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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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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today

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.

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Justin Ford/USA Today

Being in the Quinton “Rampage” Jackson business has never been easy.

So far, Bellator MMA appears to be full-fistedly embracing Jackson as its biggest star, what with Bjorn Rebney going on MMA Junkie Radio on Monday to trumpet the former UFC champion’s return to greatness.

"'Rampage' is back," the Bellator CEO proclaimed, despite the fact Jackson failed to look the part against Muhammed Lawal on Saturday. “The knees are back. He didn’t just get off the ground (after being taken down). He got off the ground with King Mo Lawal on top of him. Questions answered.”

Rebney is right about that last part, at least. Some of our questions have indeed been answered. Perhaps most pertinent among them was how Bellator was going to paint having Jackson as its standard-bearer. Now we know: with a broad brush and a bucketful of white wash.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today

In the old days, back when he was trying to carve a place for his new mixed martial arts promotion, Bjorn Rebney refused to say a bad word about the UFC.

Bellator was the new kid on the block, created mostly from scratch and aimed at those who wanted to see more fights. The events aired on ESPN Deportes and localized Fox Sports Net stations and MTV2. Bellator was not an alternative to the UFC, and it was not trying to compete. Which was a good thing, because the UFC juggernaut was chugging along, growing bigger by the day.

Rebney refused to criticize the UFC or its president, Dana White. White, in return, didn’t say much about Rebney or Bellator.

But that was before Viacom came along and snapped up Rebney’s fighting promotion. White, who is simultaneously at his best and worst when faced with competition, changed his public attitude quickly. His prior relationship with Viacom and Spike, where the UFC began its foray into something resembling the mainstream, made things even more personal. Shots were fired, as they usually are, and Rebney finally quit glossing over the questions that were designed to provoke a response about White and his competition.

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Justin Ford/USA Today

Every now and then, it’s more important to be interesting than good.

Bellator MMA may have pulled off one of those nights Saturday, as the unexpected plot twists of the company’s first pay-per-view broadcast ultimately outweighed its flaws.

Bellator 120 was paced like a Russian novel (an obscure one), and in a couple of its biggest spots, the organization appeared snakebit by unenviable outcomes. It felt like a slickly produced but patently small-time MMA event—none of the UFC’s usual production wizardry could be found here—but maybe, in the strangest possible way, it left its audience wanting more.

The evening started with British welterweight Michael Page dancing and prancing his way through a bout against Ricky Rainey before finishing things with one of the more anticlimactic one-punch knockouts you’ll ever see. It ended with Muhammed Lawal yelling obscenities at Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and asking to be cut after he was jobbed on a decision to hometown guy Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

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Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is one of the most controversial fighters in mixed martial arts.

He is a study in contrasts. He often appears humble and respectful. I spent a day with him in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month as he prepared to defend his title against Glover Teixeira, and he continually called me “sir.” When I pointed out that such manners were a rare thing these days, Jones told me it was a product of the way his parents raised him and his two brothers, Chandler and Arthur.

“My mom and dad taught us to never express ourselves negatively to adults. And now, even though I’m 26, if you are older than me, you get a please and thank you,” he said. “It’s something that I take seriously.”

On the other hand, there is the version of Jones that is reviled by the fans. The one that is embroiled in various social media controversies and mocks fans for claiming he’s a dirty fighter. The one that took the blame for the cancellation of UFC 151 when he refused to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice.

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USA Today

Urijah Faber is one of the UFC’s more popular fighters. He’s a pioneer in the lower weight divisions.

In fact, fighters competing at 145 pounds and below in the Octagon these days owe him a debt of thanks; he was a large reason for Zuffa purchasing World Extreme Cagefighting in December 2006. Without that move, it may have taken quite a bit of time for the national spotlight to be focused on the lighter weight classes.

He had the best year of his career in 2013, winning four fights and earning a title shot against interim champion Renan Barao. He lost to Barao, but he’s still ranked No. 1 in the division behind the champ. He has beaten most of the Top 10, and despite going years without any success in title fights, he still seems primed for yet another run at a championship bout.

I expected him to return to the Octagon against Dominick Cruz, the former bantamweight champion who has been sidelined with various injuries since 2011. It just felt right. Sure, Faber is coming off a loss, and the UFC likes to match winners with winners and losers against losers. But with Cruz out of competition for three years, that booking philosophy goes out the window. They’ve split two previous bouts.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today

After two hearty swings, Bellator MMA will finally split the pay-per-view pinata on Saturday night, though most observers predict only sorrow and red ink will tumble out.

Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez is concussed and out of his third meeting with Michael Chandler, effectively stripping the show of its crown jewel. In its place, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Muhammed Lawal will serve as the makeshift main event, while Chandler will meet Will Brooks for an interim title and Tito Ortiz will fight up-jumped middleweight Alexander Shlemenko in bout that obviously shouldn’t exist but somehow does.

Even in an industry that is conditioned to expect absurd flame-outs, the crumbling of Bellator 120 has been notable, especially considering what happened last time the fight company tried to move its circus from Spike TV to PPV.

This time the organization will stay the course, likely because rolling the dice on a depleted for-pay event seems preferable to angering providers by again pulling out on them at the last minute. Or, as Spike TV President Kevin Kay told MMA Fighting.com's Luke Thomas back on May 6: "Look, I think there's a point that comes in any promotion where you want to play with the big boys, right? Pay-per-view is the big boys and you want to put on premium fights."

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Jeff Chiu/AP Images

The Diaz brothers, long a thorn in UFC president Dana White’s side, may finally be riding off into the sunsetfor good this time.

And if you ask me, that’s OK.

It’s not that I don’t want to see them fight. I do. Much like every other mixed martial arts fan on the planet, I think there’s just something about the Diaz brothers that reaches down deep into our collective souls. They are exhilarating to watch in the Octagon, but they are also can’t miss outside of it.

UFC press conferences always go off without a hitch. When a Diaz is involved, a foreboding feeling circulates around the room. You aren’t quite sure what will happen. You aren’t quite sure if anything will happen at all. You only know that there is a chance something will happen, and you want to be there in case it does.

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USA Today

Here’s a fun fact, or perhaps a sobering one:

If the estimated numbers are to be believed, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva accounted for more than half of the UFC’s total pay-per-view buys during 2013.

Financially speaking, it was a good year to be the two greatest mixed martial artists of all time. In March at UFC 158, St-Pierre tangled with Nick Diaz and accumulated an estimated 950,000 pay-per-view buys, the most ever for an event with GSP headlining. Silva’s December rematch with Chris Weidman at UFC 168 resulted in 1.03 million pay-per-view purchases, making it the second-best-selling UFC pay-per-view event of all time not featuring that guy who broke the Undertaker’s streak at this year’s Wrestlemania.

All told, the four events boasting St-Pierre and Silva combined to sell 3.16 million pay-per-views last year. The rest of the UFC’s 2013 offerings? All nine of them? They combined for 2.92 million.