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Last week, I followed TJ Dillashaw as he prepared for his UFC 173 bout against Renan Barao. He was one of the biggest underdogs ever to participate in a championship bout, and few gave him a chance of making it out of the first round, much less pulling off the historic upset.

In my time spent with Dillashaw, I saw a man completely unfazed by the task ahead of him, as though he had no idea what the fans and oddsmakers were saying.

He was relaxed, loose and absolutely confident that he’d be taking the title back to Sacramento. He spoke of all the things he’d need to get used to as bantamweight champion, such as spending fight weeks in the nicest hotel suites available instead of standard rooms.

Where did his confidence come from? How was he able to overlook the long odds he faced?

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It is a familiar refrain: Chael Sonnen, coming off a loss, finds himself in position for a title shot.

It happened in 2013. Sonnen lost a middleweight title fight to Anderson Silva the previous July, only to find himself competing for the light heavyweight title in his first bout in the division since 2005. Chased from the middleweight division after two losses to the champion, Sonnen moved up and, with a calculated leap, skipped right over all the light heavyweights who were jockeying for their own opportunity to face Jon Jones.

Sonnen lost that fight, making him 0-3 in title fights in the UFC. He rebounded with a submission win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua but was finished by Rashad Evans a few months later. Retirement talk began to swirl; a post-fighting career as a television personality felt closer than ever. Sonnen ultimately decided to continue fighting, but his days as a title contender were over.

Logically, it was tough for fans to imagine Sonnen going on the kind of run that would earn him a rematch with Jones or a shot against middleweight champion Chris Weidman.

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We know now that Vitor Belfort was being too modest back in September of 2012, when he unwittingly dubbed himself the “Young Dinosaur” during an interview with MMAFighting.com.

After all, dinosaurs eventually went extinct.

In retrospect, it would’ve been more accurate for Belfort to compare his longevity to death itself, taxes maybe, or—to borrow an expression from Henry Rollins—the tenacity of the cockroach.

Unlike the giant reptilian beasts of yore, there appears to be no end in sight for Belfort. Just when you think he’s down for the count, the guy photobombs UFC 175.

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There was a time when Wanderlei Silva was the most feared man in mixed martial arts.

He had a terrifying visage. Before every fight in PRIDE, Silva would stand across the ring and glare a hole through his opponent. He’d clasp his hands and roll his wrists, never breaking eye contact with his opponent’s soul. It felt a little like showmanship, but it was also menacing and threatening and scary.

And, more often than not, Silva would follow up that glare by utterly decimating his opponent in the minutes that followed. He was violence personified, and it made him one of the most popular fighters in the world.

Those days are gone. Silva is still a legendary figure in mixed martial arts, but he’s a fraction of the fighter he used to be. Since 2006, he’s 4-7 in both PRIDE and the UFC. He hasn’t strung together consecutive wins since defeating Kazuyuki Fujita and Ricardo Arona in 2005/2006. Four of his seven losses since 2006 have come by knockout; it’s safe to say his chin is not what it used to be. And he hasn’t competed in the Octagon since his March 2013 win over Brian Stann.

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It appears even Daniel Cormier knows his upcoming fight against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is going to be something special.

That’s why on Saturday at UFC 173, the normally laidback Cormier couldn’t resist putting a little extra spin on the softball he tossed to Jones and the rest of the mixed martial arts world.

“Jon Jones,” he announced, holding up a finger to cut short Joe Rogan’s first post-fight question. “You can’t run away from me forever. I’m the kid at the wrestling tournament that is always in your bracket. No matter where you go, boy, I’m coming. You better hurry (and fight me), because I’m getting better.”

If the sudden outburst seemed a tad out of character, perhaps Cormier was still riding high on the emotion of roughhousing Dan Henderson for nearly 14 minutes in the evening’s co-main event. Their bout wasn’t close—on paper or in practice—but in the process of slamming, pounding and eventually choking Henderson into the Land of Nod, Cormier had erased the final doubts about his qualifications as No. 1 contender.

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T.J. Dillashaw’s championship win over Renan Barao at UFC 173 created all sorts of interesting subplots around the UFC bantamweight championship.

Dillashaw has no shortage of contenders for his shiny new belt, which he’ll take back to Sacramento on Monday when he leaves Las Vegas. The most prominent of these is Raphael Assuncao, who scored a razor-thin split decision over the new champion last October in Brazil. Assuncao was originally the man in line to face Barao, but an injury suffered in training prevented him from accepting the fight. Dillashaw got the nod, and the rest is history.

If Dillashaw had his way, Assuncao would be the next man standing across the Octagon. “I’d like to get my win back, yeah,” the new champion said at the UFC 173 post-fight press conference. The loss to Assuncao is one that eats away at the new champion, and likely will until he gets a chance to redeem himself.

If something happens to Assuncao, there are other options. Dominick Cruz is slowly working his way back from the longest injury hiatus in the history of mixed martial arts. The mere thought of Dillashaw and Cruz dancing around the Octagon, with all the angles and footwork and speed that would be on display, is enough to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting fight fan. They are kindred spirits who have much in common, both in style and substance.

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TJ Dillashaw spent much of the last week brimming with a quiet confidence. The UFC bantamweight title challenger was a massive underdog to champion Renan Barao, but you’d never glimpse those long odds on his face. He was going into the Octagon at UFC 173 as an unknown to many fans, the lesser of Team Alpha Male’s roster of bantamweight fighters.

Saturday night, he leaves Las Vegas as the best of them.

Dillashaw beat and battered Barao, considered by many to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, for nearly five complete rounds before finishing him by TKO in the fifth.

It was a complete performance and one of the best championship performances in UFC history, and it started early.

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Saturday night marks the first time the UFC bantamweight championship will headline a pay-per-view event without the presence of Urijah Faber.

It’s tempting to cast UFC 173 as an important moment for the 135-pound division, as champion Renan Barao spreads his wings and attempts to take off on his own.

During the days leading up to the event, much has been made about his fitness as a leading man. The two previous times Barao has headlined PPVs (both of them against Faber), the response was lukewarm, with UFC 149 collecting an estimated 230,000 buys in July of 2012 and UFC 169 garnering the same amount four months ago. Without The California Kid and against underdog replacement opponent T.J. Dillashaw, this will be our first real chance to see how Barao can do on his own.

Will fans open their wallets for the diminutive champion with the 70 percent finishing rate and slinky victory dance? The answer could be important, since it seems like he’s going to be here for a while.

USA Today

LAS VEGAS — TJ Dillashaw will face the biggest challenge of his life Saturday night.

The Team Alpha Male fighter steps into the Octagon at UFC 173 to face Renan Barao for the UFC bantamweight championship. He is the second Team Alpha Male athlete to face Barao; his teammate and mentor Urijah Faber has twice faced the Brazilian and lost. The stakes are high for Dillashaw as he attempts to become the first from his camp to bring a UFC championship belt back home to Sacramento, California.

Bleacher Report lead mixed martial arts writer Jeremy Botter is embedded with the challenger in Las Vegas. He’ll be providing multiple live-blog updates each day, with the intention of giving readers a glimpse into Dillashaw’s life as he endures endless fight-week obligations and puts the finishing touches on his preparations for Barao.

Stay tuned to this post for updates.

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Since before he even arrived in the UFC, we’ve been spinning intricate yarns about the future of Daniel Cormier.

In a sport as wily and unpredictable as this one, we should probably know better than that by now, but Cormier has always seemed like a special case.

There is no one in the current MMA landscape who better reminds us of watching the ascendance of fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva andyep—Jon Jones than DC.

Before they were champions, we had a feeling about those guys—that special inkling that they would achieve greatness. Cormier has that too, in buckets.