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Credit: AXS TV

Eldarhan Machukaev, nicknamed "Sniper 95," attempted to build speed as he scrambled across a series of obstacles, with his flight-or-fight instinct on overload. The young Russian mixed martial arts fighter, sporting three wins to a single loss so far in his professional career, hasn't likely taken too many backward steps in his life. 

But this was no ordinary fight. This was the Hip Show, a wacky combination of extreme game-show hijinks in the American Gladiators mold and reality combat a la The Ultimate Fighter.

With his partner eliminated, Machukaev had to survive for one minute against the tag team known as Sparta. Rinat Fakhretdinov (aka Gladiator) and Shamsudin Kurbanov (aka Agul) are two skilled fighters who had one goal at that moment—to finish Sniper 95.

Within 10 seconds, they had him on the ground. Then it happened. As Gladiator secured an ankle lock, Agul locked up an armbar. Sniper 95, helpless and alone, had to survive two submission attempts at once.

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USA Today

Diego Sanchez is perhaps the UFC’s pound-for-pound most likable fighter.

At least in interview settings, the first-ever The Ultimate Fighter winner comes across as one of MMA’s true nice guys. He’s thoughtful and honest—forthcoming to a fault—with a gentle demeanor that belies the ferocious, swing-from-the-heels style that has made him one of the company’s most popular and dependably exciting attractions.

When he takes on undefeated up-and-comer Myles Jury on Saturday at UFC 171, it’ll be his 20th appearance in the Octagon and fight No. 31 of his career overall.

He’ll do it as one of just three members of that original TUF cast who remain active. Even as fellow TUF 1 alumnus Chris Leben hung up his gloves in January and TUF 6 winner Mac Danzig called it quits last week, Sanchez appears to have no intention of slowing down.

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USA Today

For many of the UFC's formative years, light heavyweight was the company's undisputed glamor division.

The 205-pound class became comfortably ensconced as the UFC’s marquee attraction from roughly 2000-07, when stars like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz carried the torch. In more recent years, light heavyweight lost a step; first as a series of lesser champions passed the belt around like a hot potato, then after Jon Jones turned the title picture into a one-man show.

The 26-year-old champion’s ascendance has itself been a thing of unmistakable beauty, but to the extent there was much drama in it, Jones snuffed it out with one lopsided victory after another. 

In the wake last weekend’s UFC London event, however, it appears 205 pounds might be poised for a return to greatness, with a robust crop of contenders suddenly hot on Bones’ heels.

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USA Today

Alexander Gustafsson, the recently minted Swedish superstar, doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. Six months after he took champion Jon Jones to the limit in 2013's best fight, Gustafsson dismantled British slugger Jimi Manuwa in compelling fashion.

Showing no mercy in Manuwa's own backyard, Gustafsson managed to knee his opponent in the face while simultaneously propping up the UFC's new Fight Pass streaming system.

No small feat, that.

After the fight, he took to the microphone. There, the usually soft-spoken Gustafsson minced no words, straight ganking the microphone from UFC analyst Dan Hardy to let his soul flow out.

"Jon Jones, I want my title shot again," a passionate Gustafsson said. "I'm right here. Whenever you want, man. Whenever you want."

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USA Today

There was legitimate tension the last time we saw Alexander Gustafsson in the UFC Octagon. A single question lingered in the air. 

Had the young Swede—blond beard glistening with sweat, piercing blue eyes radiating hope—won the UFC light heavyweight title from the great Jon Jones?

The fact we were even asking said volumes about Gustafsson's performance that night. No one else had come close to testing Jones, not even former champions like Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans or Quinton Jackson.

Gustafsson had made him work for it.

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Let’s make one thing clear from the start: UFC Fight Pass is an amazing idea.

Perhaps no single entity has as much potential to chart the future of MMA as the UFC’s new digital subscription service. Its invention signals our sport’s first baby steps toward a glorious, a la carte future in which fans and promoters alike are less beholden to pay-per-view providers and television networks.

Indeed, Fight Pass may someday be all things to all people.

Unfortunately, in the present, we’re not quite there yet.

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AP Images

UFC President Dana White has invested significant time and energy into defending Vitor Belfort.

Even as his overall opinion of testosterone replacement therapy began to sour in recent months, White steadfastly supported his No. 1 middleweight contender. The UFC was closely monitoring Belfort’s TRT use, White assured us again and again, as he railed against the notion that the 36-year-old fighter would have trouble getting licensed to fight in Nevada.

“Vitor Belfort has not been abusing TRT,” White said in November, via MMAFighting.com. “In a million f-----g years I would never let that happen."

After the circus of the last five days, however, it’s clear Belfort is beyond any further help. In the wake of the Nevada Athletic Commission banning TRT, Belfort’s removal from UFC 173 and his camp’s obvious rope-a-dope regarding the results of his Feb. 7 drug test, the juice is no longer worth the squeeze.

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Victor Fraile/Getty Images

The end was beautiful, a startling bit of violence that made even the most hardened fight fan wake up, shake off the ennui and feel. In one fell swoop, Dong Hyun Kim, the Korean grappler once best known for his stifling top control, spun right to avoid a John Hathaway elbow and clocked his opponent with an elbow of his own. 

It was arguably the most deadly pirouette in fight history, a moment worthy of Anderson Silva, as elegant as it was brutal.

But the means? 

They were ugly, a succession of spinning drivel, missed haymakers and footwork so bad it left him stumbling.

Kim is no born striker. A striker, however, he's become. In a business that sees even the icons opening up juice stands and worrying about making ends meet after a career, Kim had little choice. The clock on his career is ticking, and the 32-year-old fighter has a very short window of time to make any money.

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Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The testosterone replacement therapy era ended swiftly and unexpectedly on Thursday, with all the fireworks of a subdued but unanimous vote by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

As the first state regulatory body to ban TRT outright for combat sports, the NSAC reaffirmed its position as the nation’s most influential and forward-thinking athletic commission. Minutes later, the UFC joined the party by announcing it will follow Nevada’s lead and disallow TRT at shows where it does its own oversight and drug testing.

And thus, the decisive blow was finally struck in what for years has been MMA’s most high-profile performance-enhancing-drugs crisis.

As former baseball play-by-play man Jack Buck might say: Go crazy, folks, go crazy.

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Excellence. Fundamentally, it's why we watch sports, to see human beings reach their ultimate potential, to see the body and mind pushed to their absolute limits.

Everyone in athletics searches for it, for those few moments that remind us of everything we can be. Finding it, sometimes in unexpected places, justifies the endless hours we spend watching other people engage in mostly meaningless competitions and pursuits.

In the UFC, true excellence emerges only rarely—that intersection of heart, spirit and athletic ability. It's the flick of an Anderson Silva front kick. It's the economy of motion in Georges St-Pierre's Superman punch. It's Matt Hughes running across the Octagon, Frank Trigg on his shoulder like a sack of oats, looking for the hardest spot he can find to drop him.

It's Ronda Rousey.