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LAS VEGAS – After a spectacular card filled with fights that drew fans in the sellout crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena out of their seats repeatedly, Shane Carwin seemed set to close the show in a major way.
The interim Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion rocked champion Brock Lesnar with a crushing left hook early in the first round of their title unification bout and spent the rest of the round pounding on him relentlessly.
Lesnar was pummeled like never before, but he managed to survive the round, and Carwin wasn't able to do the same in the second. Lesnar took Carwin down early in the second, gained great position and slapped an arm triangle choke on Carwin.
Carwin (12-1) was never able to move Lesnar and he was forced to tap at 2:19.
"I stand before you a humble champion and I'm still the toughest S.O.B. around, baby," Lesnar said.
Lesnar (5-1) was taking huge shots on the ground, but he said he knew Carwin was tiring and that if he could hang in there, he would be all right.
"I knew he was getting tired," Lesnar said. "Each shot was less dramatic than the other."
Chris Leben's career was going nowhere fast just three weeks ago. But now, after back-to-back upset victories, including a crowd-thrilling battle with Yoshihiro Akiyama, he's suddenly in the thick of things in the middleweight division.
Leben defeated Aaron Simpson at "The Ultimate Fighter 11" finale on June 19 at the Palms in Las Vegas.
When Wanderlei Silva was forced to withdraw from his fight with Akiyama due to rib and knee injuries, Leben took the bout. And he got another stunning win.
The crowd was going wild after a fast-paced second round in which the two were tagging each other on the chin, with the momentum shifting back and forth. But Leben kept his composure and slapped a triangle choke on Akiyama in the final seconds of the fight.
Akiyama attempted to power his way out, but he was unsuccessful and he was forced to tap with just 40 seconds remaining.
"I want Wanderlei," Leben shouted as the sellout crowd roared in approval. "Wanderlei was supposed to have this fight. I want him next.
"It doesn't matter if the fight is on the feet or if it goes to the ground. When I get in here, I get the job done."
Leben was extremely efficient on his feet. According to CompuStrike statistics, he landed 42 of 85 punches and 23 of 29 leg kicks.
Chris Lytle is one of the most dangerous strikers in the UFC, but he has turned to his black belt in jiu-jitsu to pull out his last two bouts. He forced Matt Brown to tap to an arm bar at 2:02 of the second round Saturday after nearly getting choked out in the first.
Brown caught Lytle in a choke midway through the first round and held it for a while. Lytle conceded it was tight, but he didn't panic and wriggled his way out.
The former professional boxer tried to use his hands when the second round began, but when that failed, he got the fight to the ground and he submitted Brown.
Stephan Bonnar fought in one of the greatest fights in UFC history, "The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale" against Forrest Griffin in April of 2005. UFC president Dana White credits that fight with the rise in popularity of the UFC. As a result, Bonnar has a little extra leeway than most fighters.
But he entered his light heavyweight bout with Krzysztof Soszynski on Saturday with a sense of urgency, considering he had lost three in a row, including a spirited battle with Soszynski at UFC 110 in Australia in February.
The doctor stopped that fight because Bonnar was bleeding profusely, and he was opened up quickly on Saturday. They fired back and forth throughout the fight and Soszynski seemed to have the edge early.
But Bonnar's punches began to take their toll in the second and by the midpoint of the round, Soszynski was in retreat. Bonnar hit him on the chin with a big knee that sent Soszynski crumpling to the canvas.
Bonnar followed him and, after several dozen blows on the ground, referee Mario Yamasaki stopped it at 3:08.
"I've spilled pints and pints of blood for you fans," Bonnar said after the fight. "And you know what? It's been my pleasure."
George Sotiropoulos continued his hot streak in the UFC, outworking Kurt Pellegrino in the opening bout of the main card. Sotiropoulos won his seventh in a row, including his sixth in a row in the UFC, with a strong performance against the gritty Pellegrino.
Sotiropoulos was slightly better in all aspects of the game and won on all three cards, 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. However, he had a scary moment in the fight's final seconds as Pellegrino caught him squarely in the face with a knee. Sotiropoulos went down and Pellegrino followed, looking for the finish. But as Pellegrino reached Sotiropoulos, the horn sounded to end the fight.
"It was a big knee but I never lost consciousness," Sotiropoulos said. "I was going to roll back into a good position."
Sotiropoulos has to be moving himself into lightweight title contention. He dominated Joe Stevenson at UFC 110 in February and turned in another impressive performance on Saturday.
"All I've got to say is, 'Who's next?' " Sotiropoulos said. "I caught him with a lot of crosses, a lot of jabs. I saw his eyes roll back at one point, but he's a tough guy. I was able to nullify him on the ground."
Heavyweight Brendan Schaub, Carwin's primary training partner, closed out the preliminary card in dramatic fashion, stopping Lesnar training partner Chris Tuchscherer at 1:07 of the first round.
Schaub landed a big overhand right that staggered Tuchscherer and then knocked him down. Schaub followed and quickly finished on the ground, forcing referee Herb Dean to stop it at 1:07.
"I was really surprised I was able to hurt him and knock him out because he's a really tough guy," Schaub said. "He's 18-2. It wasn't something I planned, it being a quick fight. I come from a really good gym and I'm always getting better. I'm open to all challenges."
Spike TV broadcast the Schaub-Tuchscherer fight, but its opener, pitting UFC newcomer Ricardo Romero against Kimbo Slice conqueror Seth Petruzelli, was a doozy.
Petruzelli controlled most of the first round with his striking, forcing Romero to scramble around the cage. Late in the first round, a powerful left hook by Petruzelli landed on Romero's chin and knocked him down.
Petruzelli bloodied Romero in the second, but Romero was slick in moving into position for an arm bar that forced Petruzelli to tap at 3:05 of the second.
Romero, who was making his UFC debut, had mixed emotions.
"I'm a little disappointed, but I'm happy I stuck with it," Romero said. "I have a lot of work to do. Nothing hurt me. I knew I was losing on the cards, though, so I had to push it."
Kendall Grove and Goran Reljic were separated by a razor-thin margin throughout their middleweight bout. Each man had his moments in each round, and it was inevitable that it would be a split decision.
It turned out it was. Grove won by scores of 30-27 and 29-28, while the third judge had it 29-28 for Reljic.
Grove entered the bout desperately needing a win. He had lost two of his last three and was stopped by Mark Munoz at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in April.
"It was a big win," said Grove (13-7, 7-4 UFC). "I'm like a cockroach. I'm hard to get rid of."
Gerald Harris finished his fight with Dave Branch with a move reminiscent of his coach on "The Ultimate Fighter," Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Branch wrapped his legs around Harris, attempting to catch him in a triangle choke. Harris anticipated it, lifted Branch into the air and then slammed him to the mat.
Branch was out immediately upon hitting the canvas. Even though referee Herb Dean was several feet away, Harris recognized that Branch was out and did not hit him on the ground.
The time of the knockout was 2:35 of the third round.
"We trained that triangle scenario and I knew he was going to go for it," Harris said. "So I worked on staying out of those in practice."
Daniel Roberts rebounded from a violent knockout loss to John Howard in March in his last outing by winning a split decision over Forrest Petz. All three judges had it 29-28, with two giving it to Roberts and one to Petz.
Roberts had Petz in a rear naked choke for the final 20-25 seconds of the first round, then had the man nicknamed "The Meat Cleaver" in a guillotine in the waning seconds of Round 2.
"I was definitely rocked by a couple of his shots," said Roberts, who took several of them late in the second round. "He's a really tough guy. I'm surprised at his submission defense. My plan was to take him down and submit him, but he had really good rear-naked choke defense."
In the night's opening match, Jon Madsen won a dreadfully dull affair by using his wrestling to take Karlos Vemola down and then control him on the ground. Madsen won a unanimous decision by 30-27 scores.
"I knew that he was going to come out hard at me in the first minute and try and bully me," Madsen said. "But I train with a lot of big guys, like Brock Lesnar and Chris Tuchscherer, who helped me get ready."