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Cody Garbrandt scores first-round knockout of Thomas Almeida

LAS VEGAS -- One of the UFC's undefeated bantamweights was graduating into a contender this weekend. That bantamweight is Cody Garbrandt.

Garbrandt (9-0) delivered one of the best finishes of his young career on Sunday, knocking out Thomas Almeida with a thunderous right hand at 2:53 of the first round. The 135-pound fight headlined UFC Fight Night at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

It was the first headliner opportunity for the 24-year-old Garbrandt, who is now 4-0 in the UFC with three knockouts. The matchup pitted two of the best prospects in the division against one another, as Almeida (21-1) came in with a 4-0 record in the Octagon and a string of three consecutive knockouts.

Many expect there to be several meetings between them, including Garbrandt, but a rematch certainly won't take place anytime soon. Garbrandt's win was lopsided as he hurt Almeida with two left hooks early before dropping him with a clean right cross up against the fence moments later.

"I'm the hardest hitter in the division," Garbrandt said. "I'll knock anyone out in my division -- [champion] Dominick Cruz, whoever."

Garbrandt made good on a prefight prediction with the finish, as he had publicly stated prior to the weekend he would finish Almeida in the first. The main event took on a personal feeling earlier this week when Garbrandt said he got into a brief altercation with Almeida's Brazilian Chute Box team. Garbrandt had posted on Almeida's Instagram account as well, looking to add fuel to the rivalry.

After the win, Garbrandt said he had no ill will toward Almeida and expects to see him again.

"Thomas, hat's off to Chute Box," Garbrandt said. "Tough sons of guns. They came from Brazil on Memorial Day weekend and we delivered. I have no disrespect for Thomas. We talked s---, but he kept calm. He's a future champion as well. I'm looking forward to future fights with him."

Garbrandt, originally from Ohio, now holds wins over Almeida, Augusto Mendes, Enrique Briones and Marcus Brimage in the UFC. He was scheduled to fight highly ranked John Lineker earlier this year, but Lineker was forced to withdraw.

"UFC 203, [heavyweight champion] Stipe Miocic is defending his belt in Cleveland, Ohio," said Garbrandt, when asked when he'd like to fight next. "That's where I spent a lot of my time, amateur boxing career. It's an hour and 20 minutes from my hometown. I would like to dance with someone there in the Quicken Loans Arena. Whoever it is, whoever the UFC wants to put in front of me, I'm more than ready for."

Stephens spoils Barao's featherweight debut

Former bantamweight champion Renan Barao's recent struggles continued, as he dropped a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) to Jeremy Stephens in his promotional debut at 145 pounds. Barao (33-4) opted to move up in weight following a second loss to TJ Dillashaw last year, but the same problems that plagued him in both of those fights reared up again on Sunday.

Stephens (25-12), who fights out of Alliance MMA in San Diego, repeatedly made Barao pay for his defensive flaws, staggering him with right uppercuts and left hooks. Barao never went down from any of the shots but was visibly shaken multiple times. He attempted to get Stephens to the floor in all three rounds but was mostly unsuccessful. Fightmetric credited the former champ with two takedowns in nine attempts. He landed a couple of his patented spinning back kicks to the body, but Stephens, a former lightweight, wore them well. Stephens landed a huge straight right in the final minute of the fight, which might have sealed him a close third round. The victory is a big one for Stephens, who came into the contest 1-3 in his past four.

Story returns to get past Saffiedine

Welterweight Rick Story (19-8) returned from a nearly two-year-injury layoff and defeated Tarec Saffiedine via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28). Story won the fight with pressure, as he repeatedly worked into the clinch against Saffiedine and held him against the fence. Saffiedine, of Belgium, had some success when he had space to operate, but those opportunities were rare. He hit Story with several right head kicks and a few punches up the middle but couldn't gather any momentum against Story's relentlessness. Story worked the body well, as he usually does, and kept up a high work rate. The 31-year-old, who underwent neck surgery during his layoff, extends his current win streak to three.

Larkin edges past Masvidal

Welterweight Lorenz Larkin (17-5), of Riverside, California, picked up a hard-fought decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29) against the always-game Jorge Masvidal (29-11). Larkin did his best work in the second and third rounds. He landed a clean head kick early in the second, which drew a smile from Masvidal. Masvidal had success when he backed Larkin up against the fence, but Larkin started using the clinch to his advantage, tying Masvidal up and circling away. He popped Masvidal with an uppercut in the third and landed two terrific left hooks during a wild exchange near the fence. Masvidal threatened late with a standing guillotine, but Larkin freed himself and scrambled out of the position. Larkin is now 3-1 in his past four. Masvidal, a former lightweight, falls to 1-3 over his recent skid.

Felder takes decision from Burkman

Lightweight Paul Felder (12-2) did enough to edge Joshua Burkman (29-12) in a three-round unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) for his fourth UFC win. Felder, of Philadelphia, absorbed his share of punches in the fight but clearly did more damage to the 35-year-old Burkman. After taking the worst of the exchanges in the opening round, Felder cut Burkman over the nose with a short elbow in the second round and blasted him with a left hook moments later. Burkman hung around and potentially made things uncomfortable for Felder with a late takedown, but Felder quickly got back to his feet. According to instant stats from Figthmetric, he out-landed Burkman in total strikes 53 to 41.

McMann outpoints Eye to snap skid

Bantamweight Sara McMann (9-3) earned her first win since 2014, defeating Jessica Eye (11-5) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). The bout didn't produce much action, as Eye appeared tentative and wary of McMann's Olympic-level wrestling background. McMann landed a small handful of right hands on the feet, but most of her offense came on the floor. She held Eye against the fence and landed some knees in the first round before finding more success with takedowns in the second and third. In the final minutes of the fight, she took Eye's back briefly and landed some shots to the side of the head. A former title challenger, McMann snaps a two-fight losing streak while Eye falls to 1-4 in the UFC.

Caraway hands Sterling first defeat

Veteran bantamweight Bryan Caraway (21-7) scored a major upset in the form of a split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29) over highly touted 26-year-old Aljamain Sterling (12-1). Sterling was dominant in the opening round, as he took Caraway down, moved to his back and trapped both of his opponent's arms behind his head, rendering him helpless. Caraway, who fights out of Las Vegas, responded in kind the following two frames, scoring takedowns of his own and moving to Sterling's back. His relentless grappling pressure gave Sterling fits and handed him the first loss of his professional career. ESPN.com also scored the bout for Caraway, who closed around a plus-250 underdog. He moves to 4-1 in his past five fights.