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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.

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Last October, Josh Burkman, fresh off the biggest win of his career over former UFC contender Jon Fitch, lost a fight for the World Series of Fighting welterweight title to the relatively unknown underdog Steve Carl. A huge favorite, Burkman was caught in a triangle choke in the fourth round and ended the night unconscious rather than victorious.

Burkman rallied with a win in a follow-up bout against Tyler Stinson and, with a 9-2 record since being released from the UFC in 2008, was invited back to the promotion to compete against Hector Lombard at UFC 182. It was a piece of matchmaking many in the MMA community found curious. Lombard is the sixth-ranked welterweight in the promotion and on the short list for a title shot.

Matching him with a promotional outsider, particularly one with a recent high-profile loss, seemed unusual for the normally meticulous UFC matchmaking team. Ben Askren, himself a welterweight star and a vocal UFC critic, went after the bout on Twitter, writing:

That was all par for the course. It was only when Burkman responded to the jibe, calling the Carl loss into question, that things took a strange turn. In a tweet since deleted (h/t Brent Brookhouse of Bloody Elbow), Burkman claimed he lost the fight on purpose in order to make a UFC return possible:

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In the aftermath of Rory MacDonald’s third-round TKO of Tarec Saffiedine on Saturday, a common phrase flying around online was that it’ll now be "hard to deny" MacDonald a welterweight title shot.

And for sheer factual accuracy, it’s tough to top that choice of words.

MacDonald looked phenomenal in dispatching Saffiedine after just over 11 minutes of action at UFC Fight Night 54. He controlled the mostly stand-up fight with his piercing jab and sharp punching combinations. Saffiedine’s best offensive weapon was his leg kick, but he ultimately succumbed to MacDonald’s preternatural skills and continually tightening pressure.

Fans who’d stayed to the wee hours at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, showered him with polite applause. The victory boosted the 25-year-old British Columbia native to 9-2 in the UFC (18-2 overall) and did a lot to separate him from the small pack of fighters waiting for champion Johny Hendricks to rematch Robbie Lawler at UFC 181.

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With apologies to Mr. Mike Goldberg, Mr. Joe Rogan, Mr. Jon Anik and Mr. Brian Stann, I have a new favorite mixed martial arts commentary team: Jim Ross and Chael Sonnen.

Ross and Sonnen teamed up on Friday night, for the first time ever, to call the action from something called Battlegrounds: O.N.E. It was a clever pairing designed to create a buzz for an event that otherwise featured Cody McKenzie as the lead star. And while this is an appealing idea for those of us who enjoy terrible mixed martial arts, it is not a good look for a promoter who is attempting to sell a show to the masses or even to the curious.

Ross, the voice of a generation of professional wrestling fans, was making the leap for the first time from the world of professional wrestling. I first spoke to Ross about his love for mixed martial arts in 2010. It was a 45-minute interview with plenty of topics.

But we continued talking for three hours after the tape stopped rolling. It was clear, even then, that Ross knew about this mixed martial arts stuff and would probably like to give it a try someday, if only somebody would give him a chance. Only nobody did, which seemed a little bit ridiculous when you consider just how skilled Ross is at making you care about the people behind the personalities.


Upon further review, perhaps Yoel Romero isn’t as big a jerk as first thought.

Our initial collective reaction to Romero’s controversial win over Tim Kennedy at Saturday’s UFC 178 was to sharpen up the pitchforks and double-check our stock of torches.

At first blush, it sure looked like Romero and his corner conspired to give the fighter an extra half-minute to recover from a second round where he was saved by the bell from a certain knockout. When Romero stormed out and turned the tables on Kennedy in the third—knocking him out 38 seconds into the final stanza—it seemed pretty sensible to cry foul.

Since then, to paraphrase the younger of the two Jeffery Lebowskis, a lot of new (stuff) has come to light. We’ve been over and over the unfortunately named “Stool Gate” controversy ad nauseam and at this point, there appears to be only one option to clear it all up:

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Say what you will about Conor McGregor—and you no doubt have by this point—but the man knows how to stoke a fire.

Last night, McGregor sent the collective mixed martial arts community into a breathless panic when he tweeted the following:

As of press time on Thursday morning, McGregor's tweet has been retweeted 3,152 times. It has been favorited 2,935 times. These are high engagement numbers for mixed martial artists on social media, even one with the burgeoning popularity of McGregor.

Needless to say, the fans approve of the bout. UFC president Dana White threw cold water on their excitement, telling ESPN.com's Bret Okamoto the fight isn't happening.

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When Georges St-Pierre walked away from mixed martial arts, a casualty of injury, burnout and concerns about the UFC's permissive performance-enhancing drugs culture, the sport lost more than a great fighter. It lost an icon, especially for fans in Canada who had embraced their hometown star with a gusto that made his every appearance a cash cow for promoters and athlete alike.

Even before St-Pierre's departure, the search was well underway for his replacement. Athletic careers are short—but Canada's potential as a market for MMA is endless.

The first man tapped as GSP 2.0 was his protege, Rory MacDonald, who main events UFC Fight Night 54 in Halifax, Nova Scotia Saturday on Fox Sports 1.

But while MacDonald is the obvious choice, the real GSP replacement may be lurking on the undercard in the form of The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia middleweight winner Elias Theodorou who fights Brazilian Bruno Santos in his first post-reality show appearance.

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Ah, the double-fight weekend. It used to be a rare bird, indeed, but these days they are coming fast and furious. After a brief respite last weekend with just one fight card (the thrilling UFC 178 card from Las Vegas), the UFC spreads its wings and lands in two different parts of the world this Saturday: Sweden and Halifax, which I'm told is somewhere in the great nation of Canada, though I cannot be certain if that is the truth.

As per usual, there are a lot of dudes you have never heard of on these two cards. But there are some important fights, and there are some fights that have the potential to be less important but no less awesome. I am here today to tell you the five fights you should pay attention to, culled from both cards and combined here for your reading enjoyment.

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Donald Cerrone closed out his UFC 178 weekend on a fairly cryptic note.

After a days-long extravaganza of wakeboarding, leg-kicking and rib-splitting, Cerrone notched an important unanimous-decision win over Eddie Alvarez on Saturday—but couldn’t leave Las Vegas without teasing us a little bit.

On Monday, the generally open-book fighter posted a tweet so ambiguous we assumed it had to be the prelude to yet another bout announcement. On Tuesday, Cerrone confirmed our suspicions, but only while revealing the rug had already been yanked out from under his boots.

Long story short, we don’t yet know when or against whom, but it’s a good bet we’re all going to get a little bit more Cowboy in our lives before the end of the year.