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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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AP Images

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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USA Today

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.

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USA Today

When the final scorecards were revealed on Sunday in Gilbert Melendez’s arduous contract negotiation with the UFC, the results were a clear-cut unanimous-decision victory for the former Strikeforce lightweight champion.

It was a monumental upset that will arguably go down as the biggest win of Melendez’s MMA career.

It’s not every day that a lowly fighter takes up his slingshot against the world’s largest and most litigious MMA company and comes out on top. Perhaps we must now begin to regard Melendez not only as one of the 155-pound division’s best scrappers but one of its most accomplished negotiators as well.

When the smokescreen of his threat to decamp for Bellator finally cleared, Melendez appeared to get everything he wanted from the UFC, including what we can only assume were a boatload of concessions.

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USA Today

If social media is to be believed, Ronda Rousey celebrated Saturday’s win over Sara McMann at UFC 170 by going out for chicken wings.

Following back-to-back training camps, dueling promotional efforts and a pair of championship fights within 56 days of each other, it looks like she wanted to get that vacation started as soon as possible.

Current estimates say we won’t see her in the Octagon again for six or seven months, though she hints she could be ready to go back to work before that.

While she’s away, Rousey’s promoters and the division she rules without mirth or mercy will have some work to do.

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AP Images

Perhaps the worst thing about the controversial ending to UFC 170 is there will be no easy fix.

After back-to-back fight camps and a 56-day turnaround between defenses of her UFC women’s bantamweight title, Ronda Rousey already had a vacation scheduled following Saturday’s bout against Sara McMann.

That means regardless of what you thought of referee Herb Dean’s stoppage of the main event after one minute and six seconds, it’ll be a while before we see Rousey in the Octagon again.

She’s got a couple of movies that need filming, and even though she says she’s targeting late summer for a possible return, this wasn’t quite the triumphant note she hoped to strike with her exit.