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USA Today

Yoel Romero spent much of the last 18 months establishing himself as the UFC middleweight division’s most wonderfully weird newcomer.

Romero is the hulking Olympic wrestling silver medalist who prefers flying knees and standing elbows to double-leg takedowns (though he’s got those, too). At 37 years old, his physique looks carved out of granite, and even though he comes to press conferences dressed like a lost cast member from Newsies, his mild mannerisms don’t quite convince us he’s the benevolent kind of monster.

His unconventional southpaw striking style is nonchalant—borderline lackadaisical, really—until suddenly it turns murderous. He’s jetted to 4-0 in the Octagon since an April 2013 debut, including three knockouts, all while occasionally looking like he has no idea what he’s doing out there.

Saturday at UFC 178, Romero takes the biggest leap of his short career, meeting Tim Kennedy in a bout that likely leaves the winner a stone’s throw from a title shot. As of this writing, the Cuba native and American Top Team product is going off as a slight favorite, but it’s also not unreasonable to wonder if Romero’s oddball style is just waiting for someone like Kennedy to come along and undress it.

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USA Today

UFC 178 was a long time coming for Eddie Alvarez.

It took nearly two years of legal wrangling, followed by wholesale regime change to disentangle the Bellator lightweight champion from his previous place of work. When Alvarez enters the Octagon on Saturday opposite 155-pound mainstay Donald Cerrone, it will probably feel like something close to freedom.

That’s the good news here—that after considerable ugliness and bad feelings all around, Alvarez will finally arrive at the destination he set into his GPS back in October 2012. Perhaps the better news, especially for those of us on the outside looking in, is that he gets the chance to prove he’s really the guy we believed him to be all along.

For Alvarez, nothing short of an impressive victory over Cerrone will do if he means to make his case as one of the best lightweights in the world—that is, if he wants to show that Eddie Alvarez the fighter is in the same league as Eddie Alvarez the idea.

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Hannah Peters/Getty Images

There's something so cool about UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt (10-8-1)—entrancing even. He's a human paradox, a man whose very existence defies the carefully crafted rules that govern the world of combat sports.

A gargantuan with neck tattoos and fists of granite, he should be one of the scariest men alive. A man who beats people up for a living definitely shouldn't exude such zen and peace, even in the midst of carnage.

And yet...

In the cage there are no secrets, not when Hunt, 40, is fighting. His game is simple as games go. He wants you to make a mistake, to duck your head just a little too low, leave your chin unprotected just a little too long. And then he pounces. A man that size, old and fat to be frank, shouldn't be able to move like that.

And yet...

A fighter who once lost six in a row, who has been hit in the head over and over again, by everyone from Jerome Le Banner to Antonio Silva, doesn't belong among the top 10 fighters in his weight class. He's at the point of his career when most are little more than punching bags. He lost to Sean McCorkle, for God's sake; he shouldn't be in contention for a UFC title.

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USA Today

If you follow me on Twitter—and let's be honest with each other, you have no reason not to—you've no doubt seen me trumpeting my excitement for Saturday's UFC 178 card.

For months.

Ever since this card started taking shape, it was clear it would be the answer to any of our ongoing concerns about pay-per-view events not measuring up to the expectations we build up within ourselves. Back then, of course, the main event was going to be Jon Jones defending the light heavyweight title against Daniel Cormier, and it was going to be grand.

That went up in smoke, however—or at least in a cloud of Albuquerque dust—when Alistair Overeem injured the champ's knee while training.

Even without that promised and anticipated main event, UFC 178 is one of the best cards I can remember. It is filled with fights I can't wait to see. Folks, this is the fight card where Eddie Alvarez makes his UFC debut, and he's doing it against Donald Cerrone! It's like Joe Silva was sitting in his home office, thinking of me and me alone, when he decided to make this fight happen.

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AP Images

Chances are, Jon Jones will never have another 2011.

To say that year was a good one for the UFC light heavyweight champion is a drastic understatement. Simply put, Jones’ 2011 may well go down as the greatest individual year any MMA fighter has ever had.

Jones won four straight fights during that calendar turn, capturing the 205-pound title and defeating three former light heavyweight champions in a row in Shogun Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Unfortunately, the ensuing three years haven’t been quite as stellar for him.

Sure, there were high spots—he beat Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort to run his streak to five straight former champs vanquished, for example—but there have also been injuries, underwhelming matchups and a string of public relations gaffes.

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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Veteran mixed martial arts fighter Wanderlei Silva has filed a reply in support of motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction in the case brought against him by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

The motion was filed on Tuesday by Silva's Las Vegas-based lawyer, Ross Goodman, and was stamped as received by the Nevada Attorney General's administration office on Wednesday. Bleacher Report obtained a copy of the reply from Goodman Law Group. A full version of the reply may be viewed here.

Goodman told Bleacher Report that the motion is set to be heard on September 23.

The Attorney General's office filed a formal complaint against Silva on August 5 after the fighter fled from a random drug screening earlier this year. The complaint urged the Nevada Athletic Commission to punish Silva for evading a random drug screening during the lead-up to his scheduled fight with Chael Sonnen earlier this year.

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Getty Images

For some people MMA competition is enough. Two tough guys, one cage, something has to give.

But for many, dare I suggest most, simply inserting two people into the UFC Octagon is not, in and of itself, particularly compelling. We've seen it—dozens, hundreds, even thousands of times.

It takes more than just organizing an athletic contest to get our attention. We need context, story or high stakes. Is a championship on the line? Is this a battle between two distinct styles?

Best of all, though? Are they getting it on because they don't, gulp, get along?

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AP Images

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 “minicamp”—a way of staying sharp and keeping his weight in check while making sure the arm is as good as new.

“We’re just sort of fine-tuning and trying to get a little bit better,” Hendricks told 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.