The UFC's trip to Georgia last night marked the promotion's first US-based show of 2014, and it delivered some good action throughout the night, along with its share of a few upsets. Only 4 of the 12 bouts ended in a finish, but 3 of them came on the main card, where FOTN, KOTN, and SOTN were all won.
So without further ado, here's a brief recap of the 5 main card fights preceding Luke Rockhold vs. Costa Philippou in the main event (which has its own separate primer).
The co-main event of the evening pitted strikers Brad Tavares and Lorenz Larkin against each other in the middleweight division. While Larkin was way too content to look for single strikes, Tavares picked his spots effectively and outstruck Larkin easily over the course of two rounds, particularly with his counterpunching. Round 3 was desperation time for Larkin, and when Tavares went for a double leg takedown, Larkin channeled his inner Travis Browne and landed some hard elbows to Tavares' noggin. They weren't KO shots and Tavares grew wise to Larkin's strategy, and otherwise saw out the round (and the fight) trouble free. Brad Tavares def. Lorenz Larkin via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28),
Tavares' upset win gives him 5 straight victories and a case for a step up in competition with his 7-1 record. Larkin's tepid performance throughout much of the fight results in his 2nd loss in 3 fights (although no one outside of 3 judges seriously believes Francis Carmont beat him).
This was a bout well deserving of "Fight of the Night" and it featured another late finish from Yoel Romero. Brunson was able to get the better of Romero in the stand-up, particularly in round 1 where he stunned the Cuban with a hard head kick. Round 2 was another clear Brunson round as he was able to avoid Romero's brutal power shots and score a takedown, but towards the end of the 2nd it was clear he was starting to tire. Round 3 was all Romero, and he capped it off with a big right hand knockdown and followed that up with a series of punches and elbows to the body before the referee called it off. It clearly should've been stopped earlier based on Brunson not fighting back whilst absorbing several unanswered blows. Yoel Romero def. Derek Brunson via TKO (elbows and punches) at 3:23 of round 3.
Romero makes it consecutive 3rd round stoppages in the UFC, which had previously never been done before. It was one of Brunson's best showings but alas his undefeated start to his UFC career comes to an end in dramatic and decisive fashion.
Easton had absolutely nothing for Dillashaw except for his body for hitting. Dillashaw was landing anything and everything with little resistance. His striking was remarkably fluid, his combinations and mixture of punches and kicks was flawless, and he was just vastly superior to his opponent. Dillashaw consistently kept the pressure on "The Hulk" both on the feet and on the ground, and by round 3 Easton was bloodied, beaten, and out of ideas. He hung tough and avoided the KO, but Dillashaw just stuck with the fight plan from minute 1 to minute 15. Easton hardly managed any significant offense and was just thoroughly outclassed. T.J. Dillashaw def. Mike Easton via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Dillashaw gets back on the winning track after his 4 fight winning streak was snapped by Raphael Assuncao, while Easton loses his 3rd in a row.
It was Ortiz who came out strong in the 1st round and closed it out with a takedown and superior control from top position. Moraga hurt Ortiz with a hard knee to the body in the 2nd to turn the fight towards his favor, and looked to be the better striker. After a fairly nondescript start to the 3rd round, Ortiz scored a takedown and while he didn't threaten with any particularly hard ground strikes, Moraga's only offense was a weak kimura attempt that Ortiz easily shrugged off. Moraga got back to his feet where Ortiz pinned him against the cage, throwing knees to the leg before completing another takedown following Moraga's failed guillotine choke. There was a touch of controversy on this one, as Moraga was given the split decision victory despite most media and fans seeing Ortiz as the victor. John Moraga def. Dustin Ortiz via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
Moraga didn't have his best performance and it nearly cost him the fight, but he does pick up another win to remain in the top 5. Ortiz's winning streak ends at 4, but he put forth a good effort against a recent title challenger.
This fight was all about "Magrinho'. He exhibited a great use of his jab, long reach advantage, and avoidance of Sicilia's power shot (his right hand). For his part, Sicilia was all too predictable with his striking, willing only to land one shot without any real set-up, and in the 2nd round he paid the price. Miller floored him with a right hand and when Cole Miller has you hurt and vulnerable on the ground, your goose is cooked. Cole sunk in both hooks after taking Sicilia's back, sunk in a rear-naked choke, and walked away as the victor. Cole Miller def. Sam Sicilia via submission (RNC) at 1:54 of round 2.
It was Miller's first finish as a UFC featherweight and his first two fight winning streak since 2011. For Sicilia, he's dropped 3 fights out of 4 and once again finds himself teetering towards the edge of being out of the UFC.