Luke Rockhold scored his first win in the UFC. Now he wants to avenge his first UFC loss.
Rockhold (11-2) scored a first-round knockout over Costas Philippou on Wednesday in the main event of UFC Fight Night 35 at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. The finish came via a left kick to the body, which rendered Philippou helpless at the 2:31 mark.
Immediately after the result was read, Rockhold called for a rematch with No. 1 contender Vitor Belfort, the man who knocked him out in his UFC debut in May.
"I want my rematch with Vitor, and I would like it here in the states," Rockhold said. "I will go through anybody I have to to get that -- especially Michael Bisping. That would be nice."
A former Strikeforce middleweight champion, Rockhold entered the fight as a 4-to-1 favorite thanks in no small part to his grappling advantages over Philippou.
The American Kickboxing Academy product showed little interest in taking Philippou down, however. He stunned him early with a counter right hand to the chin, and then went to work on his right side with kicks.
Philippou (12-4), who never had been knocked out, attempted to stand his ground. He responded to Rockhold's kicks with several aggressive flurries, one of which produced a smile on the face of his opponent.
The kicks continued to add up as the round progressed, and Philippou ate the final one with his back to the fence, straight to the midsection. Referee Herb Dean recognized the liver shot immediately and stepped in as Philippou fell to the ground.
It marks the third career knockout win for Rockhold, who was ranked the No. 6 middleweight in the world by ESPN.com heading into the bout. The 29-year-old also has six submissions.
Rockhold lost to Belfort at a UFC on FX event in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil, via spinning heel kick in the first round. Belfort (24-10) is expected to face Chris Weidman for the UFC 185-pound title later this year in Las Vegas. Bisping (24-5) is expected to return to action this spring from an eye injury.
Tavares earns fifth straight win at 185
Brad Tavares' seventh UFC win looked a lot like the previous six -- systematic, clean and fundamentally sound.
Tavares (12-1) extended his win streak to five in the middleweight division, outpointing the dangerous Lorenz Larkin (14-2) by unanimous scores of 29-28. Six of his seven wins in the Octagon have come via decision.
"I wasn't surprised I was an underdog coming into this fight, but it made me think, 'Man, I'm the best bet on this card,'" Tavares said. "Lorenz is an awesome fighter, and I had a lot of fun in the Octagon tonight. I think with this win I can consider myself a top 10 guy in my division."
It was a well-rounded performance turned in by Tavares from start to finish. He negated Larkin's speed advantage by controlling distance and getting off first. He never really hurt Larkin at any point in the fight, but he completely shut him down.
Confidence began to swell for Tavares in the second round, as he opened with a nice outside leg kick, followed by a left hook, straight right combination. The outside leg kick proved an effective weapon for Tavares in all three rounds.
He worked a single-leg takedown later in the second and eventually took Larkin's back. Larkin escaped the position before the round ended, but he head into the third blatantly down on the scorecards.
The 27-year-old Larkin finally started to land in the last five minutes, but it was far too little, too late. He went for a guillotine after sprawling on a Tavares takedown attempt, but quickly gave it up. He ate several elbows to the side of the head working a takedown later in the round, but never appeared hurt by them.
Tavares will likely seek a top 10 opponent in his next bout. Larkin suffered his second loss in three fights. He came up short in a controversial split-decision loss to Francis Carmont in April.
"I knew Brad is a tough guy," Larkin said. "We both gave it our all, and tonight he was the better man."
Dillashaw shines in rout of Easton
Coming off a narrow split-decision loss in his last fight, Dillashaw (9-2) left no doubt in this bantamweight contest as he dominated Easton in all areas for 15 minutes. All three judges scored it a shutout 30-27 win.
"It felt great to get that win and show off all the muay thai skills my coach Duane Ludwig has taught me," Dillashaw said. "I would have liked to get the finish but I was dominating from start to finish, so I was never worried. Easton is a tough guy, he ate a lot of my punches."
Easton (13-4) proved his toughness over the course of the bout, but did little else in terms of stopping Dillashaw's offense. He surrendered a takedown early in the fight, but managed to work back to his feet without taking considerable damage.
That wasn't the case in the next round, however, as Dillashaw started to open up on the feet. Easton attempted to back him off with flurries, but Dillashaw saw everything coming, slipping punches and answering with counters.
After scoring a takedown in a scramble, Dillashaw worked ground-and-pound on the mat and then landed a hard knee up the middle after Easton wall-walked. A member of the surging Team Alpha Male camp located in Sacramento, Calif., Dillashaw continued to apply pressure in the third round to earn the perfect scorecards.
Dillashaw is now 5-2 in the UFC and has won five of his previous six. He came into the bout as the No. 10 bantamweight in the world, according to ESPN.com.
Easton suffered his third consecutive defeat, all by decision.
Romero stays hot with stoppage win over Brunson
Romero (7-1), who has gained traction as a middleweight contender following two knockouts in 2013, dropped Brunson (11-3) in the third before finishing him with elbows on the ground.
Brunson did his best to survive, but Romero was relentless once the fight hit the mat. He landed a long series of unanswered elbows until referee Blake Grice mercilessly called off the bout at the 3:23 mark.
"I'm advancing and learning all the time, mostly learning," Romero said. "I knew I had to keep moving and that a fight is never over. I could tell he didn't like getting hit so I felt eventually I could land some shots, I would finish the fight."
The 30-year-old Brunson fought virtually a perfect fight until the final sequence. He more than held his own on the feet and scored several key takedowns against Romero, a former member of the Cuban Olympic wrestling team.
Brunson landed one of his best shots of the fight midway through the first -- a left head kick that cracked Romero to the side of the neck. He outwrestled Romero in the second round, even working to full mount at one point before Romero escaped.
Romero showed a clear sense of urgency in the final round, which Brunson handled well until he ate a hard straight left hand right down the pipe a couple minutes in. He was immediately in survival mode, as Romero gave chase with right uppercuts and straight lefts.
Brunson eventually turtled near the cage, where Romero rolled him over and delivered the crippling elbow strikes to his midsection.
Romero improved to 3-0 overall in the UFC. His only loss came via second-round knockout in a light heavyweight fight against Rafael Cavalcante in September 2011. Brunson suffered his first loss since August 2012.
Moraga outlasts Ortiz by split decision
Moraga (14-2), who was submitted by UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in July, squeaked out a 29-28 win on two of the judges' scorecards, with the third having it 29-28 for Ortiz (12-3). ESPN.com also scored it 29-28 Ortiz.
"I felt it could've gone either way," Moraga said. "But I thought I had control longer and that I did a lot more damage. Overall, I felt good out there."
Ortiz controlled Moraga for the better part of the first round, landing short elbows from full-guard in the process.
Moraga seized momentum early in the second by knocking Ortiz off-balance with an outside leg kick and hurting him badly with a left hook. Smelling blood, Moraga swarmed Ortiz along the fence with elbows and knees to the body.
Ortiz circled away from the cage but then tripped over Moraga's feet and fell to the floor. Moraga eventually took his back and worked for a rear-naked choke, but couldn't get the finish.
The fight came down to the final round as Moraga continued to dictate the action early on, working behind a variety of outside leg kicks and hooks. With two minutes left, Ortiz scored a big takedown on a double leg and moved to side control after a failed kimura attempt by Moraga.
The loss snapped a four-fight win streak for Ortiz, who made his UFC debut in November. Moraga improved to 3-1 as a UFC flyweight.
"It's tough when you're in there, you're so caught up in the action and just trying to get the job done," Ortiz said. "I thought I fought somewhat to my game plan, I was trying to move a lot. I didn't land the numbers I wanted to, but I felt that I controlled most of the fight and should've come out with the victory."
Miller taps out Sicilia in Round 2
Miller (21-8) utilized his reach and height advantage in the first round, as he kept Sicilia (12-4) on the outside and at the end of his jab.
Action picked up considerably in the second round when Miller hurt Sicilia with a 1-2 combination up the middle. Sicilia seemed to recover from the shots, but was dropped moments later by the same thing.
Bleeding badly near his left eye, Sicilia shot a desperate single-leg attempt, which Miller looked to counter with a guillotine. As they went to the floor, Miller ended up in side control, where he quickly took Sicilia's back and produced the tap.
"I can't even tell you how happy I am right now," Miller said. "To get this win in essentially what is my hometown -- seeing that I'm from Macon, which is a short drive -- is amazing."
Miller is now 4-3 since dropping to 145 pounds in March 2012. The 29-year-old promised to be more consistent moving forward and called out UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone during his post-fight comments. Sicilia fell to 2-3 in the UFC.
"I've been working really hard and in reality I've been in camp for six straight months," Miller said. "I'm not complaining because this is what I want, to get fights that matter. That's why I called out 'Cowboy' Cerrone. I mean, we've had our issues going back to 2007, but it has quieted since I moved to 145 pounds. I think with the run both of us have been on, it's time to finally meet. When I call out guys, I'm not saying I'll necessarily beat them, it just means I want the fight. I want to challenge myself against the best at all times."