Florian the finisher stakes claim in title picture

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LAS VEGAS – Ken Florian likes to refer to himself as the lightweight who finishes fights. After his performance Wednesday night, who in their right mind would doubt him?

Florian used 58 consecutive right hands to soften up veteran Din Thomas before applying a rear-naked choke for a first-round submission in the main event of Ultimate Fight Night 11 at the Pearl at the Palms Theater.

“I don’t promise that I’ll finish everyone off, but I want to give the fans a show every time out,” said Florian (7-3). “I’m going to try to finish my fight every time I step into the octagon.”

The lightweight from Boston worked his kicks from the opening moments, keeping Thomas guessing by mixing them high and low – one of them too low. Florian caught the American Top Team’s Thomas flush in the groin with a kick. Thomas (20-7) was given more than two minutes to recover.

“It was one of those things,” Florian said. “I was aiming for the thigh and he was circling right and I just caught him in the wrong spot. I don’t want to hit anyone there. But I wasn’t about to get out of my game plan just because something like that happened.”

Thomas came out after the timeout and tried to turn the fight into a boxing match, sending Florian backpedaling along the fence and halfway around the octagon. Thomas spun around and scooted back to the center of the octagon in a mocking manner, but Florian didn’t lose his cool.

“I was actually glad to see that,” Florian said. “That told me he was frustrated. I wanted to keep things as a Muay Thai fight and he wanted to turn it into a boxing match, and I wasn’t going to let him do it. That showed me he was getting mad.”

Moments later, Thomas appeared to injure his knee as he shot for a takedown. Florian sprawled to avoid the attempt, got into position, and began firing his rapid-fire rights. They didn’t all hit, but enough connected to enable Florian to sink in his hooks and clamp on the choke. The fight was called at 4:31.

“He sort of stopped after he went for the takedown, so I figured something was wrong,” Florian said. “I was wondering if they were going to stop the fight, but they didn’t, so when the opportunity was there I sunk in the hooks and got the rear naked choke.”

Florian has won three consecutive matches in convincing fashion since he lost a unanimous decision to Sean Sherk in a match to fill the vacant UFC lightweight title last October. Sherk’s title status is in doubt pending his October appeal of his steroid-related suspension in California. If Sherk remains suspended, a spot could open for a match with B.J. Penn to determine a new champion.

“I’m just going to fight whoever the UFC wants me to fight,” Florian said. “If that’s a shot at the title, great, but I’ve said I want to take on one tough opponent after another and I just want to keep testing myself against better and better competition.”

The main event capped one of the strongest top-to-bottom Ultimate Fight Night cards on record, highlighted by two spectacular knockouts.

In the first, middleweight Nate Quarry (9-2), in his first match in nearly two years due to back surgery, beat Pete Sell at 44 seconds of the third round to culminate a tremendous standup battle.

“It means so much to come back and get back into action,” said Quarry, who also beat Sell in 2005. “And it’s even better that it wasn’t an easy fight. You want to step right back into action and mix it up. Sell is such a great fighter and hits so hard, man. I don’t want to fight him again.”

Sell won the first two rounds. In the first, Sell (7-4), who trains with UFC welterweight champ Matt Serra, did more damage in a back-and-forth round that ended with bloody noses for both fighters. Quarry didn’t seem to have an answer for Sell’s right hand in the second round, and the fight nearly ended when Sell knocked him down with a straight right. But Quarry kept his wits and survived the round.

Both fighters came out swinging again in the third. Sell missed with a left and Quarry dropped Sell with a hellacious right to the jaw. Sell appeared done, and Quarry gave him a chance to get up, but Quarry rocked him with another bomb before referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight.

Asked if he thought the referee should have stopped the fight after the first punch, Quarry said “Yes, I do. I gave him a chance to get up.”

The other knockout of note came two fights later, when middleweight Chris Leben knocked Terry Martin cold with a big left just moments after Martin appeared to be on the verge of finishing the fight.

In a near-even match whose outcome was very much in question due to the fact Leben was docked a point for grabbing the fence in the first round, Martin rocked Leben back into the fence with a nasty right. But instead of going in for the kill, Martin dared Leben to come out for some more, and Leben responded with the KO punch at 3:56 of the third.

In other matches:

*"Ultimate Fighter 5" winner Nate Diaz downed Junior Assuncao via submission at 4:10 of the first round of a lightweight bout. Most of the match was a straight grappling contest with neither gaining a big advantage. But when the two ended up back on their feet, Diaz opened things up and dropped Assuncao with a left uppercut, setting up the winning choke.

*Gray Maynard made Joe Veres’ UFC debut a short one. Maynard knocked out Veres in nine seconds, the second-quickest KO in UFC history. Maynard feigned right, caught Veres with a left, then landed a hammer fist before Yamasaki stopped the fight.

*Serra-trained Luke Cummo pleased the crowd with a TKO of Brazilian Edilberto de Oliveira at 1:45 of the first round. De Oliveria, who trains with Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, kept taunting Cummo by deliberately lunging his head forward and inviting Cummo to strike. Eventually, Cummo caught his foe with a nasty left that spun a dazed de Oliveira and spun him halfway around, then finished him off with a flurry of strikes.

“He made me mad,” Cummo said. “You try stuff like that, that’s how you end up.”

*Welterweight Thialgo “Pit Bull” Alves made a triumphant return to the octagon with a convincing second-round TKO of Kuniyoshi Hironaka. Alves, who was suspended after UFC 66 for showing traces of a banned diuretic in a test, dominated the standup from start to finish and ended the fight with a terrific display of Muay Thai, including a knee that dislodged Hironaka’s mouthpiece seconds before the fight was called off. Alves has won five of his past six UFC fights.

*In a lightweight match, the American Top Team’s Cole Miller controlled Leonard Garcia on the ground for the bulk of 15 minutes en route to a unanimous decision.

*Dustin Hazelett put on a quick jiu-jitsu clinic in beating Jonathan Goulet via verbal tapout in just 1:14. Goulet screamed and Hazelett let go of the lock, fearing he was going to break Goulet’s arm.

UFN 11 notes: New season of The Ultimate Fighter.