97f8bd651d45ccd6bc54f18667e71e8e_crop_north
USA Today

It occasionally seems like becoming UFC champion is the worst thing that could ever happen to a professional MMA fighter.

It may be the biggest prize in the sport, but there is mounting evidence that UFC gold is bad for your health. Take Saturday night’s UFC 187 for example, where Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson will vie to become light heavyweight champion only after the last light heavyweight champion’s life imploded.

If this were an isolated incident, you could just blame it on Jon Jones’ personal issues and move on. In truth, however, this weekend marks the third time since the beginning of 2014 that the UFC has had to crown a new champion under somewhat ugly circumstances.

It started with Georges St-Pierre’s public breakdown in the wake of his hard-fought UFC 167 victory over Johny Hendricks in November 2013. Seven years on top of the welterweight division had clearly taken their toll on the French Canadian phenom, and after he officially began an indefinite sabbatical from MMA in December of that year, it took three months to set Hendricks up with a bout against Robbie Lawler for the vacant title.

Aa5d190f4d029a1be84be5783d723e4d_crop_north
USA Today

Like a desert mirage, these big-time UFC pay-per-views have a way of looking different from up close.

Take UFC 187 for example. We once thought Jon Jones would be there, defending his light heavyweight championship for the ninth time. For a while, we even thought Khabib Nurmagomedov was coming to Las Vegas to claim the No. 1 contender spot at lightweight.

When the event actually happens on Saturday, however, the landscape will be much different.

Jones is suspended indefinitely, having been ordered to get his life together after he was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in New Mexico. Nurmagomedov is injured again.

56754744870b22493d1aa910e7f2c90a_crop_north
Getty Images

There is perhaps no fighter in MMA who has undergone quite as many physical and emotional transformations as Vitor Belfort.

By the time he gets his shot at Chris Weidman’s middleweight championship on Saturday at UFC 187, I’m not sure anyone quite knows which version of Belfort is going to show up.

We know only that the 38-year-old Brazilian has waited a long time for this. There have been a year’s worth of false starts and unexpected detours leading up to this weekend’s co-main event. In the interim, Belfort has experienced enough turmoil and controversy to last a professional lifetime.

Conventional wisdom says he won’t be the same guy who terrorized the 185-pound division during 2013. We all remember that guy, right? The guy who strung together as impressive a series of headkick knockouts as the sport has ever seen? The guy who fought exclusively in Brazil? The guy who looked like a He Man action figure with Belfort’s head photoshopped on top of it?

7dd00f147ddd9d80507275eea06ba383_crop_north
Getty Images

Frankie Edgar refuses to fade quietly into the background.

In fact, after all these years, the 33-year-old former lightweight champion refuses to go pretty much anywhere but straight back to the front of the line in any division where he chooses to compete.

Edgar proved that yet again Saturday at UFC Fight Night 66, turning back a game challenge from former WEC titlist Urijah Faber en route to a unanimous decision win (50-45 x 3) in their featherweight fight.

The victory was Edgar’s fourth in a row at 145 pounds and should put him in the catbird seat, as we all await the outcome of Jose Aldo’s title defense against Conor McGregor at UFC 189 in July. It was not a fact the Toms River, New Jersey, native wanted anyone—especially UFC President Dana White—to forget, as his clean sweep on the judges' scorecards was announced in Pasay, Philippines.

3d9e403cd4405a821b803ba372c5678d_crop_north
AP Images

The sweeping changes instituted by the Nevada Athletic Commission during a Friday meeting will forever alter the way it punishes users of performance-enhancing drugs.

It has been a long time coming. For years, the Nevada commission (and many others around the world) turned a deaf ear to the PED problem in combat sports. The punishments were barely a deterrent. Cheaters knew that they could cheat and, if caught, receive what amounted to less than a year on the sidelines.

That's no longer the case. On Friday (and in a very short period of time), the commission discussed and voted on new rules that will drop the proverbial hammer on offenders who use steroids, sedatives, marijuana and more.

A sampling of the new rules that will go into effect on September 1, as noted by MMA Fighting's Shaun Al-Shatti:

0802822639b4b9cb31d7db5b626eb9d3_crop_north
Getty Images

It’s tough to imagine a main event fight that more completely embodies the current state of the UFC than Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber.

When those two legends of the lighter weight classes collide on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 66, it’ll be from a place called Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines. The 12-fight menu of events features mostly people you’ve never heard of before, and the main-card broadcast on Fox Sports 1 will kick off at 10 a.m. ET.

A few years ago—in 2011, maybe even 2013—Faber vs. Edgar might’ve been considered an honest-to-goodness superfight. Now, they’re both likely on the downslope of once-great careers after being driven out of their natural weight classes by champions they just couldn’t beat.

We’re still going to watch this fight. It’s still going to be good, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of appointment viewing it might’ve been a short time ago.

9997265dc9af74cef9589e4ae28c412c_crop_north
USA Today

If Sam Alvey landed in hot water last weekend at UFC Fight Night 65, at least it was in the most Sam Alvey way possible.

The happy-go-lucky middleweight starched Dan Kelly in just 49 seconds during an undercard bout on Saturday, before getting on the mic to challenge happy-go-lucky middleweight Elias Theodorou to—wait for it—a hair vs. hair match.

"I would love a chance to knock his hair plugs out…,” Alvey said later, sharing some rare cross words with Submission Radio. “I don't think he's going to take me up on it because I don't think he thinks he's going to win, but [if] he beats me, I shave my head, and I hope that when I beat him he shaves his head. It's a real bet. Take it."

The knockout of Kelly amounted to a kind of statement win for Alvey—not quite definitive proof he belongs here, but at least enough to convince us to take notice of this offbeat knockout artist from Waterford, Wisconsin. The Theodorou call-out was also pitch perfect, proving that, aside from having lightning in his fists, Alvey might be a decent matchmaker too.

C67623428a08ce4a817cd63c2cd7890f_crop_north
Getty Images

Ronda Rousey, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's biggest star, is once again leading headlines. And rightly so.

This time, it's twofold. She's on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which is still a big thing. Even as the digital revolution marches ever onward, being featured in the pages of Sports Illustrated represents a kind of cache that a million features on MMA-specific websites just cannot bring.

And the cover? It is obviously a big deal, because MMA has only been featured on the cover twice in the history of the magazine. The first time around, it was Roger Huerta in the role of poster boy, but he was mostly used as a stand-in for the promotion itself. That story was about the UFC and its rise to glory.

This story is about Rousey.

The magazine references Rousey as the most dominant athlete in the world. It's a familiar refrain and feels a whole lot like the promotional bluster the UFC churns out when it's time for Rousey to take center stage on one of its pay-per-view events.

D72e4ef18b9b154b1693b7ba707ee764_crop_north
AP Images

Here’s Stipe Miocic’s Australia experience in a nutshell.

Miocic whipped Mark Hunt about as badly as anybody ever has for 23 minutes on Saturday night, forcing a fifth-round TKO stoppage in the main event of UFC Fight Night 65. Along with the victory, he’ll likely capture something close to No. 1 contender status in the perennially unstable UFC heavyweight division.

Then Miocic woke up at 5 a.m. to watch his beloved Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA playoffs and reveled in Lebron James’ game-winning shot. Oh, he also spent some time searching social media for the phrase “Stipe sucks” (and at least one NSFW variation thereof), just to keep tabs on the haters:

All in all, it was a pretty full weekend for a guy who is rapidly emerging not only as one of the UFC heavyweight division’s best fighters, but one of its most solid dudes.

F2f243bf3acba2b69830ee1157ba2a2a_crop_north
USA Today

There's no gentle way to put it: The UFC's heavyweight division is old.

Like, really old. 

The average age of the current Top Five heavyweights, per the latest set of UFC rankings—keeping in mind that this also includes Mark Hunt (41), who will no doubt drop out of the Top Five when the latest set of rankings are released this week—is 34 years old. 

The UFC's current Top 10 is a list of aging fighters, with zero young prospects currently making their way up the rankings. Dutch skyscraper Stefan Struve is just 27 years old, but he's far beyond what you'd call a prospect. Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez is still quite young at 32, but his injury-riddled body has kept him on the sideline for many of his prime years. 

Still, the fighters in the heavyweight division will always intrigue people because they're heavyweights. They're big, powerful dudes with knockout power across the board, and people love that sort of thing.