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Mauricio “Shogun” Rua doesn’t want to hear it, but the voices are getting louder.

Cast around at the headlines leading up to Rua’s main event fight against Ovince St. Preux on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 56, and you’ll notice a common theme.

From Fox Sports' Damon Martin: 'Shogun' Rua has never contemplated retirement: 'It doesn't make much sense'

From MMA Junkie's Mike Bohn: ‘Shogun’ Rua still has UFC title aspirations, brushes off retirement talk

Credit: Bellator MMA

It used to be when Bellator rolled out a "new season" of television, what it really meant was it was about to roll out another series of tournaments filled with fighters you'd never heard of.

The tournaments were a nifty concept back when they started. But, they were always more of a hindrance than a help. They pushed logical matchmaking to the side because Bjorn Rebney had crowed about tournaments being the only legitimate way to crown a champion, and he couldn't really go back on that. And then, of course, he did go back on that. By the end of Rebney's tenure as czar of Bellator, he was avoiding the tournament results when convenient in order to make the fights people really wanted to see in the first place.

You know, like he should've done from the very beginning.

But a new season of Bellator is once again upon us—only this one feels more like a new season, in the way that actual seasons turn the scenery from a sea of snow into a bright and shining summer landscape. Rebney is gone, and in his place is brilliant promoter Scott Coker, matchmaker Rich Chou and many of their old friends from the now-defunct Strikeforce.

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Being Michael Bisping has always been pretty good business.

You might say Bisping was Conor McGregor before the Irish dandy ever laced a pair of fingerless gloves. After winning Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2006, The Count became something of a unique commodity for the UFC. Not only was he a linchpin in the fight company’s international expansion efforts—fighting 14 of his 22 UFC fights outside the U.S.—but he managed to turn most of his bouts into compelling grudge matches, too.

For eight-and-a-half years running, Bisping has been able to tease a saleable fight out of just about anyone. That’s a good skill to have in this line of work, though as he prepares to fight Luke Rockhold on Friday at UFC Fight Night 55, maybe it’s also part of the problem.

For whatever reason, this particular feud just didn’t take. No matter how many times we were assured that these two really don’t like each other—allegedly stemming from an off-the-cuff joke Bisping made years ago—it’s been hard to commit much emotional energy to their back-and-forth.

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You are forgiven if you've forgotten there are two Ultimate Fighting Championship events this weekend. These things happen to me too. We'll go two weeks without a single solitary bit of face-punching inside a cage, and then whammo, out of nowhere, the UFC gives us two events from other parts of the world.

This is the new normal. And given the UFC's plans for world domination into 2015 and beyond, it is only going to get worse. Or better, depending on how you look at things.

Me? I choose to think about the positives, like the fact we're going to see Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold this weekend. It's on Fight Pass, of course, and that does not always mean we're going to see something with real divisional importance.

But Rockhold vs. Bisping? That's the real deal, man. That means something. The winner of the fight is going to be in a real nice position to challenge for the middleweight championship of the world in 2015.

Credit: Jeremy Botter

I started collecting souvenir guides for Ultimate Fighting Championship events back when I first started covering them professionally.

It was not a conscious decision. Not at the beginning. The public-relations team always handed them out to those of us in the media center or put them in a stack for us to grab. I packed them away, took them home and put them in a stack on my office bookshelf.

Over time, that stack became larger, and it turned into something meaningful. As it grew higher, I would occasionally return to them, leafing through the pages and remembering things that happened in those specific events.

They were a trigger for walks down memory lane. I have not attended every single UFC event over the past six or so years as part of my job, but I have attended many of them, and I have many memories.

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For the moment, there is little debate over who is the greatest MMA fighter of all time.

Anderson Silva is the GOAT and has been for some years now, after building a resume that not even two disastrous losses to Chris Weidman could undercut last year. With current stars like Jon Jones and Jose Aldo still building their cases and legends like Royce Gracie, Matt Hughes and Fedor Emelianenko fading further into the past all the time, Silva’s claim to the throne appears safe.

Or does it?

With The Spider set to return to the UFC in January and reports that Georges St-Pierre is also training for a potential comeback, could the mantle of greatest of all time actually be up for grabs during 2015?

Maybe, if things work out a certain way.

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I've been thinking about championships lately.

More specifically, I've been thinking about championships and how, given the multiple injuries suffered by UFC title-holders in recent years, we are nearing a time when the Ultimate Fighting Championship should create set-in-stone rules on how to deal with champions who are on the shelf for an extended period of time.

Call it the Dominick Cruz Rule.

It is no fun, the idea of stripping a champion of the belt he fairly won. And I don't make this suggestion lightly. But Cruz, Cain Velasquez and other injury-prone champions of the past five years have left the UFC scrambling to create main events with either no championship belt at stake or with a meaningless interim title on the line.

I used to think championship fights added an extra bit of pizazz to a fight card. And perhaps a few thousand viewers, too.

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If there is a dividing line separating MMA into two eras, it likely belongs in the year 2001. The new millennium brought sweeping changes to the sport. 

The UFC, once banned throughout the land and forced into the Deep South or states with no athletic commissions, suddenly had a shiny new veneer. Though little had changed conceptually, approval from the influential state of New Jersey and the new ownership out of Las Vegas were enough to push a once broken brand back into the national spotlight.

Under Zuffa the much maligned sport had a fighting chance. The Fertitta brothers had the juice to get the sport regulated in Nevada and back on pay-per-view. The fighters, meanwhile, had spent nearly a decade figuring out what worked and what didn't in a real fight. They were ready for prime time.

The result was a series of spectacular fights, each year featuring numerous contests that put the barbaric and simple tussles of the early years to shame. In 1994 MMA supporters could claim the contests were much more than mere bar fights. In 2005, however, they could truly mean it.

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And still champion.

Jose Aldo turned back the stiffest challenge of his career last Saturday at UFC 179, besting Chad Mendes after a five-round brawl that will be up to history to properly put in perspective.

In doing so, Aldo answered many of the criticisms that had come to surround his three-and-a-half year tenure as UFC featherweight champion. He was still his measured, technically sublime self during this bout, but when Mendes pushed, Aldo pushed back with true championship mettle.

More than anything, this fight proved that at worst he is an exacting professional, whose skill and pure athleticism remain unmatched by his peers. In moments when he wants to be at his best, he can be one of the most terrifying and awe-inspiring fighters on the planet.

Both aspects of Aldo’s in-ring personality may well come in handy next year, as an unprecedented and robust crop of contenders is suddenly waiting around every corner. Even after dispatching Mendes in impressive fashion, 2015 promises to provide no rest for the 145-pound king.

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When UFC President Dana White posted his latest Instagram selfie with Conor McGregor early Monday, at least he had the presence of mind to caption it, "Ready ... Set ... HATE!!!!"

Apparently, White is self-aware enough to understand how all this looks from the outside.

For a while there, it appeared he and Lorenzo Fertitta might be oblivious to public perception that the UFC co-owners are trying to cast McGregor as the company’s next big star, while simultaneously treating him like their new best friend.

Now we know they just don’t care.