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USA Today

With his first anniversary as UFC middleweight champion approaching, it sounds as though Chris Weidman has made peace with never getting the credit he deserves.

It’s hard to believe anyone would doubt him leading up to his UFC 175 showdown with Lyoto Machida—a fight exactly 364 days removed from the first time Weidman toppled Anderson Silva and took a hammer to our delicate sensibilities—yet some fans remain unimpressed.

There was enough weirdness during his two 2013 victories over Silva that those people looking for a reason not to invest in Weidman haven’t. In certain circles, the “fluke” tag still lingers around him like the scent of bad cologne in a New Jersey nightclub.

Surely, though, if the 30-year-old titleholder stomps past Machida in impressive fashion on Saturday, his detractors will start cutting him some slack. Right?

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USA Today

Until the very end, there were many who wanted to believe in Chael Sonnen.

You've heard me say this before, but I will say it again: Sonnen is one of the nicest people you'll meet in mixed martial arts. I mean genuinely nice. He looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand, and he goes out of his way to help people in need. He doesn't want people to talk about those moments, because they go against the "character" he has cultivated over the past few years, and that character is what took him from the preliminary card all the way to main events and network television broadcasts.

And so when Sonnen recently failed a drug test for anastrozole and HCG, you wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was transitioning off testosterone replacement therapy, after all, and that can't be an easy thing to accomplish without some sort of artificial help.

Yes, he made a gigantic mistake in not going through the proper commission channels—or any sort of channels at all, really—because he has been through this sort of thing before, and he knows what the end result will be. But it's still easy to overlook Sonnen's usage of the two aforementioned drugs, because he was transitioning off testosterone usage and taking drugs to help kick-start his body's natural production.

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Troy Taormina/USA Today

For Cub Swanson, perhaps the sixth time will be the charm.

Swanson ran his impressive Octagon win streak to an even half-dozen on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 44, outdueling the headhunting Jeremy Stephens en route to a unanimous-decision victory (49-46 x 2, 48-47).

The win—over an up-jumped lightweight who himself came in on a three-fight roll—might leave him at the very top of a suddenly robust featherweight division.

Then again, maybe not. There is more than just one 145-pound horse in this race.

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USA Today

Jeremy Stephens and Cub Swanson want to believe their stories are still being written.

They both likely shudder to think they would be defined by moments past. Were that the case, Swanson would forever be remembered as the victim of Jose Aldo’s insane eight-second double flying knee at WEC 41; Stephens would be remembered as the guy whose biggest career headlines came after his arrest on felony assault charges just before UFC on FX 5.

Neither would make a particularly proud legacy, so it’s tempting to cast Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 44 main event as a crossroads for both men.

The winner could be granted a future featherweight title shot and perhaps a chance to replace sour memories of the past with a brighter future. The loser shuffles back to the 145-pound pack, known at least a while longer for stuff he’d probably sooner forget.

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USA TODAY Sports

The UFC, in its ever-increasing attempts at expanding its brand around the globe, is running a lot of shows.

This is an unarguable point. Whether or not you believe it is running too many events comes down to your own personal preference. Some of you can't get enough mixed martial arts, and you'll gladly watch two events in one day (like the UFC has planned for this Saturday). For some of you, two events in a single day—and four events in the span of eight days—is simply too much of a good thing.

The massive amount of fight cards the UFC is pushing results in a watered-down product. On Saturday, Nate Marquardt and James Te Huna headline an event from New Zealand that will air exclusively on Fight Pass. Marquardt and Te Huna are a combined 0-5 in their last five bouts. Sure, there are some decent fights on the New Zealand card, but there are a lot of fights filled with competitors most of us have never heard of.

The same goes for the Fox Sports 1 card from San Antonio later in the day. Cub Swanson vs. Jeremy Stephens is a stellar television main event, and there are other intriguing bouts on the card. But there is plenty of filler, too.

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Aaron Sweet/Getty Images

We've taken a look at the UFC's heavyweightlightweight and welterweight divisions. Today, we move down to what has historically been considered the UFC's marquee division: the light heavyweights. Like the heavyweight division, 205 is ruled by a title holder with an iron fist.

But there are plenty of challengers waiting in the wings and even a few interesting prospects who could make some noise over the next few years.

Let's take a look.

 

The Title Picture

Jon Jones

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Mark D. Smith/USA Today

Nate Marquardt and James Te Huna will make a piece of inauspicious history on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 43.

According to statistical wizard Mike Bohn at MMAJunkie.com, Te Huna vs. Marquardt will be the first UFC main event ever to feature two fighters coming off back-to-back losses in the promotion.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this is probably not one the MMA bards will immortalize in song and story.

The last time we saw Te Huna he was being sacrificed at the altar of Shogun Rua, playing the role of stepping stone at a Fight Night event in Australia, so Rua could go on to lose a rematch against Dan Henderson at a Fight Night event in Brazil. Before that, he fought Glover Teixeira as an injury replacement for Ryan Bader, suffering a first-round submission loss to the eventual light heavyweight No. 1 contender.

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USA Today

We've already taken a look at the state of the UFC's welterweight and lightweight divisions. Today, we turn our eyes to the big boys in the heavyweight division.

Barring another injury, we'll see champion Cain Velasquez defend his belt one time in 2014. That is disappointing, but it's pleasing to know that the rest of the division is continuing to evolve in his absence. If Velasquez beats Fabricio Werdum later this year, he'll have a plethora of contenders waiting on him. 

Let's take a look at a few of those contenders, from those already in the title picture to the prospects who need a bit more seasoning. 

 

The Title Picture

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USA Today

Last week’s Nevada State Athletic Commission meeting didn’t quite turn out to be the star-studded circus we all expected.

Unfortunately, even this card was subject to change.

At one point, it was thought that Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva might all appear—forced to face the music for a variety of drug-related infractions. In the end, Belfort got bumped, Sonnen attended briefly via phone and only Silva showed up in person to take his medicine (pun fully intended).

Officials issued Sonnen a temporary suspension and put Silva off until later, and so the most anticipated local committee meeting in MMA history fizzled—just like the idea that any combination of this terrible trio might actually fight at UFC 175 next month.

Still, the NSAC didn’t let the occasion slip by without delivering a message.

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USA Today

The UFC's Lightweight Championship has been on ice for nearly a year due to recurring injuries suffered by champ Anthony Pettis, and it could be another year before anyone not named Gilbert Melendez earns a title shot.

But still, the division chugs along. Today, we take a look at the state of the division as a whole, from the title picture all the way down to two prospects who could make loud noise in 2015 and beyond. 

 

The Title Picture

Anthony Pettis