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If there was one winner in the whole UFC 151 debacle it was the good people of Toronto. The Ultimate Fighting Championship will fly into Canada on Saturday swirling with controversy and a shiny new main event, as former champion Vitor Belfort will challenge Jon Jones for his UFC light heavyweight crown. The fun, inaugural flyweight title bout between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrius Johnson dropped to the co-main event, while a fantastic middleweight duel between Michael Bisping and Brian Stann rounds out the top three pay-per-view matchups.
If UFC 151 was a casualty, UFC 152 is a resurrection.
How We Got Here: “Bones” was originally matched up with Dan Henderson, the man on the greatest late career surge this side of Randy Couture. That all changed with Henderson’s 42-year-old medial-collateral ligament acted like a 42-year-old medial-collateral ligament. A couple of turned down fights later, the UFC settled on Jones-Belfort for the light heavyweight strap. Jones opened as a 9-to-1 favorite over the Brazilian ... A four-man flyweight tournament kicked off the long-awaited arrival of the 125-pounders in the UFC. Benavidez made easy work of Yasuhiro Urushitani, while Johnson-Ian McCall did not go quite as smoothly. Toronto received the first flyweight championship fight in UFC history with the help of an Australian commissioner who could not add. A scorecard error robbed the crowd Down Under of a fourth round between Johnson and McCall at UFC on FX 2, so the two were forced to settle it again three months later in Florida. Johnson won, and, hopefully, closure is just days away ... Bisping and Stann are undefeated since 2010, with one glaring exception: they both lost to Chael Sonnen. Stann was manhandled and choked out by Sonnen -- it remains the Oregonian’s only finish in the UFC and WEC -- while Bisping put forth a valiant effort in a close, controversial decision loss. The Bisping-Stann winner will be on the short list of contenders at 185 pounds.
Useless Fact: This is the second time Belfort has earned a title shot inside a weight class in which he was not previously competing. He knocked out Rich Franklin at 195 pounds to earn his shot against middleweight king Anderson Silva, and he submitted Anthony Johnson in another catchweight appearance to earn his shot against Jones. At least Urijah Faber fights in the actual weight class before going for gold.
Bulls--- Storyline: Can we get over the Jones-Dana White drama already? Minutes after announcing that he was forced to cancel an event for the first time, the UFC president went on a trademark tirade telling the world Jones and trainer Greg Jackson killed UFC 151, cost the undercard fighters their purses and made the dinosaurs die -- all because “Bones” would not accept a fight against Sonnen on eight days’ notice. Later, he sent out an official press release reaffirming his displeasure with the champion and the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts head. How did White punish Jones once the dust settled and his temperature returned to 98.6 degrees? He gave him a multi-million-dollar fight three weeks later against a man many view as an easier matchup than Sonnen. No matter what inner animosity these two proud men feel for each other, their business relationship is not changing as long as people are willing to pay to see Jones rearrange faces in unique and terrifying ways.
Buried Narrative: This event will be the answer to an MMA trivia question decades from now. At UFC 152, the UFC will crown a champion in its eighth -- and hopefully last -- weight class, fitting into place the smallest piece of its promotional puzzle. It is an underrated moment. Good luck, little guys.
Say What: Tristar Gym trainer Firas Zahabi has spent time with both Jones and Belfort. During an interview on the SiriusXM Fight Club, he described how Belfort could dethrone Jones. “He’s got an incredible left hand,” Zahabi said. “Anybody he hits that left hand with is going down. I’ve seen him in practice. I’ve trained with him. I’ve held pads for him. I’ve coached him in sparring. He’s got a left hand I’ve never seen before, and he can end anybody’s night. That left hand is a blessing and it’s something very, very special.”
Sign of the Times: The middleweight division of the UFC has never been healthier. Stann-Bisping at UFC 152, along with Chris Weidman-Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher-Yushin Okami at UFC 155, gives the promotion some options for Silva once he is done moonlighting as a light heavyweight. Remember when Patrick Cote and Thales Leites were title contenders?
Chopping Block: Kyle Noke and Walel Watson are both coming off consecutive losses in the UFC and need wins to guarantee paychecks with “Zuffa” written over the top of them. Watson takes on submission machine Mitch Gagnon, while Noke deals with wrestler Charlie Brenneman. If your thing is watching fighters fend off grapplers with their jobs on the line, do not miss the prelims.
Coming Home: “The Ultimate Fighter” alums Matt Hamill and Vinny Magalhaes return to the Octagon after extended layoffs. Magalhaes finds his way back after getting cut for two consecutive losses, while Hamill ends his brief retirement. Magalhaes has not heard Bruce Buffer call his name in nearly three years, but he kept busy, racking up a 7-1 record and winning a championship inside M-1 Global. Hamill simply missed the opportunity to fight and the ensuing paychecks that follow. Both are known names to fight fans, and, with fighters dropping like flies to injuries, expect more UFC veterans to re-enter the fold.
Awards Watch: Cub Swanson and Charles “do Bronx” Oliveira are on alert for “Fight of the Night,” as many expect them to go nuts in the opening bout on pay-per-view. Both men consistently score fight night bonuses. Jim Hettes has to be the favorite for “Submission of the Night.” His one-sided thrashing of Nam Phan was no fluke, but it marked the first time in Hettes’ career that he did not deliver a submission. Do not expect Marcus Brimage to be as savvy as Phan. Jones is not a one-punch-knockout kind of a guy. He prefers to stretch out his beatings over the course of a few rounds. However, with an undersized, overmatched foe like Belfort, Jones will pull something fun out of his bag of tricks for “Knockout of the Night.”