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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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USA Today

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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Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

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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AP Images

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.

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USA Today

Chad Mendes put in a stellar outing on Saturday night.

Mendes' UFC 179 bout against UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo was the kind of performance that can boost a career.

Mendes lost the fight. But it is likely he gained more in defeat than in all of his previous UFC wins.

It was an exhilarating fight, with Mendes giving Aldo nearly all he could handle. He tested the champion, and the champion responded by reminding all of us just how good he is. It was the best featherweight title fight in UFC history and will be a contender for fight of the year.

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It continues to feel like two steps forward, one step back for Phil Davis.

Davis got off the schneid Saturday night at UFC 179, putting on a wrestling clinic en route to a unanimous-decision victory over Glover Teixeira. It was a good win, rekindling at least some of the momentum he once enjoyed as a fast-rising prospect in the light heavyweight division.

But on a night when yet another of the fight company’s pay-per-view cards slumped all the way to its stellar main event, Davis’ performance did little to lift our spirits. Even as the judges in Rio de Janeiro announced a clean sweep for the American (30-27 on all three scorecards), it felt as though he hadn’t told us anything about himself we didn’t already know.

Davis can wrestle. When he’s able to implement the grappling skills that made him an NCCA Division I national champion at Penn State, he typically wins his fights.

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The full brilliance of Jose Aldo was on display Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as he outpointed a game Chad Mendes. An instant classic and fight for the ages, it was his eighteenth consecutive win and his ninth title defense. He stands alone as the greatest featherweight in the history of the sport, a strong contender for the elusive title of pound-for-pound kingpin.

In the cage, all of Aldo's strengths were on display. His powerful striking, killer instinct and stellar takedown defense made it all too clear why he's been dispatching all comers for nearly a decade.

It was only after the fight, when the roar of the crowd faded and the red lights of dozens of video cameras shined bright, that all of his weaknesses, too, came to the forefront. 

Before the bout with Mendes, Aldo was vocal in his complaints about fighter pay, suggesting that the UFC owes its fighters a bigger slice of the monetary pie. It's a fair point, though perhaps not Aldo's to make. After all, he's a historically poor pay-per-view performer, failing over and over again to capture the hearts and minds of UFC fans. His interview after the fight with Fox Sports' Ariel Helwani shows why.

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With apologies to Conor McGregor, the finely tailored Irishman who has taken the Ultimate Fighting Championship by storm, Saturday night's UFC 179 event proved that the two best featherweights in the world reside Brazil and the United States.

McGregor will have his day in the sun, and I suspect it will come sooner rather than later; I've already stockpiled column ideas for the eventual day when we find out Dennis Siver has suffered a mysterious injury and has been forced out of his January bout with McGregor. Let's not pretend any of us will act surprised by that news.

The UFC finally has a hot 145-pound ticket on their hands, and much of it is due to Aldo's gutty performance against Mendes in the main event of UFC 179.

It was not Aldo's most dominant performance, but it might have been his best. For much of the five rounds, Mendes took everything Aldo could dish out. Where others have wilted under Aldo's enormous power, Mendes smiled, wagged a finger and fired right back. The only real knockdown scored by Aldo over five full rounds came after the bell in the first, when Aldo drilled Mendes with an absolutely blatant cheating punch.