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As we speak, Johny Hendricks is about a month into his fight camp.

Never mind that the UFC welterweight champion doesn’t yet officially have an opponent for the first defense of his title. Never mind that, due to the fight company’s jam-packed pay-per-view schedule, Hendricks estimates he’s still five or six months away from returning to the cage.

What Hendricks does have is full medical clearance to resume training, after tearing his right bicep while beating Robbie Lawler to claim the vacant 170-pound strap back in March. The arm is now surgically repaired and duly rehabbed, so Hendricks and his team are using the extended break to put him through a “mini-camp”—a way of staying sharp and keeping his weight in check while making sure the arm is good as new.

“We’re just sort of fine tuning and trying to get a little bit better,” Hendricks tells Bleacher Report on Tuesday. “Now that we’ve got some time off I’m really focusing on putting some muscle back on that I lost (after) not being able to lift or work out or do anything for four months. We’re working on my hands, getting them better, and my kicks. There’s so many things I have to room focus on right now that I don’t even have to bother with, do I have a fight?”

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Carla Esparza
Photo courtesy of Fox Sports/UFC

The Ultimate Fighter 20 debuted last week to rave reviews and not-so-great television ratings. 

But regardless of the show's ability to capture fan imagination—it has grown long in the tooth over the years—there is no doubt that the latest version of The Ultimate Fighter is the most interesting in years. From the high-level competitors to the unique new seeding and tournament structure, it is a breath of fresh air.

In a house filled with title contenders, only one woman will emerge as the new UFC strawweight champion. Today, we take a look at five competitors who have the inside track to December's championship fight.

 

Carla Esparza (Seed: No. 1)

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Kyle Terada/USA Today

Some very big doors may be about to open for Bethe Correia.

If they do, it will happen because—and only because—she had the foresight and fortitude to kick them down on her own. Within the relative quiet of the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division, that’s an achievement in and of itself.

Champion Ronda Rousey was still talking about Correia this past weekend while Rousey was in Brazil for UFC Fight Night 51. Rousey mentioned the undefeated Brazilian among the short list of contenders who might find their way into a shot at her title during 2015.

Naturally, that’s been Correia’s whole point since the beginning.

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USA Today

The biggest fight of 2015, on nearly every kind of scale one imagines, is probably Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier. After that, it's Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz.

It wasn't always this way, of course. But then Jones and Cormier slugged it out in the lobby in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. After that, the pair were everywhere: SportsCenter, your local news, your local pub. Everyone talked about Jones and Cormier engaging in fisticuffs. Everyone pretended to hate it, but secretly they loved it, and secretly they could not wait to see the fight.

That fight was supposed to take place at UFC 178 next week. It's not happening because Jones was injured in training by Alistair Overeem. This knowledge makes me and everyone else I know a little bit sad.

Make no mistake about it: UFC 178 is still the most stacked card in recent UFC memory. Any fight card with Donald Cerrone taking on Eddie Alvarez is going to have my rapt attention. But Jones/Cormier would've been the perfect way to cap off the night.

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Andrei Arlovksi, world heavyweight title contender?

This seemed a ludicrous idea in March 2013, when Arlovski lost to former welterweight and future light heavyweight Anthony Johnson. Arlovski just didn't have what it took anymore. Not to compete at the highest level.

It seemed far-fetched even yesterday morning. Arlovski was scheduled to face Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva on the UFC's Fight Pass service on Saturday night, and a Silva win seemed a foregone conclusion. Even UFC commentators Jon Anik and Kenny Florian were in on the act: The storyline for Arlovski centered on whether or not he had anything left.

As it turned out, Arlovski did have something left. He melted Silva, knocking him out in the first round. It eliminated nasty thoughts of Arlovski's controversial (and terribly boring) split decision over Brendan Schaub in his last bout, and perhaps even served notice that a new (old) heavyweight contender had arrived. Indeed, Anik's push after the fight—perhaps spurred on by the voices in his head—was that Arlovski was a new contender in the heavyweight division despite being ranked 14th going into the fight.

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AP Images

I’d like to think a guy like Krzysztof Soszynski would be set for life.

A veteran of nearly 40 fights, Soszynski spent more than eight years in the trenches of professional MMA. He fought for several of the industry’s top promotions, including Strikeforce and the IFL, before mustering a three-year, nine-fight tenure in the Octagon.

I’m told it's difficult to measure how long the average UFC career lasts, but with a final record of 6-3, Soszynski was likely more successful than most. He was never champion (or even a top contender), but he won more than he lost and three times pleased his bosses enough to win one of the fight company’s performance-based bonuses.

In reality, though, I know Soszynski probably isn’t a wealthy man.

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USA Today

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Dana White doesn't like somebody, and he doesn't mind telling anyone who will listen exactly what he thinks.

It's that trait that made White one of the biggest stars in the UFC. Fighters come and go, but White and his over-the-top soundbites never stop. He's always there to tell you what is literally (figuratively) happening, and he's always good for an off-the-cuff response when you need one.

He's engaged in public spats with folks for years. Nobody is safe: other promoters, television network officials and even his own fighters. If you piss White off, there is a very good chance he'll tell everybody about it. Tito Ortiz is his most popular target, but White's ire isn't restricted to just Ortiz.

Now, White has a new favorite target: Ben Askren, the former Bellator welterweight champion.

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Rose Namajunas
Photo courtesy Fox Sports/UFC

It has been a long time since a season of The Ultimate Fighter felt like a big deal.

I am not telling you anything you don't know. This is not a revelation. The Ultimate Fighter has been stuck on "not interesting" for years. To tell you the truth, I long ago decided the show would continue sliding down into the pit where things that are no longer relevant go to die.

There, it would find itself in decent company, with the final two seasons of The Killing and every international variation of The Ultimate Fighter.

There are so many Ultimate Fighters that I can't even keep track any more. I understand they are talent development tools used only to build up new international stars. But as with the North American version in recent seasons, the actual talent level on the show has been marginal at best for a long time.

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USA Today

What's next for Ronda Rousey?

There was a time when the answer to that question seemed clear. Back when Rousey was in Strikeforce, we all assumed she'd sign with the UFC, fight a couple of people and then take on Cris Cyborg in a long-awaited grudge match.

We're still waiting and don't know if the grudge match is ever going to happen. There are times when it feels like it's just over the horizon, but most of us have become immune to hope when it comes to Rousey vs. Cyborg.

It gives us the same feeling we used to get when folks started talking about Randy Couture taking on Fedor Emelianenko. The same feeling we got when all those rumors of Brock Lesnar taking on Emelianenko began.

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USA Today

Clearly, getting kicked off Inside MMA was a win-win for Ben Askren.

If Askren had been wondering how to take his ongoing rift with UFC President Dana White to the next level, Kenny Rice and Bas Rutten were happy to squat down last Friday and give him a boost.

By prematurely pulling the plug on their interview with the outspoken OneFC welterweight champion, Rice and Rutten managed to let Askren say his peace while simultaneously propping him up as the exiled firebrand too hot for American TV.

And if you’re Askren, that’s exactly where you want to be.