Cody Garbrandt let out a ferocious scream as he stepped into the Octagon to take on fellow undefeated rising star Thomas Almeida.
During the majority of the lead-up to the anticipated clash of potential future title contenders, Garbrandt was calm and focused. Come to think of it, he seemed like a man who knew what was about to happen.
That’s amazing, considering those in attendance and watching at home had no idea.
Garbrandt landed 18 significant strikes in under half a round – and that’s all the Team Alpha Male power puncher needed to drop Almedia, who crumbled under the barrage. Garbrandt landed a straight right shot out of a cannon before finishing the job with a few hammer fists that weren’t even necessary.
“I believe I’m the hardest hitter in my division,” Garbrandt said. “I knew as soon as I found his chin he was going to go to sleep. The speed and the power was too much for him.”
A star’s rise was all but guaranteed when these two up-and-coming phenoms clashed, and Garbrandt was the one who snatched the opportunity.
These are the Fight Night Las Vegas Talking Points:
Garbrandt wins the battle; the war has just begun
While Almeida was being helped to his stool in the midst of regaining consciousness following the Garbrandt assault moments earlier, “No Love” was quick to recognize his foe.
More from Fight Night Las Vegas: Results | Post-fight bonus recap | Garbrandt stops Almeida in battle of unbeatens | Stephens tops Barao; Story, Camozzi win | McMann, Trujillo, Collier, Koch take prelim wins | Caraway turns tables to defeat Sterling | Backstage interviews: Cody Garbrandt, Jeremy Stephens, Lorenz Larkin, Paul Felder | Octagon interviews: Bryan Caraway | FIGHT PASS customers: Watch Caraway-Sterling, Milstead-De la Rocha on Demand | Best pics from Fight Night
“First and foremost I want to say I have the utmost respect for Thomas Almeida,” Garbrandt said.
Garbrandt knows that he’ll likely cross paths with the 24-year-old Almeida down the line. The Brazilian ran into a hurricane in Garbrandt, but the real battle now begins for Almeida as he heads back to the drawing board. Odds are good that he’ll be back and better than ever.
As for Garbrandt, he isn’t focused on who is next, only that the opponents are the top fighters in the division. He feels he’s ready for the best and his performance against Almeida confirmed his status.
Stephens on the come up
It’s been an up and down run for Jeremy Stephens in his nine-year UFC career.
Going into his massive co-main event with Renan Barao, “Lil Heathen” had 11 wins and 11 losses on his UFC resume and needed a big performance if he was to take a step up to the next level of his division.
No. 9-ranked Stephens had the perfect opponent in Barao – a former champion at bantamweight looking to make a mark in his new division. Stephens shut down the Brazilian.
“Barao will be back,” Stephens said. “He just shouldn’t be in here messing with me.”
With wins over Dennis Bermudez and Barao, as well as a close decision loss to Max Holloway, Stephens likely now moves into the Top 10 of the division and a win over a top five fighter away from serious title contention.
Caraway: heart won out over hype
After Bryan Caraway’s split decision win over No. 4-ranked bantamweight Aljamain Sterling, the eight-fight UFC veteran put the result in simple terms: heart over hype.
Sterling talked a big game going into the fight with Caraway, who is as durable as they come and has never been finished in the UFC. But he was taught a lesson against “Kid Lightning,” who survived a few beautiful first-round submission attempts from “Funk Master.”
Sterling said after the fight that he went for broke when he had Caraway’s back and lost a ton of energy, and it showed in the final two rounds.
It’s back to the drawing board for Sterling, but the future is still bright. There are lessons to be learned from this loss and, while he has loads of work still to do to improve his standup, all the tools are there in his back pocket.
Caraway put the division on notice by taking out a Top 5 contender. He has title aspirations now as he may move toward a title eliminator in his next bout.
“This is a warning to the bantamweight division,” Caraway said, “I’m coming for that belt. I’m the underdog in every fight but I keep winning. All you haters can keep doubting me but eventually you’re going to have to deal with me and recognize my talents.”
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC