Carano-Kaitlin Young bout.

EliteXC has already started working on lining up an October card with Kimbo Slice, who's expected to fight Brett Rodgers. A rematch between EliteXC lightweight champion K.J. Noons and rival Nick Diaz could also be featured on CBS in the fall.

In addition to the announced CBS fights, Showtime will broadcast several live fights as lead-ins to the events, including a bout pitting impressive featherweight Wilson Reis against Bao Quach or Mark Oshiro.

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Chuck Liddell is set to face T.U.F. Season 2 winner Rashad Evans as UFC rolls into Atlanta for the first time Sept. 6. But the card could become even more interesting at middleweight if Anderson Silva signs on, as well. Though the two would head to Atlanta in separate bouts, "the Iceman" and "Spider" may face each other in the near future. With quality 185-pound challengers abound, the prospect of a bigger pay day and increased exposure by fighting Liddell, the dominant middlweight will likely move up 20 pounds for the must-watch bout.

Already, the UFC has indicated it would make a rematch between current lightweight champ B.J. Penn and welterweight title-holder Georges St. Pierre.

And don't dismiss a contest between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Assuming the champions retain their belts through upcoming defenses, it could make for a compelling bout, especially since Nogueira seems thin on challengers right now.

Compelling events are always made better by high stakes, especially as fighters advance to the semis and finals. (March Madness anyone?) For eight competitors, the prospect of winning a Dream grand prix championship this summer still brings hopeful thoughts.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that lightweights captured the headlines thus far in the tournament. After Shinya Aoki showed the world a gogoplata from the mount Sunday in Yokohama, fate in the form of a blind lottery matched him with veteran Caol Uno. On the opposite side of the brackets -- set for completion July 21 in Osaka, Japan -- Eddie Alvarez made it through two grueling bouts for the chance to meet Tatsuya Kawajiri, perhaps the best ground-and-pounder in the sport right now.

I picked Kawajiri to win the lightweights from the start, and I'm sticking with my choice. Melvin Manhoef will take the middleweight title -- Zelg Galesic won't be able to stand up to the Dutchman's assault, Gegard Mousasi isn't strong enough, and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is too inexperienced and has limited striking skills to pose a problem for Manhoef.

July 19-21: Affliction's debut pay-per-view, Banned, features a bill of quality heavyweight fights, including a main event between Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Sylvia. The UFC seems to also want dibs on that date, reportedly countering Affliction's card with a possible live bout featuring Wanderlei Silva on Spike TV. In Japan, Dream 5 brings the culmination of the lightweight grand prix, and the return of Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto.

Aug. 9: Can Jon Fitch defeat Georges St. Pierre? The No. 1 and No. 2 welterweights will duke it out at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., to answer your question.

Alvarez's wish: EliteXC and Adrenaline are anxiously awaiting the completion of the Dream lightweight tournament. Both expect Eddie Alvarez, who is contracted through non-exclusive deals to each promotion, back in action after taking some time away from the fight game to get married. Expect EliteXC to give Alvarez a shot at the 160-pound belt as soon as he's available.