DULUTH, GA, January 15 – It was a longer wait than he wanted, but at The Arena at Gwinnett Center, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold got his first UFC win, bouncing back from his May 2013 loss to Vitor Belfort with an impressive first round stoppage of Costas Philippou in Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night main event.
“I’m here to be great,” said Rockhold. “I want my rematch with Vitor. And I’ll go through anyone I have to to get that.”
After a tentative feeling out process from both fighters, Rockhold opened up the serious scoring with a short punch to the head that jarred Philippou. From there, the action heated up, with Rockhold bloodying the New Yorker. Bothered by the cut, Philippou backed into the fence and got dropped with a flush kick to the body. A follow-up kick sealed the deal for Rockhold, with referee Herb Dean halting the bout at the 2:31 mark.
With the win, Rockhold improves to 11-2; Philippou falls to 12-4 with 1 NC.
TAVARES vs. LARKIN
Brad Tavares may have made the move from prospect to contender in the middleweight division with his fifth consecutive win, a three round unanimous decision victory over Lorenz Larkin.
Scores were 29-28 for Tavares, who improves to 12-2; Larkin falls to 14-2 with 1 NC.
As the bout opened, Tavares was clearly the busier of the two, scoring with kicks and punches as Larkin looked to counter. It wasn’t until the final two minutes that Larkin began taking the lead in the exchanges, and while he scored effectively for a spell, the round belonged to the Hawaiian.
The trading between the middleweights got more intense in the second stanza, with both having their moments. It was Tavares who broke the striking deadlock though, taking Larkin to the mat with 1:45 left and keeping him there for the rest of the round.
Larkin still wasn’t matching Tavares’ work rate in the final round, but when he did let loose, he had plenty of success, especially with a series of hard elbows to the head while Tavares looked for a late takedown. But it was too little too late for the Riverside, California product.
> Watch: Brad Tavares' Post-Fight Interview
DILLASHAW vs. EASTON
In a clash of top ten bantamweights, TJ Dillashaw warmed up as the fight progressed and was firing all cylinders by the third round as he pounded out a three round unanimous decision win over Mike Easton.
All three scores were 30-27.
The standup action was fast-paced and back and forth, with both fighters getting in their share of shots before an Easton kicked knocked Dillashaw backward, prompting the Californian to go for – and get – the takedown. After a stalemate on the mat, both fighters rose, and Dillashaw began finding a rhythm with his punches and kicks.
Hard punches and kicks kept flying from both men as round two opened, with a hard shot from Dillashaw bloodying Easton and putting the fight on the mat moments later. After some ground and pound from Dillashaw, the fighters rose and traded again until Dillashaw got a takedown. Yet even when the two stood, Dillashaw wouldn’t let go of his opponent, keeping him trapped on the Octagon fence.
In the third, Dillashaw truly pulled away, dominating the final five minutes with a crisp striking attack that Easton had no answer for.
> Watch: TJ Dillashaw's Post-Fight Interview
ROMERO vs. BRUNSON
Yoel Romero continued to show why he is one of the most dangerous fighters in the middleweight division, as he scored his third straight knockout in as many UFC fights, halting Derek Brunson in the third round.
After a flashy combination to start the fight, Romero (7-1) got taken down by Brunson, albeit briefly. Once the standup fight resumed, Romero ate a kick to the head but walked right through it as he stalked in an effort to unleash his own bombs. With a minute left, Romero got a quick takedown of his own, but Brunson (11-3) easily scrambled out of trouble before slamming the Cuban to the mat with 30 seconds remaining.
A low blow by Romero brought a brief halt to the action in the opening minute, and when the fight resumed, the two middleweights took turns landing hard punches to the head. Romero upped his work rate as the round went on, but his aggression allowed Brunson to secure a takedown midway through the frame. Brunson went on to get the mount position, and he used it to deliver hard shots on his opponent. Romero got loose in the final minute and rose to his feet, but he was unable to get the round-ending takedown he was looking for.
Brunson’s confidence was evident in the third, as he peppered Romero with kicks before moving upstairs with his punches, all the whole keeping his foe on the outside. A left hook briefly dropped the North Carolina native two minutes in, but he rose quickly. Unfortunately, his legs were still rubbery, and Romero sensed it, going on the offensive until he put Brunson on the deck. A series of unanswered body shots followed, with referee Blake Grice intervening at 3:23 of the final round.
> Watch: Yoel Romero's Post-Fight Interview
MORAGA vs. ORTIZ
In flyweight action, Dustin Ortiz appeared to notch the biggest win of his UFC career over former world title challenger John Moraga, but the judges saw it otherwise, awarding Moraga the three round split decision via scores of 29-28 twice, and 28-29
Ortiz made no secret of his game plan, and after a bit of a struggle, he was able to implement it, putting Moraga on the deck and controlling matters on the ground for the majority of the first round.
Moraga (14-2) bounced back in the second, as he was able to get his strikes off more effectively, even rocking Ortiz briefly in the opening two minutes. Ortiz (12-3) sought a takedown in response, but it was Moraga taking control now on the canvas, nearly sinking in a rear naked choke. Ortiz escaped and was able to get into the top position, but Moraga got loose and the two combatants stood. Ortiz finished strong with a takedown, but Moraga reversed him at the bell.
The flyweights kept it standing for the first three minutes of the final round, with both having their moments, but nothing fight-altering landing for either fighter. Ortiz was then able to get the fight to the mat, but after stalling his foe’s progress, Moraga got to his feet. From there, Ortiz kept Moraga locked up, first against the fence, and then on the mat, but he wasn’t able to lock up the decision on the scorecards.
> Watch: John Moraga's Post-Fight Interview
MILLER vs. SICILIA
Veteran Cole Miller delivered perhaps the most impressive UFC win of his career in his home state of Georgia, submitting Sam Sicilia in the second round of their featherweight bout.
Miller’s striking looked sharper than it’s ever been in the opening round, as he peppered Sicilia (12-4) from long-range, used effective movement, and kept his defense tight against his stone-fisted foe.
A right hand from Augusta’s Miller (21-8) rocked Sicilia early in the second round, forcing the TUF 15 competitor to look for a takedown, which he didn’t get. A minute later, Miller struck gold again with the right, and this time the fight went to the mat. There, it was just a matter of time before Miller sunk in the rear naked choke that ended the fight at the 1:54 mark.
The bout was Miller’s first in Georgia since 2006.
> Watch: Cole Miller's Post-Fight Interview