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USA Today

Don’t get me wrong, Jose Aldo has been a very good champion for the UFC.

Aldo, in fact, is the only featherweight titlist the Octagon has ever known. By the time the UFC absorbed the WEC at the end of 2010, he’d so firmly entrenched himself as the best 145-pounder in the world, executives merely “promoted” him to the rank of UFC champion without bothering to have him fight for it.

It was the right move. Today, he's the fight company’s longest-reigning champ. As he approaches a UFC 179 rematch with Chad Mendes on Saturday, he's No. 2 on the organization’s official pound-for-pound rankings. His streak of successful UFC/WEC title defenses stands at eight and—perhaps most astounding of all—he’s the proud owner of 17 consecutive overall victories.

All impressive numbers from any vantage.

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A conversation with Emanuel Newton, Bellator's light heavyweight champion, is unlike a conversation with anyone else in mixed martial arts. If pushed, he can take you to some very strange places. But pushing him is not strictly necessary for the journey.

Pick any question, even the standard ones about techniques, training partners and longtime goals—just don't expect a standard answer in return. At one point during our 23-minute talk in advance of his Bellator 130 title defense Friday against Linton Vassell on Spike TV, Newton talked for nearly four consecutive minutes, straight monologuing about the meaning of life.

You may know him as the master of the spinning backfist, a move he says he's mastered with coaches Arnold Chon and Robert Drimel. He's more. So much more. The man, simply put, is a little bit weird. Delightfully so.

"How we make our decisions is off of our deja vus. Our coincidences. Our dreams. Our omens. The energy that comes from a person's heart can turn that thought into works. We all have auras. We all have chakras in our body. And when you do that stuff, you can bless yourself," Newton said. "...The same atom that dwells in our DNA is the same atom that makes up our sun. There's no difference. We're made from stardust. You know?" 

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Felipe Dana/Associated Press

As a recently disgraced UFC broadcaster might say, here we go.

After months of injury delays and one canceled pay-per-view—RIP UFC 176!Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes will finally rematch on Saturday at UFC 179.

Much has transpired since their first semi-controversial meeting back in January of 2012. Mendes has embarked on a crazy K/TKO rampage while Aldo (seemingly always ailing from some injury) has fallen off the radar a bit.

Around them, the 145-pound division has suddenly grown more interesting than ever with the arrival of Conor McGregor and the emergence of guys like Cub Swanson and Dennis Bermudez. Whoever wins this one will be set for some big fights and maybe some big paydays, too.

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Getty Images

Tuesday's decision by the Ultimate Fighting Championship to rescind a suspension handed down to Cung Le was a curious one.

For those unaware, Le was sent to the sidelines for 12 months after a blood sample taken after his August 23 loss to Michael Bisping showed an elevated level of human growth hormone.

There was rampant speculation prior to the fight that Le was taking a performance-enhancing drug of some sort. Nearly all of this speculation stemmed from a photo Le posted on Instagram that showed significant improvements in his physique. They were remarkable improvements, really, when you consider Le's age.

Le proclaimed his innocence then, saying the new muscles he displayed were mostly the result of perfect lighting in the moment the photo was snapped. We were skeptical. And when Le's test results were announced, the reaction from the general public was: See? We told you so.

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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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USA Today

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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Credit: Jeremy Botter

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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David Becker/AP Images

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.

Anybody?

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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USA Today

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.