Cody Garbrandt has officially graduated from prospect status to budding contender.
The Team Alpha Male product completely overwhelmed fellow unbeaten Thomas Almeida in the UFC Fight Night “Almeida vs. Garbrandt” headliner, knocking out the Brazilian star in the opening round of their encounter at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday night. The end came 2:53 into the first frame, giving Garbrandt his sixth first-round finish and second in the UFC.
“I know I’m the hardest hitter in the division,” Garbrandt (9-0, 4-0 UFC) said. “I’ll knock anybody out in the division. Dominick Cruz, whoever.”
In addition to power, Garbrandt demonstrated patience in his dismantling of Almeida (20-1, 4-1 UFC). “No Love” stunned his opponent with a left hook earlier in the opening stanza, but he did not get reckless as Almeida attempted to answer the salvo during a wild exchange. Shortly thereafter, Garbrandt blasted Almeida with a pair of right hands, the second of which sent his foe tumbling to the canvas. The Cleveland native followed up with a pair of hammerfists before referee John McCarthy intervened on Almeida’s behalf.
“I have the utmost respect for Thomas Almeida. He’s gonna be a future champion,” Garbrandt said. “Can I get some respect now? I wasn’t even ranked in the top 15.”
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Stephens Spoils Barao’s Featherweight Debut
Jeremy Stephens gave Renan Barao a rough introduction to the UFC’s featherweight division.
In an entertaining slugfest with a couple key momentum swings, Stephens consistently landed the cleaner, harder shots to earn a unanimous verdict over the former 135-pound king in the evening’s co-main event. All three judges saw the fight 29-28 in favor of “Lil’ Heathen.”
“Barao’s a true champion,” Stephens said. “I just don’t think he should be here at 145 pounds messing with me.”
Barao looked quite comfortable in his new home in round one, as he repeatedly beat his opponent to the punch while switching stances and moving in and out of Stephen’s striking range. The momentum shifted when Stephens (25-12, 12-11 UFC) blasted Barao (33-4, 8-3 UFC) with a massive right uppercut in round two, and from there, the Brazilian was never the same. While the Nova Uniao product expended a great deal of energy on takedown attempts that were largely unsuccessful in the second half of the bout, Stephens continued to rack up points with power punches, connecting with hooks, uppercuts and crisp straight right hands to put a lasting stamp on the fight.
After beginning his promotional tenure with seven straight triumphs, Barao has suffered defeat in three of his last four bouts.
Story Triumphant in Return, Garners Unanimous Decision vs. Saffiedine
After a lengthy hiatus, Rick Story put together a vintage performance in his Octagon return, taking a physical unanimous decision triumph over Tarec Saffiedine in a featured welterweight encounter. Two judges scored the bout 29-28, while a third had it 30-27, all in favor of the Tacoma, Wash., native. Story has won three straight bouts in the promotion, while Saffiedine has fallen in two of his last three outings.
Unyielding pressure, grueling clinch work and heavy punches to the head and body in close quarters carried the day for Story (19-8, 11-7), who was fighting for the first time since October 2014 after undergoing neck surgery. Saffiedine (16-5, 2-2 UFC) occasionally found the necessary space to land some of his trademark kicks, but too often the ex-Strikeforce champion found himself in Story’s world. Story rarely gave the Belgian fighter room to breathe, punching his way into tie-ups and then attacking Saffiedine’s body with powerful flurries.
Camozzi Decisions Miranda, Wins Third Straight
Chris Camozzi continued his resurgence in his third UFC stint, as he garnered a clear-cut unanimous verdict against “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3” cast member Vitor Miranda in a middleweight bout. Camozzi (24-10, 9-7 UFC) was never really in danger en route to sweeping all three scorecards with identical 30-27 tallies. The Colorado native has now won three straight in the Octagon.
Camozzi was effective wherever the fight went. Early on, he had success with punches and elbows in close quarters and leg kicks at range. Camozzi shifted gears in round two, kicking out Miranda’s leg and battering his Brazilian foe and opening a significant gash above his left eye with punches and elbows from above. Miranda (12-5, 3-2 UFC) tried to up his aggression in round three, but it was Camozzi who continued to land the most effective offense in the frame.
Versatile Attack Carries Larkin to Split Decision Triumph
Lorenz Larkin relied on a multi-faceted offensive attack to capture a hard-fought split-decision victory over fellow Strikeforce veteran Jorge Masvidal in a featured welterweight tilt. Judges Dave Hagen and Glenn Trowbridge submitted 29-28 scorecards in favor of Larkin, while Adalaide Byrd had it 29-28 in favor of “Gamebred.” Larkind (17-5, 4-5 UFC) has won three of four since dropping from middleweight to 170 pounds.
Kicks to the legs and body, punching combinations and elbows all landed for Larkin in the entertaining battle, and while Masvidal (29-11, 6-4) laughed off many of his opponent’s offerings, it was clear that “The Monsoon” was scoring points with his approach. Despite suffering from a deep accidental eye poke late in round one, Masvidal was never out of the fight. The American Top Team product was at his best in round three, where he baited Larkin into a brawl, landed elbows in the clinch and briefly threatened with a pair of guillotine chokes. Still, it wasn’t quite enough to overcome Larkin’s lead on the scorecards.
Felder Shakes Off Slow Start, Edges Burkman
Strong finishes are becoming the norm for Paul Felder, who survived a shaky opening round to take a unanimous decision triumph over Joshua Burkman in a lightweight duel. All three cageside judges scored the contest 29-28 in favor of “The Irish Dragon.” Felder (12-2, 4-2 UFC) has now won two straight within the Las Vegas-based promotion; his previous outing was a third-round submission of Daron Cruickshank.
Making his second appearance at lightweight, Burkman (28-13, 6-8 UFC) set the tone in round one, controlling distance with crisp straight punches. “The People’s Warrior” closed out the round by winning a wild exchange and then changing levels for a takedown. From there, Felder took control. He found the range on several combinations late in the second stanza and made a lasting final impression by bloodying his opponent’s nose with a hard elbow from the clinch in round three.