In the UFC, big names bring buys, big fights bring anticipation, and good fights bring talk. Often the three aren’t exclusive. How many times have we seen the most anticipated fights disappoint? On the same card, a fight that went under the radar tends to capture the headlines and bring the night’s most memorable moment.
Whether through a crazy knockout or a hard-fought three-round war, fights that are talked about less in the lead-up to an event can provide the most entertainment. Some of 2020's best moments are prime examples.
By definition, a “sleeper fight” in MMA is a matchup that can shock fans. Many things can contribute to a bout being defined as one; a knockout you never saw coming or a relentless brawl that unexpectedly put you on the edge of your seat.
From Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg to Leonardo Santos vs. Grant Dawson, March brought us plenty. April’s line-up should bring us more unexpected classics.
With that said, here are five UFC matchups that could end up being some memorable sleeper fights in April.
#5 John Makdessi vs. Ignacio Bahamondes - UFC on ABC 2
A UFC veteran versus one of the promotion’s most exciting prospects. Matchups like this rarely fail to deliver. It’ll be Canada versus Chile on April 10 when John Makdessi (17-7 MMA, 10-7 UFC) faces Ignacio Bahamondes (11-3 MMA).
If Bahamondes’ potential needed to be said, how does facing a 17-fight veteran on debut sound? It’s certainly deserved after the way in which he secured his ticket to the UFC. La Jaula earned a contract with a crazy head-kick knockout of Edson Gomez on Dana White’s Contender Series last November.
At just 23-years-old, Bahamondes already boasts eight knockouts in his 11 wins. Having fought under the banners of various promotions, including LFA, Combate Americas, and Lux Fight League, the Chilean is set to make his UFC debut in April.
With slick striking, notable power, and five-round experience, Bahamondes looks to be a star for the future.
The other half of what could be a blockbuster fight is John Makdessi. Having debuted at UFC 124 in 2010, Makdessi has been a mainstay in the lightweight division. He has fought the likes of Donald Cerrone, Abel Trujillo, and Yancy Medeiros.
Despite his veteran status, the Canadian has shown he hasn’t lost a step, winning three of his last four fights, including a Fight of The Night with Ross Pearson in 2018.
With Bahamondes looking to make an impression on debut and Makdessi looking to show what he can still do, this is one not to be missed.
#4 Jack Shore vs. Hunter Azure - UFC on ABC 2
The face of Welsh MMA is set for his first UFC fight on US soil. Jack Shore has been seriously impressive. Before making his UFC debut in 2019, Tank had amassed an unbeaten 11-0 record with a remarkable 10 finishes. There aren’t many names coming out of the United Kingdom as promising as Shore.
After 10 fights under the promotional banner of Cage Warriors, the 26-year-old made his first walk to the UFC Octagon in 2019. A third-round rear-naked choke marked his arrival on MMA’s biggest stage. Shore gave the same treatment to Aaron Phillips on Fight Island last summer.
Unbeaten in 13 professional fights and 2-0 in the UFC, Shore will look to climb further up the bantamweight division on April 10.
Shore’s third UFC test is set to be his toughest yet. Hunter Azure will stand opposite the Welshman off the back of a unanimous decision win over Cole Smith last September.
Across his 10 fights, the Montana-born fighter has only one blemish - a knockout loss to Brian Kelleher. Aside from that, the 29-year-old has looked like a promising addition to the division.
With a combined record of 24-1, this fight will see two talented bantamweights make a leap up the ladder, maybe even into the rankings.
#3 Jeff Molina vs. Aoriqileng - UFC 261
Two flyweights, two UFC debuts, and two massive prospects - Jeff Molina vs. Aoriqileng should be a great watch.
There aren’t many monikers as scary as Mongolian Murderer. It has to be one of the best nicknames in the sport. There isn't enough money in the world that could make me go anywhere near a cage with someone known as that. Luckily for me, Jeff Molina is the one set to stand face-to-face with him.
Aoriqileng will be riding a six-fight winning streak heading into his UFC debut. A unanimous decision loss in 2018 was the only fault in his last 11 bouts. The Chinese fighter is a product of the UFC academy at the Shanghai Performance Institute and wants to make a name for himself on a stacked UFC 261 card.
This fight has been a long time coming for Aoriqileng’s opponent Jeff Molina. El Jefe graduated from Dana White’s Contender Series in August 2020. He was set to make his debut against Zarrukh Adashev in November and then again in January.
After months of waiting, Molina will finally make his first walk to the Octagon on April 24. Aged just 23, Molina has found a stoppage in seven out of his eight wins and hasn’t been finished since his very first professional fight.
With both men looking to make an immediate impact in the division, this fight is one to watch for the next pay-per-view. The flyweights have a habit of stealing the show. There is every chance these two will continue that reputation.
#2 William Knight vs. Da Un Jung - UFC on ABC 2
Next is some light heavyweight action to watch out for. I just mentioned Aoriqileng as having the best nickname, but how about Knightmare for a close second?
William Knight had been scheduled to face Alonzo Menifield at UFC 260, but he was forced to withdraw due to Covid-19 protocols. He’ll be hoping for the same highlight finish in his new bout as Menifield secured against Fabio Cherant in his.
Visa issues for Shamil Gamzatov have allowed Knight to walk to the Octagon just two weeks later than planned. He’ll face the in-form Da Un Jung.
Knight began his career at a later age than most but has made up for lost time. After a second appearance on DWCS, the 32-year-old earned a contract. An impressive unanimous decision win against Aleksa Camur on his UFC debut brought him to 9-1 as a professional.
Da Un Jung has achieved quite the turnaround. From a 1-2 record after three fights, he now sits at 13-2-1. An incredible 12-fight winning streak, including UFC victories against Khadis Ibragimov and Mike Rodriguez, had the South Korean touted as one of the UFC’s hottest prospects. A draw against Sam Alvey in 2020 has halted his streak, but he remains a future star.
Boasting 19 knockouts between them, we could see a highlight finish in this one, and it’s anyone’s guess which side it comes from.
#1 Brendan Allen vs. Karl Roberson - UFC 261
It’s prospect versus prospect in this one as All In faces Baby K. Brendan Allen and Karl Roberson are recognizable names in the middleweight division. But on a pay-per-view stage with three title fights at the top of the card, this fight could easily go under the radar in the lead-up. It shouldn’t do.
Since his debut, Brendan Allen has impressed. Earning a contract through DWCS in 2019, the 25-year-old has already established himself as a future star. A win could well provide Allen with a number next to his name.
Despite his UFC winning streak being halted by Sean Strickland in 2020, Allen’s treble of wins beforehand had already established his name in the 185 lb division.
Allen found a finish in 13 of his 15 wins, including against current top 10 Kevin Holland. He’ll look to add to that on April 24 when he faces Karl Roberson in front of a sold-out crowd.
For Roberson, this fight provides a golden opportunity to bounce back from his last loss against a legitimate name in the division. It’s clear the 30-year-old was off his game against Marvin Vettori. Weight issues affected the build-up, and a convincing defeat saw Vettori excel off the back of it.
Nevertheless, Roberson’s talent is clear. Before losing to the Italian, he was 4-1 at middleweight with two submissions. His win over Ryan Spann on DWCS showed what he can do, and he’ll hope to do the same at UFC 261.
Both men have something to prove, and it should make for a thrilling and entertaining matchup. Don’t sleep on this one.