Four fights into his mixed martial arts career, Brock Lesnar is the UFC heavyweight champion.
The former NCAA wrestling champion, who cuts weight to pack his monstrous physique inside the heavyweight division's 265-pound limit, stopped three-time UFC heavyweight titleholder Randy Couture on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
At times it looked as if Couture was on his way to executing another brilliant game plan. Lesnar, who had a roughly 50-pound weight advantage, took down the champion in the first round with a double leg. But when he tried to move into the mount, Couture reversed. Lesnar soon scored his own reversal, but Couture was making the big man work hard. That could have paid off had the fight gone the full five rounds.
Despite his size advantage, Lesnar, 31, was not able to keep Couture down in the first period. Couture also punched better coming out of the clinches, although Lesnar kneed hard to his body and clearly was throwing the more powerful strikes.
Early in the second round, one of those strikes landed. Lesnar stepped in with a short but massive elbow that wobbled Couture. The 45-year-old UFC legend's experience moved the fight against the fence, where he seemed to recover.
As the round wore on, the fighters moved around the Octagon, picking their shots. The game seemed to suit Couture, who landed a right hand that cut Lesnar's eye. Lesnar's power proved the great equalizer, however, as a straight right collapsed Couture to the mat.
Referee Mario Yamasaki gave Couture a good deal of time to recover, but Lesnar's follow-up hammerfists forced the stoppage at 3:07.
"I can't believe it," said Lesnar, now 3-1, of being the UFC heavyweight champion. "I can't believe it."
Couture, who fell to 16-9, said he had felt comfortable with the size difference and declined to attribute the loss to ring rust even though he hadn't fought for more than a year.
"I felt good," he said. "He's just a big guy. He caught me with a big shot."
Florian destroys Stevenson
Kenny Florian made an emphatic statement at UFC 91.
In what many may argue was his best performance in the Octagon, Florian submitted Joe Stevenson with a rear-naked choke at 4:03 into the first round at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The victory established the 32-year-old Florian (11-3) as the clear top contender for BJ Penn's UFC lightweight championship.
"I want BJ's belt," Florian said. "I consider [him] a master. It's time to kill that master. I'm here to test myself."
Florian used nice footwork and crisp striking to seize control of his bout with Stevenson. Although Florian was taken down inside the first minute, he quickly returned from a standing position and delivered a powerful takedown of his own. He then popped Stevenson (29-9) with a big right hand on the ground, mounted the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and secured back control against the cage. A rear-naked choke followed, and Stevenson raised the white flag after a brief struggle.
"I'm working hard every single day," said Florian, who will carry a six-fight winning streak into his next match. "I'm out there training. That's all I do."
Hazelett submits McCrory
In a bout between two promising 22-year-old welterweight prospects, Dustin Hazelett again flashed his brilliant submission skills.
Hazelett (12-4) weathered an early flurry from Tamdan McCrory and established himself standing. He got McCrory's attention with a solid right hand, then grazed his head with a kick that brought the action to the ground. Once there, McCrory (9-2) was simply outmatched.
Smooth and precise, Hazelett worked his magic on the mat. The bearded Kentucky native trapped McCrory in an omoplata and transitioned to a straight armbar, wrenching McCrory's shoulder and coaxing the submission at 3:59 of the first round.
Hazelett has rattled off five wins in six fights; a loss to the highly rated Josh Koscheck is his only hiccup. Nine of his 12 career victories have come by submission.
"I want to be the best jiu-jitsu guy in MMA," Hazelett said.
Gonzaga stops Hendricks in style
The show's quickest finish belonged to Gabriel Gonzaga.
The former UFC heavyweight title challenger continued his climb back up the ladder and stopped UFC newcomer Josh Hendricks on strikes at 1:01 into Round 1.
Hendricks (15-5), who is based out of Wadsworth, Ohio, tried to clinch with the Brazilian. Gonzaga (10-3) easily controlled the position, freeing him to throw a left hook and knees to the body.
After catching Hendricks, 32, with multiple strikes, the 29-year-old Gonzaga measured him for a straight right hand and delivered it. Hendricks dropped, and referee Steve Mazzagatti intervened after another Gonzaga right hand on the ground. A former Gladiators Fighting heavyweight champion, Hendricks had not tasted defeat since February 2005.
Maia (9-0) pulled guard in the first half minute of the fight, swept Quarry onto his back and went to work with world-class precision. The 31-year-old Brazilian quickly moved to mount, forced his opponent to surrender his back and began chipping away at Quarry's considerable submission defense.
Unable to shake Maia, Quarry (10-3) succumbed to his efforts at 2:13 into Round 1, when Maia cinched a rear-naked choke for the tap-out. None of it, Maia said, was by design.
"I never have a strategy when I come into a fight," Maia said. "I just fight."
An emerging threat in the middleweight division, Maia has delivered all four of his wins inside the Octagon by submission. He leaves his immediate future in the hands of the UFC brass.
"It's up to [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and all the other guys," Maia said. "There are many tough guys that I can fight."
Joe Hall covers MMA for Sherdog.com. Brian Knapp and Mike Fridley contributed to this report.