Saturday, the Gegard Mousasi everyone has been waiting to see had a chance to do his thing.
Mousasi, the former Dream and Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, put on a dominant show against veteran Mark Munoz in the middleweight main event of UFC Fight Night 41 in Berlin, Germany. Mousasi schooled Munoz before finishing him with a rear-naked choke at 3:57 of the opening round.
"I worked a lot on the rear-naked choke and guillotine," Mousasi (35-4-2) said in his post-fight interview. "He's a wrestler, so he always comes forward. I want to pick up the angle and slowly go forward."
Munoz (13-5), a former NCAA wrestling champion, appeared ready for a fast start, when he picked up Mousasi for a big slam. But Mousasi managed to shift his weight in mid-air and ended up on top when they hit the mat.
Things just went downhill for Munoz from there, as Mousasi effectively sprawled his takedown attempts, used crisp striking, and finally outfoxed him on the mat to get into position for the winning choke.
The victory effectively shook off a loss to Lyoto Machida in Mousasi's last fight. Mousasi figures the win puts him into the mix at 185 pounds.
Munoz has dropped three out of his past four, with the other losses coming to Chris Weidman and Machida.
In the evening's co-main event, TUF 7 finalist C.B. Dolloway made his case to crack the middleweight top 10 with a solid victory over Francis Carmont.
The opening round was an exciting affair, as the duo took turns taunting one another before laying into each other. The highlight came when Carmont landed a hard body kick, but Dolloway fought right through it and dropped Carmont with a big left hand. Dolloway swarmed him on the ground, but Carmont managed to get out of danger.
Carmont, a Tri Star fighter, had Georges St-Pierre in his corner, but the former welterweight champion couldn't help him turn the corner in the fight. Dolloway turned things up over the final two rounds, beating Carmont to the punch in the standup and overwhelming him with a relentless wrestling attack.
Dolloway (15-5) took a unanimous decision on a pair of 30-27s and a 29-28 score.
After the fight, an exhausted Dolloway said he'll think of someone to call out later.
"I'm a tad bit tired, but I feel amazing," Dolloway said. "I'm finally in the top 10, I believe. ... I'll pick someone to call out later."
Barnatt (8-1), the middleweight former TUF contestant from Cambridge, England, could never quite get his offense untracked, and was overheard complaining cageside that Strickland was running from him the whole fight.
For his part, Strickland (15-0), an undefeated fighter out of Riverside, Calif., who was in his second UFC bout, appeared to break a hand at some point during the fight, but still managed to gut out a victory. The judges scores were 28-29, 30-27, and 29-28.
Stockholm's Niklas Backstrom made a tremendous first impression in the UFC with his first-round finish of Finland's Tom Ninnimaki in a featherweight fight. Backstrom improved to 7-0 (1 NC) with a rear-naked choke finish at 4:15 of the first round.
Backstrom first got Ninnimaki in trouble with a jumping guillotine which was tight, but Ninnimaki (21-6-1) managed to escape. He couldn't escape after a running knee, though, which led to, basically, an old-school headlock, which was transitioned into a no-hook RNC for the submission.
"The one who laughs last, laughs best," was an emotional Backstrom's summation of the events.
In a bantamweight undercard fight of note, Brazil's Iuri Alcantara continued streaking his way up the rankings with a swift knockout of Britain's Vaughan Lee. Alcantara dropped Lee in the first exchange of the fight and went to the ground to finish him off in just 25 seconds.
With his 25th career finish, Alcantara improved to 30-5 with 1 no-contest. He's won three of his past four. Lee (14-10-1) has dropped three of four.
It appeared both fighters were fighting for their jobs in the featherweight bout between Maximo Blanco and Andy Ogle. And Blanco tried to do something about it by coming right out of the gate, not touching gloves, and blasting Ogle in the face with a front kick.
Ogle survived the early onslaught and got back into the fight when Blanco, as is his habit, gassed after the early excitement. But with the fight on the line in round three, Blanco found a second win and landed a solid spinning back kick in the late moments, which was likely the difference. Blanco (10-6-1, 1NC) snapped a two-fight losing streak; Ogle (14-5) has dropped three straight.