Not even in his wildest dreams could Luke Rockhold have imagined it going quite this well.
The former Strikeforce champion ran through Lyoto Machida with stunning ease in the UFC on Fox 15 “Rockhold vs. Machida” main event on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as he submitted “The Dragon” with a second-round rear-naked choke and planted his flag near the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division. Rockhold finished it 2:31 into round two, becoming just the second man -- reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is the other -- to submit the Brazilian karateka.
Machida never recovered from the savage first-round beating he absorbed. Rockhold moved into top position on the mat and battered him with vicious ground-and-pound, an elbow to the side of the head in the waning seconds the pivotal blow. Machida retreated to his corner with assistance, stammering on wobbly legs as he went. Rockhold picked up where he left off in the second round, where he grounded the compromised Brazilian, advanced to his back and set the choke.
In wake of UFC on Fox 15 “Machida vs. Rockhold,” here are six matchups that ought to be considered.
Related » By the Numbers: UFC on Fox 15
Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman-Vitor Belfort winner: Rockhold made a profound statement by dispatching Machida inside two rounds. The 30-year-old American Kickboxing Academy ace has won his last four fights in decisive fashion, having delivered a body kick-induced technical knockout against Costas Philippou and submissions on Machida, Michael Bisping and Tim Boetsch. Rockhold appears to be a fighter without a glaring weakness, having blossomed in the heart of his competitive prime and emerged as the clear No. 1 contender at 185 pounds. Weidman will defend the UFC middleweight crown against Belfort -- the last man to defeat Rockhold -- at UFC 187 on May 23.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Yoel Romero: Through no fault of his own, Souza still has some work to do in the middleweight division. “Jacare” was originally scheduled to face Romero in the co-main event, but an injury suffered by the decorated Cuban wrestler left Souza to settle for an everything-to-lose rematch with Chris Camozzi. As expected and just as he had done the first time the two middleweights met, the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist made quick work of Camozzi, submitting him with a first-round armbar. With Rockhold seemingly ticketed for a title shot later this year, Souza will have to look elsewhere, perhaps to a title eliminator in a twice-postponed pairing with Romero.
Lyoto Machida vs. Chris Weidman-Vitor Belfort loser: Machida’s quest to join Randy Couture and B.J. Penn as the only two-division champions in UFC history hit a significant roadblock; in fact, it may have been permanently derailed. Machida -- who turns 37 in a little more than a month -- found himself on the wrong side of a hellacious beatdown against the aforementioned Rockhold, his nightmarish outing concluding with a tapout in the second round. The decisive nature of the loss leaves him in limbo at 185 pounds, as an elite fighter with no clear direction. Weidman will put his middleweight title on the line against Belfort in the UFC 187 co-headliner in May.
Max Holloway vs. Charles Oliveira-Nik Lentz winner: No fighter did more to raise his profile at UFC on Fox 15 than Holloway, who beat on Cub Swanson for two rounds before submitting him with a guillotine choke in the third. The 23-year-old Hawaiian has surfaced as one of MMA’s most promising young stars and now finds himself on the fringes of title contention at 145 pounds. Holloway has chewed through six straight opponents since dropping back-to-back bouts to Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor in 2013, besting Swanson, Cole Miller, Akira Corassani, Clay Collard, Andre Fili and Will Chope; only Miller managed to go the distance with him. Oliveira and Lentz will lock horns in a long-overdue rematch at a UFC Fight Night event on May 30 in Brazil.
Paige VanZant vs. Aisling Daly-Randa Markos winner: While VanZant remains rough around the edges, no one can deny the talent nor the insane amount of heart she packs into a diminutive 5-foot-4 frame. The Team Alpha prospect overcame a shaky start to blitz the more experienced Felice Herrig in their women’s strawweight showcase. VanZant, 21, has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since suffering a unanimous decision loss to Tecia Torres under the Invicta Fighting Championships banner in January 2013, and “12 Gauge” still has plenty of room to grow as she navigates the waters at 115 pounds. Daly and Markos will collide at UFC 186 in Montreal on April 25.
Beneil Dariush vs. Al Iaquinta: Dariush climbed another rung on the lightweight ladder, this time as a short-notice replacement for the injured Paul Felder. The Kings MMA export ran a grappling clinic on fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jim Miller, as he coasted to a unanimous decision over the rugged and respected New Jersey native. A string of four straight victories -- Miller, Daron Cruickshank, Carlos Diego Ferreira and Tony Martin have all come up short against the 25-year-old -- has effectively erased the memories of Dariush’s April 2014 defeat to Ramsey Nijem. A finalist on Season 15 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Iaquinta eked out a controversial split decision against Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night “Mendes vs. Lamas” on April 4.