ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone earned his third victory of 2014, scoring a second-round knockout of perennial contender Jim Miller in the headliner of Wednesday's "UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Miller" event at Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J.
It was New Jersey native Miller who was the sharper fighter early, taking advantage of a typical slow start from Cerrone to rack points with a crisp jab and aggressive gameplan. But that changed in the second, as Cerrone took control of the fight.
Using crushing knees to the body and big punches up top, Cerrone began to deal crushing shots in the standup game. A front kick to the liver nearly ended the fight, but referee Dan Miragliotta mistakenly thought the shot was to the groin and called timeout. Miller explained the shot was legal, and the bout was restarted, potentially robbing Cerrone of a chance to finish the fight.
It hardly mattered.
On the restart, Cerrone went right back on the attack, drilling the body before launching a high kick that landed flush and sent Miller tumbling to the floor. Cerrone jumped on top to secure the finish, and Miragliotta waved off the fight at the 3:31 mark of the round.
In the night's co-feature, lightweight striker Edson Barboza (14-2) made quick work of Evan Dunham (14-6), landing a devastating kick to the liver that ended the fight at the 3:06 mark of the first round.
Barboza was patient from the centre of the cage as Dunham looked to move in and out of range and set up a potential takedown. The strategy paid off, as they two never got into any real dangerous exchanges. Instead, a well-placed kick to the body saw Dunham crumple to the canvas, and Barboza followed with a few punches to secure the TKO stoppage.
"Everybody knows my background is in muay Thai," Barboza said. "I saw his elbow come up a little bit, and just as my coach taught me, it was the opening I needed for the win."
Longtime welterweight contender Rick Story (17-8) looked impressive in a one-sided destruction of Brazilian Leonardo Mafra (11-2), manhandling him the opening round before scoring a submission win in the second.
While Mafra looked eager to turn the fight into a striking battle, Story wisely exploited his opponent's weaknesses by repeatedly throwing him to the floor and controlling the action from top position. Mafra had no answer, bucking and rolling but never able to get back to his feet.
After punishing his opponent with punches and elbows from the top in the first round, Story changed approaches in the second, locking in an arm-triangle choke and scoring the tapout victory at the 2:12 mark of the round.
"Going into all of my fights, I know the takedown is going to be there," Story said after the win. "I just need to do it. Being able to go in and do what I can do was the key to my win."
Lightweight Joe Proctor (10-2) survived some early trouble against a hard-hitting Justin Salas (12-6) to come back and score a TKO win of his own in the second round.
Salas was the early aggressor, firing heavy shots from range and drawing blood from his opponent in the early going. A stiff right hand later in the frame would create a gruesome-looking hematoma in Proctor's left temple, but Proctor refused to go away.
In the second, with Salas still firing heavy leather, Proctor scored with a left hand that dazed his foe. A second came behind it, and Proctor pounced to get the finish with a flurry of punches on the floor. Referee Gasper Oliver stopped the fight at the 3:27 mark of the second round, and while Salas protested the decision, he was obviously dazed as he complained.
"I worked with a great boxing coach," Proctor said after the win. "Everybody knows I like to finish with my right hand, but I was able to finish with my left hook, which was great. I've been working and working on my boxing and looking for the knockout and it finally came."
Flyweights John Lineker (24-7) and Alptekin Ozkilic (9-3) combined for one of the most thrilling contests in recent memory, slugging it out over the course of three rounds before Lineker scored a TKO win with just nine seconds remaining in the contest.
The three-round affair was punctuated by vicious striking exchanges from both fighters, who stood in the pocket and traded punch after punch. Lineker was always just a touch quicker, and his shots seemed to land with a little more power. The Brazilian targeted both the body and the head, and Ozkilic finally broke in the final round. A series of left hands found their mark, and Ozkilic went to the floor, where Lineker sealed the result with a series of punches on the floor.
"He liked to play my game, and that let me go for the striking and the exchange," Lineker said after the win. "I found the right openings at the right time, and that enabled me to get the knockout."
In the night's first main-card matchup, Brazilian striker Lucas Martins (15-1) handed featherweight Alex White (10-1) his first professional loss with a thrilling third-round TKO.
While White moved forward with big shots on the feet throughout the fight, Martins was more efficient with his counters, using pinpoint punches to pick apart his foe. In the third, a right hand scored on the button, sending White to the floor, and Martins pounced with thunderous hammerfists to seal the TKO at the 2:08 mark of the third round.
"He was a very tough fighter, and it was a hard fight for me," Martins said after the win. "I have heavy hands and a long reach. I knew once I was able to start hitting him, it was a matter of time before I won the fight."