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Beyond the Octagon: Brandon Vera, Mamed Khalidov, Alessio Sakara top busy weekend

Brandon Vera earns his first knockout in five years, Alessio Sakara returns, plus Mamed Khalidov and World's Strongest Man Mariusz Pudzianowski--all that and more in this week's Beyond the Octagon.

It was a packed weekend, with UFC, Bellator and Strikeforce veterans, a prospect or two, the JMMA oldguard, plus the best giant rock lifter what ever lifted a rock. Let's jump in.

First up, at One FC 23, Roger Gracie (7-2, 0-1 UFC, 4-1 Strikeforce, 1-0 Sengoku), exhibited a surprisingly sturdy chin and a willingness to trade en route to an unlikely third-round TKO of James Mcsweeney (14-12, 1-2 UFC). A front kick to the solar plexus sent McSweeney into retreat, and a series of hooks and uppercuts sent him tumbling to the mat, where Gracie's follow-up strikes forced the referee stoppage. Gracie, who earned the first TKO of his career, is 1-0 this year. McSweeney, whose overall record obscures a solid 7-3 mark in the last three years, falls to 2-1 for 2014.

Gracie vs. McSweeney can be seen here. Fight starts at 2:00.

Brandon Vera (13-7-1NC, 8-7-1NC UFC) found victory for the first time in three years, taking out Igor Subora (5-2-0) with punches and ensuing soccer kicks in the first round of their heavyweight contest. Once considered one of the brightest prospects in the heavyweight division, Vera's first-ever loss, to Tim Sylvia in 2007, seemed to trigger an avalanche of tentative and frequently losing performances, removing him from the Top 10 rankings and silencing talk of a two-division title run. Now 37 years old, Vera's fight this weekend was his first outside the UFC in nearly ten years, and it afforded him his first (T)KO win in five. He remains undefeated outside the UFC.

You can watch Vera vs. Subora here. Action at 9:37.

And in the headlining bout, Bibiano Fernandes (17-3, 8-1 Dream) further entrenched himself at the top of the One FC bantamweight division, putting away previously undefeated title challenger Dae Hwan Kim (10-1-1) by rear-naked choke early in the second. Fernandes hasn't been defeated since the 2010 unanimous decision loss to Hiroyuki Takaya which saw Fernandes relinquish his Dream featherweight title.

Fernandes vs. Kim is here. Fight starts at 12:45.

Meanwhile, at Dynasty Combat Sports 12 out of Nebraska, Dakota Cochrane (18-7, 0-1 Bellator, 0-1 TUF) halted a two-fight losing streak with his first-round TKO of Ted Worthington (34-50-0). Cochrane, who's beaten UFC veterans Joe Stevenson, Efrain Escudero, and Anton Kuivanen, is 3-2 for the year, and 7-5 since his TUF 15 appearance.

And at RFA 21, Francisco France (11-3-1, 1-0 Strikeforce) made short work of Mikey Gomez (17-11-0), locking up a triangle choke in the opening minutes of their middleweight bout. France, who owns a submission win over James McSweeney and fought Keith Jardine to a decision loss, has won three straight, all by submission, since fighting Hans Stringer to a draw at WSOF last year.

Farther up the card, UFC veteran Chase Gormley (11-4-0) continued his winning ways following his return from a two-year hiatus, taking a unanimous decision over Dale Sopi (6-1-0). Gormley, whose UFC career ended in early 2010 following two first-round stoppages, is 3-0 this year. Sopi, last seen in this column knocking out Edwin Dewees, tastes defeat for the first time in his career.

And at Saturday's Battle of the Stars 3 in Russia, undefeated prospect Rasul Mirzaev improved to 10-0-0 with his first-round TKO of Eudes Tavares (10-5-0). Mirzaev was signed and then quickly released by Bellator following a manslaughter charge that led to a 15-month jail term. Mirzaev is 5-0 since his 2013 release.

Oddly enough, the event would play host to not one, but two legally embroiled Bellator castaways, with Maiquel Falcao fighting in the co-main event. Falcao was cut from the UFC following assault charges in his native Brazil and was then released from Bellator after surveillance footage surfaced showing Falcao's initiation of a brawl outside a gas station. He's since conducted his MMA career on the Eastern European circuit. In this latest outing, Falcao defeated Artur Guseinov (13-5-0) by rear-naked choke in the first. With the win, Falcao pulls himself out of a two-fight slump and improves his overall record to 33-7-0.

And, at Pancrase 263, former PRIDE fighters had a rough go of it, with both Shungo Oyama and Yuki Kondo suffering defeat.

Three straight wins earlier this year landed Pancrase legend and UFC and PRIDE veteran Yuki Kondo (58-29-9) in a fight for the welterweight title against Gota Yamashita (10-2-1NC). After three rounds, however, Yamashita would earn the judges' verdict, and the surging Kondo would take his first loss of the year. Yamashita has won four in a row, and Kondo is 3-1 this year.

Things turned out worse for Shungo Oyama (14-19, 1-5 PRIDE, 5-3 K1 Hero's, 0-2 Dream), whose corner was forced to throw in the towel in the first round following strikes from fellow journeyman Yuji Sakuragi (15-22-2-1NC). Oyama, who owns improbable victories over Carlos Newton, Denis Kang, and K1 legend Peter Aerts, has now lost two straight and has been (T)KO'd fifteen times in his career.

Meanwhile, former UFC heavyweight Oli Thompson (12-8, 0-2 UFC) continues to struggle in his post-Octagon career. At BAMMA 17 in England, Thompson suffered his third straight loss, falling to the strikes of relative novice Brett McDermott (3-1-0) early in the first. He is winless for the year, and 3-4 since his 2012 release from the UFC.

Also on the card was Martin Stapleton (14-4, 0-3 Bellator, 0-1 TUF) who made it two wins in a row with his first-round rear-naked choke of Sebastian Fournier (8-6-0). Stapleton is 2-0 since his release from Bellator.

And in the co-main event, TUF: The Smashes runner-up Colin Fletcher notched a TKO win after opponent Michael Brightmon (13-5-0), couldn't answer the bell for the third. Fletcher, who went 0-2 in the UFC with unanimous decision losses to Norman Parke and Mike Ricci, is 3-1 since his return to the U.K. circuit.

Over in Vienna, Austria, at Final Fight Championship 16, Alessio Sakara (15-12-1NC, 6-8-1NC UFC) took his first fight outside the Octagon since 2005, facing Maciej Browarski (12-6-0) in the evening's main event. The return to competition would prove ill-fated for Sakara, suffered an arm injury after throwing a lead left hook (thanks to community member Christian D'Andrea for the clarification) . The fight was ruled a TKO loss. Sakara hasn't won a fight since his 2010 TKO of James Irvin, which marked a career-best three-straight wins in the UFC. Since then he's dropped five in a row.

Last but certainly not least, Polish promotion KSW held its latest event, featuring a host of notable names, beginning with Goran Reljic (14-4, 1-3 UFC). Reljic edged out local favorite Tomasz Narkun by majority decision, extending his win streak to three and improving to 6-1 since the November loss to Krzysztof Soszynski that saw him released from the UFC.

Also on the card, Jay Silva (9-9-1, 0-2 UFC, 1-1 Bellator) fought Piotr Strus (9-3-2) to a majority draw. Silva is 2-5-1 since a 2011 bout in Bellator, a run that includes a upset knockout of Michal Materla. Strus, meanwhile, fights to a draw for the second time in a row.

And in the co-main event, Mariusz Pudzianowski (8-3-0) squared off with Olympic medalist Pawel Nastula (5-6, 1-3 PRIDE, 0-1 Sengoku) for another of the special-rules bouts that have become something of a trademark (along with totally rad pecs) in Pudzianowski fights. After two rounds, plus a tie-breaking, three-minute third, Pudzianowski was awarded the unanimous decision. He's now won three in a row, all over big-show veterans. Nastula, meanwhile, loses his second bout in a row.

Finally, in the headliner, Mamed Khalidov (30-4-2, 2-1 Sengoku), easily one of MMA's best middleweights not signed by a major organization (maybe one of MMA's best unsigned fighters period) took a unanimous decision over Bellator tournament finalist Brett cooper (20-11, 7-5 Bellator). Khalidov has now won ten in a row. Cooper is 1-4 in his last five.