The 145-pound fight took place on the UFC 189 main card on Saturday, inside MGM Grand Garden Arena. Stephens (24-11) secured the win just 32 seconds into the final round, on the heels of a perfectly-timed knee.
Bermudez (14-5) dictated pace throughout, aggressively running Stephens' back into the fence and unloading combinations. His eagerness played against him in the final sequence though, as Stephens leapt into the knee just as Bermudez planted hard and dipped his head while throwing a jab. Bermudez fell back from the shot and Stephens followed with left hands until referee Marc Goddard stepped in.
"If you have a good right hand and lean on that front foot, I'm going to knee you, uppercut you -- I'm going to try to knock you the f--- out," Stephens warned.
Fighting out of Alliance MMA in San Diego, Stephens faced adversity from the first exchange on. Early in the opening round, a Bermudez punch opened a deep cut near Stephens' right eye. The cut bled profusely from that point on. After working back to his feet after a Bermudez takedown, Stephens' entire front side was covered in red.
The 29-year-old featherweight didn't cave under the pressure. In the second round, he tagged Bermudez' lead left leg with kicks and eventually dropped him with a counter left hook. Bermudez, a former collegiate wrestler, managed to slow Stephens down by corralling him against the fence and swung momentum in his favor later in the round with a front tete kick to the body and Superman punch.
According to Fightmetric, Bermudez led Stephens in total strikes 66-to-39 when the fight ended instantaneously in the third. It is the first time Bermudez has ever been knocked out in his career. For Stephens, it snaps a two-fight losing streak.
"My last two losses were close decisions," Stephens said. "I went back and when I think about the old-school fights -- I was a white belt when I beat Rafael dos Anjos [in November 2008] and now he's the champion. I look back and it was my mindset that beat him."
Nelson shows improved striking before submitting Thatch
Known primarily for his grappling, Nelson (14-1-1) dropped Thatch midway through the first round with a straight right. He eventually took Thatch's back and calmly applied the rear-naked, producing a tap at the 2:54 mark.
"That's what I've been working on," Nelson said. "That's what I needed to work on and that's what we're doing. I'm usually very calm when it gets to the ground that it will be a finish. It wasn't different this time."
Thatch (11-3) attempted to utilize his length and size on the feet, peppering Nelson's lead leg with kicks while throwing hard knees to the body and head any time they tied up. Nelson, a relatively small welterweight, more than held his own, however, and actually out-landed Thatch in total strikes, 20-to-8.
After dropping Thatch with the right hand, Nelson moved immediately into full mount. Thatch eventually had little choice but to turn and give his back, at which point the rear-naked was all but inevitable. It marks the 10th submission win for Nelson.
Nelson improves to 5-1 in the UFC, with four wins via submission. Thatch, 30, drops to 2-2. He scored first-round knockouts in his first two UFC appearances, but has since come back to earth in back-to-back losses to Nelson and Ben Henderson.
Almeida blasts through Pickett
Almeida (19-0) overcame two knockdowns in the first round to become just the second man to finish Pickett (24-11) with strikes. Referee John McCarthy stopped the bantamweight tilt 29 seconds into the round, after Pickett went down from a left knee to the chin.
"I had a very tough opponent in Brad," Almeida said, through a translator. "It was a very tough fight. It took a little time to get into the fight but after that, I handled it. It's a very important win for my career. He's a veteran, tough guy. I'm here to stay."
The Brazilian prospect appeared slightly tentative at the start of the fight. He moved freely around the cage but hesitated to pull the trigger.
Pickett, 36, took advantage of Almeida's rigidness, knocking him down with a left hook after initiating an exchange. After Almeida instantly popped up, Pickett dropped him again in a scramble with a right knee.
Bleeding badly from the nose, Almeida survived the onslaught. He circled away from Pickett after getting back to his feet and, later in the round, dropped him in the center of the cage with a piston of a right hand.
It is the 15th career knockout win for Almeida, who improves to 3-0 in the UFC. Pickett, who fights out of American Top Team, suffers his third consecutive loss. His previous two losses came in the flyweight division.
Brown uses elbow to set up finish
It's official so far as Matt Brown is concerned: He is "the best elbower" in the UFC.
Brown (20-13) snapped a two-fight losing streak by submitting Tim Means at 4:44 of the first round via guillotine choke. The finish came after Brown hurt Means on the feet with short, inside elbows.
Both welterweight fighters are known for throwing effective elbows -- and apparently, Brown wished to prove his were better. After the result was read, Brown proclaimed himself the elbow king.
"I'm the best elbower in the division -- the UFC," Brown said. "He has great elbows, too."
The one-round fight featured several momentum changes, as neither welterweight wasted any time letting their hands (and elbows) go. Means (25-6-1) struck first, snapping Brown's head back with a couple straight lefts. Moments later, Brown landed a right cross to the temple that momentarily dropped Means to one knee.
Later in the round, Brown landed a head kick and then ducked in for a takedown. Means managed to walk back to his feet, but ate several punches and knees to the body in the process. After breaking away from Brown, Means answered back with a wicked straight left, head kick combination, followed by another left hand that wobbled Brown.
The final sequence began with two hard right elbows by Brown. Dazed, Means shot for a double-leg takedown, leaving his neck exposed in doing so. Brown locked in the guillotine, fell to his back and produced a tap immediately.
"I had the best camp of my life," Brown said. "Great training partners and the best coaches I could ask for. Everything is coming together. I want to be the champion. I'm not giving up yet."