March 22, 2018

Rockhold cements contender status with win at UFC Pittsburgh

17 September 2017, 10:49 | Sandy Nunez

Felipe Arantes ill fight with Luke Sanders pulled from Saturday's UFC Fight Night 116 in Pittsburgh

Felipe Arantes ill fight with Luke Sanders pulled from Saturday's UFC Fight Night 116 in Pittsburgh

Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold returned to form, finishing David Branch Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night 116.

In the second, Branch kept the pressure up, while Rockhold combated his attack by chopping at his lead leg. Branch then pressed Rockhold back against the cage, tying him up.

As the second round got underway, Rockhold opted for a different strategy, as he took Branch to the ground after grinding him against the fence, looking to out-wrestle him.

Rockhold warned Branch before the fight that despite his highly successful run since departing the UFC in 2011, that being back in the "big leagues" would be a whole new ball game - and those words proved prophetic, as the number three contender emerged virtually unscathed after the main event in Pittsburgh. Branch employed heavy pressure, did all he could to capitalize - FightMetric showed him outlanding the favorite by a 36-19 margin in the first round - and seemed to have the Californian reeling with a flurry of power punches inside the first five minutes. A late takedown from Rockhold to close out the round saw the momentum shift, and also gave everyone an indication what was to come next.

Kamaru Usman, the No. 13 welterweight, knocked out Sergio Moraes with a straight right hand to the jaw in the first round. I wanted to take my time and be patient.

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After injuries and other issues, the card ended up with just 10 fights in all - all of them airing live on FOX Sports 1. "I came to UFC to be the champion".

Ever since his loss to Bisping a year ago, Rockhold has been on a mission to return to the middleweight championship and he didn't lose sight of that goal after bludgeoning Branch into submission.

"GSP, I don't know what I need to do, you want me to beat some sense into you?"

"He's the true champion right now", Rockhold said of Whittaker. "You're gonna get crushed. This is my fight". So, if Rockhold hopes to fight for the 185 title anytime soon, a win today is a must.

Of course, it's entirely possible Rockhold could be on stand-by just in case the Canadian happens to fall out of the bout between now and November 4 because there's little doubt he would jump at the opportunity to face Bisping again - even on short notice.

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