First the mouthpiece fell to the canvas. Thirty seconds later, the body followed.
The fighter who lost his protective device -- and then the fight -- was Matt Mitrione, and it was Roy Nelson who knocked the plastic from his grill on the way to scoring a first-round TKO in the main event of the Season 16 finale of
For Nelson, a quick night's work was better than no work at all. He was scheduled to fight Shane Carwin, his opposing coach on the FX reality show, but Carwin ended up doing something that in recent times he's done more often than fighting: He pulled out of the fight, injured. After having to rehab from two back surgeries, the onetime UFC interim heavyweight champ, who hasn't fought since June 2011, injured his knee and bowed out last month.
Enter Mitrione, fresh off being criticized by promotion president Dana White for declining a short-notice fight with Daniel Cormier. This time he stepped up, wise enough to know it's not a good business decision to disappoint the boss twice. And he surely wasn't a disappointment once he stepped into the octagon, reddening Nelson's right arm with a crisp series of nasty high kicks in the early going.
But "Big Country" kept coming at him, throwing big right hands, one of which separated his opponent from his mouthpiece about halfway through the round. Referee Herb Dean retrieved the plastic from the canvas and hovered, looking for a lull, so he could halt the fight long enough to get the device back into Mitrione's mouth. But Nelson (18-7) never allowed for that lull. He kept the pressure on, finally wobbling Mitrione (5-2) with a delicious right uppercut, then dropping him with a left hook and overhand right. Nelson swarmed with a half-dozen right hands before Dean tossed the mouthpiece aside and jumped in to end the fight at 2:58.
It was the fifth knockout in five UFC wins for Nelson, who since joining the promotion in 2009 also has lost three fights, all by decision.
"I used to submit everybody, like when I first started," Nelson said in an interview in the cage afterward. "But then when I got my first knockout I was like, man, this is so much easier than this wrestling and jiu-jitsu stuff."
Where does this victory place Nelson in the heavyweight division? Well, a win over Carwin would have done more for him. But Roy couldn't help but drop some pretty prominent names before he was finished talking in the octagon. He said he'd like to test his newly refined striking game against Junior dos Santos, who handed him his first UFC loss back in 2010, and Cain Velasquez. And he feels like he's just starting to transition from a ground fighter, "like Randy and Chuck." (Those guys don't really need last names, but for the record, Nelson was referring to Couture and Liddell.)
Keep reaching, Roy. As we all know, UFC matchmaking is not necessarily about what you've earned as it is about what you say you've earned.
Notes from the undercard
It's good to have a new picture in your head when you think of Smith, because the old picture was unpleasant.
At the very start of his very first fight on the TV show, he feinted like he was going to touch gloves with his preliminary opponent but instead shot for a takedown. That's the kind of move that in the NFL would be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
And Smith wants you to know something about that. "I'm not a cheap fighter," said the active-duty Army Ranger. "Like you saw in the first fight in the house, that's not me. I'm a very gracious fighter, win lose or draw."
He showed that graciousness in his words about an opponent he'd just utterly dominated.
"Mike Ricci, No. 1, is a 155 pounder," the 25-year-old Smith said. "He's tough as nails. He came in the house, whupped the crap out of everybody in the house. Very dangerous opponent, I knew he was. I had to be careful with him."
Barry ended up being the last man standing, knocking out Del Rosario just 26 seconds into the second round. He wobbled him with a big overhand left, then followed up with a hold-nothing-back assault that left Shane laid out on the mat and Barry, coming off three losses in four fights, overcome by emotions.
But in the end Poirier persevered. Brookins, who won the Season 12 TUF tournament, went for a takedown and Poirier turned defense to offense, slapping on a choke that elicited a tapout from Brookins at 4:15 of the first.