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USA Today

Like riding a bike.

For nearly seven minutes on Saturday, it appeared Anthony Pettis was going to have trouble shaking off the rust. Then—for just a few seconds—the returning lightweight champion was his old, brilliant self again, and the fight was over.

Pettis became the first man ever to finish No. 1 contender Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181, snatching a guillotine choke from thin air and forcing Melendez to tap out a few ticks shy of two minutes into the second round. As they raised his hand and wrapped the title around his waist, it suddenly felt as though he’d never left.

“It’s been 15 months. A long layoff,” Pettis told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan in the cage moments later. “It was a tough last year, but I reminded everybody who I am. I’m the champ for a reason—king of the hottest division in the UFC.”

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AP Images

Fights happened at UFC 181. Titles were defended. Blood spilled. But all that went down in a very large shadow—deposed WWE wrestling kingpin CM Punk is coming, per an announcement during the pay-per-view Saturday night, to the UFC Octagon.

Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, left the WWE on bad terms in January. He's been the subject of whispers ever since, rumors of his eventual signing with the UFC swirling around for months before the company finally pulled the trigger Saturday.

Brooks, who will compete as either a middleweight or a welterweight, appeared on the UFC 181 broadcast to discuss his multi-fight deal with announcer Joe Rogan.

“I have a background in kempo, and I’ve been doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a long time," Brooks said. "This is my new career, 100 percent I'm going to go full steam ahead, all systems go after today, and it's going to be fun. 

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Matt Strasen/Associated Press

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking Johny Hendricks has been out longer than nine months.

Maybe it’s the general breakneck pace of 2014, or the glut of injuries that stymied plans at every turn, but at this point it feels like ages since we’ve seen the new welterweight champion fight. With all that’s happened this year, Hendricks’ title victory over Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 might as well have been back in the Roosevelt administration.

The Teddy Roosevelt administration.

In truth, it was actually mid-March and perhaps—just perhaps—Hendricks’ recent injury layoff has been a bit overblown.

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USA Today

Five minutes flies by in a flash, at least in most contexts. It's the length of time it takes to heat a standard microwave dinner.

Five minutes is fleeting. Five minutes is transitory. What's five minutes?

But for UFC challenger Robbie Lawler, five minutes on March 15, 2014, were ultimately unforgettable.

For four rounds at UFC 171, Lawlerin the midst of an inexplicable and improbable comeback after seemingly falling right off the MMA mapbattled Johny Hendricks in thrilling even-Steven fashion. On two of three scorecards, the two were even going into the final frame.

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USA TODAY Sports

Fighters, as a rule, are an unusual bunch. You must be a little off-center in order to willingly participate in a sport where you are repeatedly punched, kicked and choked. They do not all come from the wrong side of the tracks; mixed martial arts has its fair share of normal athletes. But it also has its share of men and women who grew up enveloped on a haze of violence, whether in the home or on the streets or at school.

Abel Trujillo will tell you that he used to have an anger management problem. And you believe it when he tells you this, because he stares directly at you, unblinking, and you instantly recognize the truth in his words.

"I had anger problems. Mixed martial arts helped me conquer that, but I can still channel it. And come fight time, I have to channel it," Trujillo told Bleacher Report. "I'm not a nice fighter. I don't touch gloves. I don't hug. Even at weigh-ins, I'm up in his face. I'm going to be in a fight. "

Mixed martial arts helped him figure out how to control those emotions, but the emotions haven't totally vanished. He still needs the anger when he fights, because he is a violent fighter by nature. He eschews the notion of competition; he is not looking for the win, but rather for the kill.

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Matt Strasen/AP Images

The champions are finally healthy, and the challengers each ready to take their second shots at UFC gold.

Parallel storylines, you guys!

As Saturday night's UFC 181 kicks off perhaps the most important (and potentially awesome) stretch of live events in UFC history, welterweight champ Johny Hendricks and lightweight titlist Anthony Pettis both ease back into active duty after significant injury layoffs. Good timing, right?

Across the cage from them will be two legitimate top contenders (Robbie Lawler and Gilbert Melendez, respectively) each preparing to make maybe his final try at capturing a world title. Lawler gets a do-over after losing a tight one to Hendricks at UFC 171 in March, while Melendez gets his after suffering a razor-close defeat to Benson Henderson in his initial title shot at UFC in April 2013.

So this ought to be interesting. With a few other compelling attractions on the main card, including—wait, what's this?—a couple at heavyweight, UFC 181 demands that bold predictions be made.

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Getty Images

Over the past 24 hours, many words have been written about the UFC's new "athlete outfitting policy." Many words will be written in the future, as athletes, managers and the UFC figure out how to tread this rocky new ground.

I don't know what the UFC's move to a standard uniform means for the athletes who compete under its banner. When I first began reporting on the uniform story in February, I was conflicted. I remain so today.

On one hand, it makes the sport look more professional, and that is a good thing. I have every confidence that Reebok will design clean, inspired clothes for UFC fighters to wear in and out of the Octagon. The design nerd in me thinks that is a much better option than what we have currently, which is a mishmash of logos and brands splayed across the cage and television screen.

Instead of looking like NASCAR, the UFC will look more like the NFL, NBA or English Premier League.

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USA Today

If you’re Gilbert Melendez, you must be pretty happy with how it all worked out.

In quieter moments, perhaps you can even marvel at your own good fortune.

When Melendez takes on Anthony Pettis on Saturday at UFC 181, it will mark his second opportunity to win UFC gold in just three career fights inside the Octagon.

That would be a remarkable feat for anyone, but the fact it’s happening in the stacked lightweight division—where guys like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Myles Jury can run off a half-dozen straight UFC wins and still have to wait their turn—makes Melendez’s persistent contender status all the more impressive.

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Benny Sieu/USA Today

When Anthony Pettis steps into the cage for the first time in 15 long months on Saturday at UFC 181, he'll be facing down more than just opponent Gilbert Melendez, the former Strikeforce champion who is looking to write his own name in the UFC's record book. In Melendez's shadow, another man lurks—his spirit and reputation still engulfing the entire lightweight division. 

Pettis fights not just to secure his UFC Lightweight Championship but against the legend of future Hall of Famer B.J. Penn.

Slow down, I can hear you thinking. Pettis, after all, hasn't even defended his UFC title a single time. All-time great? Really?

The stakes, surprisingly, are just that high.

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David Manning/USA today

At last, the time is finally now.

After months of speculation and at least one high-profile delay, the UFC and Reebok held a joint press conference on Tuesday to announce a partnership deal to outfit the fight company's roster of fighters inside the cage and at UFC events for the next six years.

So as of this week, at least the organization's new hashtag isn't so ironic anymore.

The deal means the end of independent sponsorship deals in the UFC as we know them. UFC co-owners Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta appeared alongside Reebok president Matt O'Toole at the event, proclaiming a new day for both companies.

The rest of the details are still a little bit foggy. As speculation continues to run rampant online, Bleacher Report lead writers Chad Dundas and Jonathan Snowden break down the pros and cons as they see them.