It took Rafael dos Anjos nearly six years and 16 fights to headline his first UFC card -- but he didn't waste the opportunity when he got it.
Dos Anjos (22-7) shocked former lightweight champion Ben Henderson in an upset TKO victory at 2:31 of the first round. The 155-pound bout served as the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night 49 card inside BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ranked the No. 10 lightweight in the world by ESPN.com heading into the bout, dos Anjos got to Henderson (21-4) early on the feet and finished him with a left hook against the fence midway through the first round.
The finish came under minor controversy, as Henderson was still conscious at the time referee John McCarthy called the bout and jumped to his feet immediately. Dos Anjos, in a post-fight interview, said he thought the former champ went out.
"I knew my striking was better than him," Dos Anjos said. "I'm always the underdog. I think tonight proved to everyone. You can see he was out. Ben Henderson was a great champion and I respect him a lot, but now it's my time."
A left hook out in the open appeared to stun Henderson approximately two minutes into the fight. As Henderson backed away from the shot, dos Anjos followed with a beautifully timed flying knee that connected to Henderson's chin.
A former collegiate wrestler, Henderson dropped into a single-leg takedown to slow Dos Anjos. The Brazilian denied the attempt, however, and Henderson quickly gave up on it and moved to stand back on his feet.
As Henderson stood up from the takedown, dos Anjos landed a clean left hook that knocked him down along the fence. Henderson's hands dropped along with him and dos Anjos followed with another left hand to the chin, prompting the stoppage.
"I thought I was clear-headed," said Henderson, on the stoppage. "It is what it is. You have to take the ups with the downs -- the good with the bad. That's the way it goes."
It'is the first time Henderson has ever been finished via strikes in his professional career. He came into the contest ranked No. 3 in the world by ESPN.com.
Training alongside famed striking coach Rafael Cordeiro, Dos Anjos' improvement on the feet has been visible in his most recent fights. He now has four knockout wins in his career, two of which have come in his last two fights.
The 29-year-old has now won seven of his last eight fights. His only loss during that stretch came via unanimous decision to Khabib Nurmagomedov in April.
"I'll do my job," said Dos Anjos, when asked what he wanted next. "Whoever the UFC wants me to fight. I'm prepared for anything."
Henderson falls to 9-2 overall in the UFC. He won the lightweight title in February 2012 in a unanimous decision over Frankie Edgar at UFC 144. He defended the belt three times, before forfeiting it to current champion Anthony Pettis last August.
Mein makes quick work of Pyle
Mein (29-9) lit Pyle up in the center of the cage with a three-punch combination that started and ended with a left hook. The final left hand landed flush near Pyle's right eye socket.
The shot knocked Pyle (26-10-1) down, although he remained conscious. After falling to his back, however, Pyle could do nothing but cover up as the 24-year-old Mein came at him with more punches from a standing position. The fight was quickly called after the knockdown.
It's the 16th knockout victory of Mein's career and 19th first-round finish overall. It also improved his UFC record to 3-1, with the only loss coming at the hands of Matt Brown via second-round TKO in April 2013.
For Pyle, it's the fifth time he has been finished via strikes in his career. His last four losses in the UFC, however, have all come via knockout dating back to 2010. Prior to the loss, he had won five of his last six, including four finishes. Earlier on Saturday, the UFC had announced Mein's father, James Lee Mein, was prohibited from cornering the fight after he was arrested and charged with sexual battery in Tulsa on Friday.
"I'm very happy to get the win over a tough veteran guy like Mike," Mein said. "The game plan was to go out there and not over commit to any strikes. I wanted to throw hard shots but not open myself up for any easy takedowns. It didn't go very long but everything went to plan. I'm ready for whatever the UFC has next for me and I'd love a top contender."
Thales finishes Carmont with strikes
The transformation of UFC middleweight Thales Leites continues.
Leites (24-4) moved to 4-0 in the Octagon since re-signing with the UFC last year with a stunning TKO victory over Francis Carmont at 20 seconds of the second round.
"I can't even describe what this feels like," Leites said. "I've been training so hard and this fight went exactly how we planned. This is a new Thales Leites. I'm much more confident now."
After a measured opening frame, Leites suprised Carmont with an aggressive flurry in the next round. An overhand right forced Carmont (24-10) to retreat to the fence, where Leites hurt him with a right uppercut and left hook to the ear.
Carmont went temporarily limp from the left hook. He started to move once he hit the ground, but referee John McCarthy quickly moved in, as it was obvious Carmont was done.
The win extends Leites' current win streak to seven. He has won 10 of his last 11, dating back to August 2009, when the one-time title contender was released by the UFC following a split-decision loss to Alessio Sakara.
"I'm a Jiu Jitsu guy first and foremost but I'm getting very confident in my hands," Leites said. "He was blocking my takedowns very well so I went to my striking and lately when I use my stand-up good things have happened. I didn't allow him any space and kept the pressure on. When I saw his eyes roll back I kept the shots going and got the finish."
Carmont, who fights out of Tristar Gym in Montreal, dictated the range and pace of the middleweight bout early. He did well picking off Leites' power shots on the feet, and scored points with inside and outside leg kicks. He drove in deep on a takedown attempt after slipping a Leites left hook, but couldn't get the Brazilian down.
It has been a difficult 2014 for Carmont, who drops to 0-3 so far this year. Prior to the knockout loss, Carmont's first since 2004, he came up short in decisions against CB Dollaway and Ronaldo Souza.