The five February fights that shouldn't fly under the radar

Photo by Esther Lin

With the heaping amount of excellent Mixed Martial Arts action happening next month, Anton Tabuena gives out Five fantastic, must-watch fights that may be flying under the radar.

February will be a treat for Mixed Martial Arts fans. On that month alone, 3 out of the UFC's 9 champions will be defending their belts, with countless contenders and former champs also gunning for a shot at the title. There's also TUF 17 which looks to be one of the most promising seasons to date, along with Bellator continuing with their tournaments on a bigger platform in Spike TV.

In a month loaded with several cards and some very high-profile match ups, there could be some top notch fights that could somewhat go under the radar. So that being said, here's a list of 5 fantastic fights that you should catch on the 28 days of February:

1. Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia, UFC 156.
Date: February 2, 2013 -- How to Watch: PPV, 10 PM ET.

UFC 156 will start off the month with a crazy stacked card. Most of the media and fans will naturally be focused on the Super-Fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, when the Jersey kid tries to join the elite company of Randy Couture and B.J. Penn as legends who have claimed UFC gold in multiple divisions. The event will also have high profile match ups such as Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio Silva and Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but the card is so deep it also includes a bout that could even normally take a co-main, or even main event slot of other cards.

Zuffa has pit two of the most talented grapplers in the UFC's roster against each other in a bout that just a few months ago didn't even seem like a possibility. Maia has successfully made a drop down to 170 lbs, and has established himself as force to be reckoned with at welterweight. This match up against a fellow high level grappler in Fitch certainly makes it intriguing, and it could deliver on that very same promise that Maia vs. Kim had before it ended prematurely.

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2. Gunnar Nelson vs. Jorge Santiago, UFC on FUEL TV 7.
Date: February 16, 2013 -- How to Watch: Fuel TV, 3PM ET.

I still think that putting a title fight on FUEL TV is a waste, even if it's between two guys like Renan Barao and Michael McDonald who aren't established stars yet. That championship headliner could help increase numbers on the network, but I just don't think it's the right way to market your champions. Either way, this is a topic for another discussion.

Honestly, anything on FUEL TV could be considered "low profile", and that is especially true with international events such as this one which starts in the afternoon. There are still bouts on this card that certainly deserve the extra attention though.

Gunnar Nelson was already considered as one of the top prospects in the world when this high level BJJ champion with unorthodox Karate-based striking showed dominance in the European MMA scene. He continued this impressive run with a one-sided victory against DaMarques Johnson on his UFC debut, and this Feb, he will be looking to make a bigger impact in the division. The 24-year-old fighter was earlier set to face Justin Edwards until an injury forced the TUF Veteran out. Former Sengoku champ Jorge Santiago, who has won his past two fights, has now been called back the UFC, setting a stage up for a bigger test and much more enticing and intriguing bout for Nelson.

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3. Eric Kelly vs. Honorio Banario, ONE FC 7, ONE FC Featherweight Championship.
Date: February 2, 2013 -- How to Watch: Online PPV, 8 AM ET.

This is technically the main event of the popular Asian MMA promotion, and while it will indeed draw eyeballs in the hosting country of Malaysia along with the other countries in the region, it could easily get lost in the fold for the average western audience. Not only does this event start early in the morning for those in the east coast, the promotion also decided to put up a card that favors more local stars instead of the usual international "big name" fighters. It also happens to be on the same day as the most stacked PPV card of the year, in UFC 156.

It still is a high quality Asian MMA card though, and headlining the event filled with several of the region's top prospects is Kelly vs. Banario, a bout for the inaugural ONE FC featherweight championship. Both Filipinos are buddies and former training partners, who have churned out impressive performances in ONE FC. Now, they have decided to shelve their friendship until after they have put on what promises to be an exciting title fight between two well rounded, and very similar Wushu-based fighters. Kelly will be more experienced against better competition, but Banario will be younger and bigger. They're very familiar with each others strengths and weaknesses after having trained extensively in the past, so it will be interesting to see how this could affect things during fight night.

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4. Alexander Shlemenko vs. Maiquel Falcao, Bellator 88, Bellator Middleweight Championship.
Date: February 7, 2013 -- How to Watch: Spike TV, 7 PM ET.

Like the bout listed before this, Shlemenko vs. Falcao is also a main event title fight. While Bellator has now moved to a much larger platform in Spike TV, there's still a chance that these weekly shows could still seem like a huge blur together for the average MMA fan, especially considering that the bigger star in this division (Hector Lombard) has already bolted to the UFC.

This has left the promotion with a vacant title which is set to be on the line with these two tournament winners from Season 5 and Season 6. Falcao and Shlemenko are both monsters with lengthy winning streaks, and while they may not get the attention as some of the other MMA stars competing this month, this is a bout too look out for, and one that almost guarantees to deliver with an entertaining firefight.

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5. Joe Taimanglo vs. Michinori Tanaka, PXC 35, Interim PXC Bantamweight Championship.
Date: February 16, 2013 -- How to Watch: Online Stream, 8 AM ET.

As mentioned earlier, Asian MMA fights can sometimes go under the radar for western fans with the events starting very early for people watching outside the region. The audience in the US will also be more focused on yet another international event too, with the UFC on Fuel TV 7 event happening in London just a few hours after this. Those two major factors make it likely for this event to pass by silently for the average MMA fan in the US, but it doesn't take away from the fact that this bout one to watch.

Officially holding the co-main event slot at PXC 35, the true treat and what is definitely the most anticipated fight for the more avid Asian MMA fans is the interim bantamweight title fight between Baby Joe Taimanglo and Michinori Tanaka. The PXC featherweight champ in Taimanglo has long been a fixture with the promotion based in both Guam and Manila, and he has beaten much larger men before, including their lightweight champion in Harris Sarmiento. He is now dropping back to a more natural weight class at 135 lbs, but he will indeed be facing one of the more promising fighters in Asia. Top Japanese prospect, and former Shooto Rookie Champ in Tanaka is a high level grappler who has gained praises from his talented teammates in Caol Uno and Michihiro Omigawa, and after a dominant win on his PXC debut, it will be very interesting to see if this 22-year-old can quickly step up from top prospect to champion.

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Honorable mention: Urijah Faber vs. Ivan Menjivar, UFC 157
Date: February 23, 2013 -- How to Watch: PPV, 10 PM ET.

It's rare to even mention any fight from Faber as being relatively "low profile", but all the attention from UFC 157 will naturally be gravitating to the first ever Women's fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche, along with Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida. This is still technically on the fight poster and it's still the third feature bout on the card, so it doesn't fit the mold as the other bouts mentioned on this list, but with the reasons stated above, it could once again be easy to overlook the guys on the lower weights. Menjivar vs. Faber is still a top notch bout though, and it will not only guarantee an exciting fast-paced fight, it could also have some major implications on the UFC bantamweight division.

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