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What time is it? Depends on whom you ask.

There are those who will tell you the clock struck midnight on the UFC in 2014, and that the fight company’s bejeweled, Affliction Brand carriage abruptly turned back into a pumpkin. After a few scant boom years built on the backs of fading or absentee stars, the bust is upon us.

Others paint a decidedly less apocalyptic picture.

To some, it’s almost morning in mixed martial arts. After 12 months punctuated by injuries to the UFC’s biggest drawing champions, the organization is about to wake from a fretful nightmare and spring back to its feet, ready for an early-morning jog around the neighborhood.

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Chad Mendes has to travel to Brazil this week, once more, to face Jose Aldo for the featherweight championship.

You remember the last time Mendes made the journey? It ended with Mendes attempting to get his bearings in the cage while Aldo celebrated in the stands with his fans. And while nobody likes to face an opponent on their home soil—especially in Brazil, where hometown fighters seem to have a mythical edge—Mendes will do it one more time on Saturday night at UFC 179.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The rematch between Aldo and Mendes was originally scheduled for UFC 176 in Los Angeles, which is a whole heck of a lot closer to home for Mendes than Rio. But then Aldo was injured and UFC 176 was thrown on the scrap heap. And when the dust cleared, Mendes once again found himself preparing to go into enemy territory.

This time, Mendes has a unique opportunity. Yes, Aldo's championship belt is at stake, and I suppose that's an important thing to remember. Having failed once to wrest control of the title away from Aldo, it is hard to imagine Mendes getting a third opportunity should Saturday night not go his way.

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LAS VEGAS — Around 4 p.m. on October 18, tens of thousands gather around Sam Boyd Stadium on the outskirts of this very famous city, closer to the mountains and the Hoover Dam than the casinos and broken dreams of the Vegas strip.

The official attendee uniform color, apparently, is black. Many bear the signature logo of the energy-drink company Monster, either on their sideways-tilting hats or socks. A fence sections off an area taking up most of the parking lot. It is called The Pit.

Inside of The Pit, hundreds wait in line for alcohol at a makeshift tent. Half as many stand in a line for rank portable toilets. In the distance, human beings fly into the air on motorcycles to the delight of a roaring crowd.

The event is the Monster Energy Cup, a supercross featuring dozens of the world’s greatest dirt-bike riders competing for a one-million-dollar grand prize. Outside the stadium, out in The Pit, there are demonstrations of insane motorcycle jumps. And on a grassy hill sidling up to the edge of the dilapidated stadium, there is a six-sided cage adorned with the Bellator MMA logo.

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I'll be the first person to tell you I hoped Anderson Silva would never fight again.

I didn't think he would return to the Octagon. Not after that horrific night last December, when Silva went in the cage to challenge Chris Weidman for the middleweight championship and ended up carted out of the arena and taken straight to the hospital while clutching his leg and screaming in pain.

I'll never forget that night. I wrote about it in some detail immediately afterward, and the sound of Silva's leg breaking and his vocalized anguish have stuck with me ever since. It is, and will remain, one of the worst things I've seen while covering this sport in a professional capacity.

I never wanted Silva to experience a downward spiral in his career. I wanted him and his magical middleweight title run to live on in our collective hearts, like if Michael Jordan had gone straight from playing for the Chicago Bulls to being the dude who wears dad jeans and owns an NBA franchise instead of playing for the Washington Wizards.

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The new guard at Bellator MMA made another decidedly old-school acquisition this week, inking UFC O.G. Royce Gracie as its latest “national brand ambassador.”

Raise your hand if you saw that one coming.


No, you wouldn’t have.

After all, Gracie hasn’t fought since 2006-07, and in his last two professional bouts, he got smashed by Matt Hughes at UFC 60 and then tested positive for steroids following a win over Kazushi Sakuraba at Dynamite!! USA. His more recent public interactions have been limited to smiling for the camera during UFC events and a backstage altercation with Eddie Bravo after Metamoris 3 in March.

So, uh, what exactly is Bellator’s play here? What does it want with Gracie, who turns 48 in December, when it already has so many other retired (or soon to be retired) MMA stars under contract?

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Kelvin Gastelum is often overlooked.

That's the story of his career, mostly, at least since making his debut on The Ultimate Fighter in 2013. Gastelum was a prodigious underdog, picked last by coach Chael Sonnen. Throughout the season, Gastelum was the guy standing on the periphery, a shadowy figure who sometimes got background television time when the cameras focused on Uriah Hall accidentally showed him.

But then Gastelum got a phone call from Ronda Rousey. She told Gastelum that if he won his next fight, she would make a personal appearance at the gym to teach everyone on the team a little bit of judo. And I don't know if it was Rousey, or some other kind of magical mojo, but Gastelum went out and choked out Bubba McDaniel.

It was the first instance of the public seeing Gastelum overcome the odds. It would not be the last. He beat Josh Samman—also a heavy favorite to make the finals of the show—and moved on to face Hall in the finals.

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Even after a week of speculation, public disputes and good, solid reporting by MMA’s best journalists, there is still a lot we don’t know about Cung Le’s positive drug test.

At this point, though, the simple question of Le’s guilt or innocence has become secondary to the one thing we can say with absolute certainty: The UFC can’t continue to oversee its own drug-testing program. It needs help.

Last week, the fight company self-reported that the 42-year-old Le had tested positive for "an excess level of Human Growth Hormone in his system" following his UFC Fight Night 48 bout against Michael Bisping in Macau, China. As a result, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion received a nine-month suspension.

We all agree it was a good thing the UFC reported this. We also agree it’s admirable that the organization regulates its own affairs when it ventures to places lacking their own athletic commissions. On top of that, it’s great—stupendous, really—that the UFC will ramp up its testing efforts come 2015, according to multiple recent reports.

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We've had an extraordinary amount of mixed martial arts in 2014. Too much MMA, if you ask some folks (myself included). With a Fight Pass card nearly every weekend and multiple UFC events in the same day, it can be information overload for the MMA fan who would rather have things curated. 

That's what I'm here for. There are plenty of UFC events remaining in 2014, but I'm here today to give you 10 of the best. These are the cream of the crop, the ones you should be looking for. They all either have some semblance of importance, or they are just going to be flat-out awesome. Either way, they're on this list for a reason.

Let's finish with the small talk and get right to it. 

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It wouldn’t be the UFC lightweight division without a little bit of intrigue, now would it?

Long regarded as the fight company’s deepest, most competitive weight class, the 155-pound ranks are never at a loss for title contenders. While allegedly top-of-the-food-chain divisions like heavyweight and light heavyweight eternally scrounge for worthwhile talent, lightweight is an embarrassment of riches.

Such is the case right now, as we approach the home stretch of 2014 with no fewer than three top challengers patiently awaiting the champion’s return. As it stands, the biggest test facing UFC matchmakers might be getting Khabib Nurmagomedov, Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos to form an orderly line.

This has not been an easy year for the 155-pound title. Anthony Pettis spent the last 13 months on the shelf due to a significant knee injury. The UFC has resorted to its usual methods to keep the champ in the spotlight, using him as a television analyst and booking him to serve as a coach on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter. It’ll still be two more months before Pettis returns to defend the title against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181 and at least a few months after that before anybody else gets his chance.

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He was on the sidelines so long that we nearly forgot about him entirely.

Nearly three years passed between Dominick Cruz's last two fights. He beat Demetrious Johnson back in 2011 for the second defense of his UFC bantamweight championship, and then he started getting injured. And injured. And injured again. And before we knew it, there were new UFC fans out there who knew Cruz more as a broadcaster than as a fighter.

Many would have given up. Imagine, even as a non-professional athlete, destroying your knee even one time. That's what happened when Cruz tore his ACL in 2012. He'd coached The Ultimate Fighter and set up a grudge fight with Urijah Faber at UFC 148. It was the most anticipated lighter-weight bout in UFC history. Only Cruz didn't make it. He was forced to withdraw from the bout two months before it ever happened. He underwent surgery, where doctors replaced his badly frayed ACL with an ACL from a cadaver.

There was no luck for Cruz, even with semi-bionic body parts being fused into his own skeletal structure. His body rejected the cadaver, and Cruz was forced to undergo another surgery that December. Two ACL injuries in less than a year? It should have been enough to steal the soul of a normal man. But Cruz is not a normal man. This, we know.