LAS VEGAS -- Roy Nelson only needed less than three minutes to prove he deserves a spot in the UFC's heavyweight division.
Nelson earned a first-round TKO over Matt Mitrione in the main event of Saturday's The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale.
Nelson, who was generally regarding as a grappling expert in the early stages of his career, has now earned his past nine career victories by knockout.
"I think it's just one of those things -- God blessed me (with striking)," Nelson said. "I used to submit everybody. But when I got my first knockout, I was like, 'This is so much easier than this wrestling and jiu-jitsu stuff.'
"I was looking to pick him apart and do it in the later rounds and show all the critics that a fat guy can go five rounds."
Mitrione, who stepped in on one month's notice as a replacement for an injured Shane Carwin, looked comfortable in the early going as he avoided Nelson's vaunted power punches while returning fire of his own that included kicks to both the head and legs of his opponent.
Nelson (19-7 MMA, 5-3 UFC) looked for an early takedown against the fence, but Mitrione (5-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) showed ample defence to hold him off.
As they reset in the centre of the cage, Nelson finally connected with a flurry of punches to the temple and chin, and Mitrione toppled to the mat. Nelson seized the opportunity with a barrage of massive punches, and referee Herb Dean called off the fight at the 2:58 mark of the opening round.
Nelson and Carwin have now twice been booked to face each other, but the fight has fallen through due to injury each time. Nelson said he's no longer interested in trying to book that fight and hopes to move on to new opponents.
"I moved past it four weeks ago when I got Matt," Nelson said. "I'm not going to think about Shane now that I'm done with him."
In the night's co-feature, Colton Smith (6-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) earned "The Ultimate Fighter 16" tournament title by manhandling Mike Ricci, who failed in his bid to become the first-ever Canadian winner of the UFC's long-running reality series.
Smith took the fight to the floor in the early going, setting a tone for the entire 15-minute bout. Montreal's Ricci, a natural lightweight who moved up to 170 pounds for a shot at a UFC contract, looked overpowered throughout the fight and was simply unable to stay on his feet.
Smith scored a total of seven takedowns in the three-round fight and routinely worked to dominant positions but was simply unable to secure a finishing hold.
The most interesting point of the bout occurred in the second round, when Smith appeared to inadvertently strike Ricci in the groin with a low kick. Referee Steve Mazzagatti apparently did not see the infraction, and so the fight carried on.
Smith rushed in to capitalize and Ricci punched him in the throat -- a clear rule violation. However, that blow also went unpunished, and the fight carried on. The sequence did not appear to have a significant impact in the remainder of the contest.
Instead, Smith resumed his overpowering wrestling attack and cruised to a unanimous-decision win with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26. With the victory, Smith claimed the "TUF 16" title, a six-figure UFC contract and a custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
"Mike Ricci is an extremely tough opponent," Smith said after the fight. "He's a very precise striker. You can't make a mistake with him. ... I knew my pressure and my wrestling was going to be a factor.
"Hats off to him. It was a great, great fight."
In a heavyweight matchup expected to feature fireworks, slugger Pat Barry (8-6 MMA, 5-5 UFC) delivered with a thunderous second-round knockout of fellow striker Shane Del Rosario (11-2 MMA, 0-2 UFC).
Barry struggled a bit in the opening round as Del Rosario went off-script and turned the battle of standup artist into a grappling match. Del Rosario twice secured his opponent's back and looked ready to end the fight via submission, but Barry survived the attempts until the bell sounded.
Things went much differently in the second.
The two engaged quickly as the frame opened, and Barry stunned his opponent with a powerful overhand left. Seeing a dazed Del Rosario, Barry rushed in with powerful punches including a crushing overhand right that sent his opponent crashing to the floor, and the fight was waved off 26 seconds into the round.
"I'm either going to win all the way or lose all the way," Barry said following the impressive finish. "I go out there throwing thunder."
In the night's first main-card matchup, featherweight contender Dustin Poirier (13-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) returned from 10 months of inactivity with a scintillating first-round submission win of "The Ultimate Fighter 12" winner Jonathan Brookins (14-6 MMA, 2-3 UFC).
While Brookins is known primarily for his wrestling-based attack, he stood toe-to-toe with Poirier from the opening bell and willingly traded shots in the pocket. After a few minutes of high-paced punches exchanged, the fighters moved into a clinch, and Brookins dropped a level and looked to take the fight to the floor.
Unfortunately for him, Poirier was prepared for the switch and defended that takedown while simultaneously locking in a D'arce choke and dropping to the floor. With Brookins trapped in the hold, Poirier adjusted his positioning and torqued the choke, earning him the win with 45 seconds left in the opening frame.
"We started off at a quick pace there," Poirier said after the win. "I think we both decided to get the party started a little early. I didn't expect him to tag me like he did, but that was probably because of me leaving so many openings."
Additionally, a highly anticipated lightweight matchup between Melvin Guillard and former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Jamie Varner was scratched during the evening's preliminary card when Nevada State Athletic Commission officials observed Varner vomiting in his dressing room.
UFC officials weren't immediately certain of the reason for his illness, but president Dana White said the promotion is hoping to reschedule the fight for UFC 155, which takes place Dec. 29 in Las Vegas.
The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale drew 2,500 fans for a US$318,525 live gate according to UFC officials. The Nevada State Athletic Commission will release official figures sometime next week.