LAS VEGAS -- The fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center came to UFC 156 on Saturday night expecting fireworks in a heavyweight feature. And they got them.
In a stunning finish, heavyweight Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva scored a crushing third-round knockout of controversial Dutch kick-boxer Alistair Overeem.
Overeem was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission in 2012 after failing a random steroids test. Saturday night marked Overeem's return, and he sported a noticeably less-defined physique than in previous years.
Still, Overeem (36-12), one no-contest) won both of the first two rounds by dictating the tempo. In the third, though, a fired-up Silva came out swinging and connected with a huge right to the back to the ear. It was simply a matter of time from there, as Silva landed punch after thunderous punch before referee Herb Dean stopped it at 25 seconds of the round.
The decisive finish, after a week of heated trash talk between the two, satisfied Silva.
"After I knocked him out, I was yelling at him 'Let's go! I want more ... come fight!'" said Silva (18-4), a native of Brazil who has relocated to Coconut Creek, Fla. "It really bothered me that he hasn't respected me in interviews leading up to the fight. He talked a lot of trash and I told him that I'd make him respect me tonight."
At light heavyweight, veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira scored an upset victory over former champion Rashad Evans (17-3-1). Evans, fighting for the first time since losing to current champion Jon Jones in April, managed to take the first round with a late takedown.
But the 36-year old Nogueira, who was competing for the first time in 14 months, found his groove in the past two rounds. He played a smart defensive game and effectively countered everything that Evans, a former Michigan State wrestling standout, could throw at him. The three judges each scored the bout 29-28 in favor of Nogueira (21-5), a Brazilian now based in Gardena, Calif.
Demian Maia made a statement about his place in the welterweight pecking order, manhandling one of the division's toughest customers in veteran Jon Fitch. The 35-year-old Sao Paulo resident outgrappled Fitch, a former captain of the Purdue wrestling team, for a one-sided unanimous-decision victory.
Maia, a jiu-jitsu specialist, nearly finished Fitch with a rear-naked choke in the second round. That was the only deviation from a game plan that involved taking Fitch down repeatedly and staying on his back.
Maia (18-4) earned across-the-board 30-27 scores from the judges. He's 3-0 since dropping down from middleweight. Fitch (24-4-1, 1 no-contest) is 1-2-1 in his past four.
"The game plan was to control him," Maia said. "I thought that when I got his back I was going to be able to submit him, but he has very good defense. I think when I went for the takedown he was surprised. I kept him off his game and that's what won me that fight."
In the main-card opener, flyweight Joseph Benavidez of Sacramento, Calif., posted a unanimous decision in a scrap with "Uncle Creepy" Ian McCall.
Benavidez's speed and precision striking made the difference in the first round. In the second, McCall (11-4-1), of Irvine, Calif., wore Benavidez down and scored a takedown in the final minute. But Benavidez regrouped in the final round, dictated the tempo and again got the best of the striking battle.
Benavidez (17-3) won for the fifth time in his past six fights. His only loss in that span was to Demetrious Johnson in September, in a match that determined the UFC's first 125-pound champion.
Benavidez believes he made the case for a Johnson rematch.
"It was 1-1 going into the final five minutes and I had to go out there and take it," Benavidez said. "You always want a title shot because that's what we're all working for. I had an impressive win over a top guy, but I want to continue to grow and be ready when the time comes to take that shot again."