Packed MMA weekend includes bevy of underrated bouts

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With a slew of fights this weekend, it shouldn't come as a shock that several compelling matchups have quietly floated under the radar. Here are four bouts that may not be listed as main events but are well-matched, relevant and undoubtedly worth your time.

Nine fights. Nine wins. Eight knockouts. Not bad. With a ledger like SarahKaufman's, you wouldn't have to go far to suggest the sturdy Canadian is a win or two away from establishing herself among the best in women's MMA. Victory against submission-savvy Shayna Baszler on Friday in Kent, Wash., wouldn't hurt.

Competing just five weeks after earning a dominant decision over Miesha Tate, the physical Kaufman's heavy hips and punches should serve her well against the 28-year-old Baszler, whose nine victories in 14 fights manifested in some variation of a choke or joint lock.

A 10th win for Kaufman (her second under the Strikeforce banner) could very well put her at the front of the line to meet Gina Carano or Cris "Cyborg" Santos -- good timing considering the media attention that'll be generated when Carano and Santos meet in women's mixed martial arts' first crossover headliner Aug. 15 in San Jose, Calif.

Expect Kaufman's strength to overcome Baszler's skill, giving Strikeforce another promotable female fighter.

Also appearing Friday on the Strikeforce Challenger Series card, established welterweight Nick Thompson, who resides in or near most top-10 rankings, against Tim Kennedy, a part-time fighter finally in a position to devote himself to MMA.

Based on records and opponents -- 38-10-1 for Thompson (16-2 starting in 2006) versus Kennedy's 9-2 tally -- Thompson walks into the fight pretty clear favorite. But he's no sure thing against Kennedy, whose big frame is augmented nicely by the kind of mental makeup that helped him thrive through Ranger school and several tours on the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Competing mostly at middleweight in a campaign that began two weeks before 9/11, Kennedy, 29, is now a very large welterweight, which should come in handy against Thompson, who fits the same description.

If Thompson is truly deserving of a top-10 ranking he will get past Kennedy. Yet this fight is intriguing because there's no guarantee that'll happen.

It's been a busy 12-week run for upstart Bellator Fighting Championships, and the ESPN-affiliated promotion's first season comes to a close Friday evening in Hollywood, Fla., with two title fights.

While most of the card's focus has been heaped on the culmination of the lightweight tournament, which features heavy pre-event favorite Eddie Alvarez against a compelling underdog in Toby Imada, the middleweight final isn't so bad either.

Cuban born judo player Hector Lombard (21-2-1) has had an easy go of it in the tournament's first two rounds. He should get his stiffest test against the undefeated and unheralded Jared Hess, who will be making his fifth appearance of 2009.

The way Lombard has plowed through opponents, the assumption is that he'll swarm over Hess in the early going. If he doesn't, Hess could have a shot of pulling what would be a significant upset. Lombard is one of these guys who's a bull at the opening bell, but his pace and muscled frame has betrayed him late in fights. He's gone the distance enough to know what it's like, and even fought into the fourth round last September.

Expect Lombard to win, but Hess (9-0-1) has yet to experience a loss and he should walk into the cage with confidence.

What is a bout between a former UFC lightweight title contender and a winner of The Ultimate Fighter reality show doing on a list of overlooked fights this weekend?

Well, in the wake of a main event between Clay Guida and Diego Sanchez, as well as bouts to determine lightweight and welterweight winners for T.U.F. 9, it feels a bit like Joe Stevenson and Nate Diaz have been lost in the shuffle.

This is must-win for Stevenson. Having lost three of his last four -- both B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian finished him with submissions, while Sanchez took a decision -- there is significant pressure on Stevenson, 27, to get past Diaz (10-3), who himself is coming off a split-decision loss to Guida in January.

While there hasn't been any official indication that a loss would be crippling for Stevenson's career inside the UFC, it's not outside the realm of possibility. As a winner of T.U.F. 2, Stevenson's job security wouldn't seem imperiled. Yet another snoozer, like the one Stevenson put together against Sanchez in February, isn't good for anyone.

Considering the breakneck pace Diaz brings into fights, Stevenson (29-10) should be forced to exchange. He's one of these guys that seems to have forgotten what made him a difficult fighter to beat. But if he can get back to wrestling -- and he's definitely a better wrestler than Diaz -- he should be able to avoid submissions while working strikes on the ground.

With the 24-year-old Diaz, you never really know. Like his older brother Nick, Nate has a flare for the dramatic. Standing 6-feet tall, compared to Stevenson's stout 5-foot-7 frame, Diaz has plenty of range and should try to use his length to punch from the outside. If Stevenson lets him, it could be another good night for fans of the controversial Diaz brothers.