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Luke Rockhold scores second-round stoppage of David Branch at UFC Pittsburgh

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, 8:51 a.m.

Luke Rockhold promised his return to the Octagon would be worthy of a championship-caliber fight, even if the former middleweight world champion couldn't convince the UFC to give him a title rematch.

Rockhold backed up his big talk by scoring a second-round stoppage of David Branch in the main event of the UFC Fight Night card Saturday night before a crowd of 7,005 at PPG Paints Arena.

The show, the UFC's third in Pittsburgh, was televised by FS1.

“I'm happy I got the win,” Rockhold said. “I wanted to take my time. He rushed the fight. He came at me real hard. To be at my best, I'm patient. I'm precise. … I kept my bearings in the second round and took control.

“Now, I'm coming for that belt.”

After taking some shots from Branch in the first round, Rockhold (16-3) got a takedown in the second period and immediately went to a full mount, then slid into a back mount. Once Rockhold flattened him and started throwing punches, Branch (21-4) tapped out due to strikes, causing referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the contest at 4:05.

“If I get on top of anybody, they're not going to last long. There's no one better than me in grappling in this sport. I'll smash anyone.”

Rockhold went so far as to warn Georges St. Pierre not to embarrass himself by fighting world champion Michael Bisping, encouraging St. Pierre to back out of the UFC 217 title fight Nov. 4 at Madison Square Garden and even going so far as to call it “my fight.”

“I'm not calling GSP out; I'm telling him to get the (expletive) out,” Rockhold said. “He's going to get crushed. … If he wins somehow, some way, he ain't going to fight any of us.”

The UFC Pittsburgh bout marked Rockhold's first fight in the Octagon since he lost the world title to Bisping by a first-round technical knockout at UFC 199 in June 2016, when Rockhold was caught with what he calls a “lucky shot.”

Rockhold, who beat Chris Weidman for the title in December 2015, believes he deserved a rematch and called for clarity in the middleweight division. That drew UFC president Dana White to challenge Rockhold to “earn it,” a response that only motivated the former champion following a 16-month layoff. To do so, Rockhold had to go through Branch, a former World Series of Fighting champion who has won 11 consecutive bouts, including a split decision over Krysztof Jotko at UFC 211 in May.

“The time off made me reflect on what I want to do,” Rockhold said. “I have a lot left to accomplish in this sport.”

In the co-main event, welterweight Mike Perry (11-1) won a $50,000 bonus for performance of the night after he scored his 11th knockout with a knee that broke the nose of Alex Reyes at 1:19 of the first round.

“I landed a knee before the one that put him out,” Perry said. “I'm real dangerous right there.”

Perry was scheduled to fight Thiago Alves, who backed out three days before the fight, and called it a great night of fights. Perry promptly called for a fight against top contender Robbie Lawler.

Also on the main card, welterweight Anthony Smith landed a straight right to the chin of former world champion Hector Lombard to score a technical knockout at 2:33 of the third round.

Lightweight Gregor Gillespie, a four-time All-American and 2007 NCAA champion wrestler at Edinboro, remained undefeated (10-0) by forcing a bloodied Jason Gonzalez into submission with an arm triangle at 2:11 of the second round in the fight of the night. Both fighters earned $50,000 bonuses for their hotly contested battle.

Welterweight Kamaru Usman landed a right cross to knock out Sergio Moraes at 2:48 of the first round; and heavyweight Justin Ledet won a controversial split decision over Zu Anyanwu.

In the preliminary bouts, lightweight Gilbert Burns scored a second-round knockout of Jason Saggo; middleweight Uriah Hall also earned a $50,000 bonus after he rallied from a slow start for a KO of 10th-ranked Krzysztof Jotko at 2:25 of the second; heavyweight Daniel Spitz scored knockout of Anthony Hamilton 24 seconds into the first round; and lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercer beat Tony Martin by split decision.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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