LAS VEGAS, May 26 – Perhaps a Dana White tweet said it best, “Welcome back Dan Hardy.” Chronically plagued with questions about losing four straight fights, and facing a “must-win” predicament Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, former No. 1 contender Dan Hardy rediscovered his mojo with a textbook left hook that dropped Duane Ludwig and carried him to a first-round knockout.
It was a compelling and exciting fight for all 3 minutes and 51 seconds that it lasted. Back and forth they went, trading heavy shots (no pitter-patter in this one). Early on, in fact, Ludwig landed a nice straight right that briefly forced Hardy to retreat and seek out a clinch. Hardy has worked feverishly with highly acclaimed grappling instructor Ricky Lundell on his wrestling, but could not take the action to the canvas. Yet, at the very least, his improved wrestling and grappling since relocating to Las Vegas made the Brit seem multi-dimensional for the first time in a long time. The 30-year-old fought like a man who was comfortable wherever the fight went and his standup – which in the past could be characterized as instinctive brawling – seemed much more fluid and purposeful.
The end came suddenly: Hardy unleashed a near-perfect left hook – his most faithful weapon—and down went Ludwig. Hardy briefly admired his work by hoisting his arms in the air (perhaps thinking Ludwig was out), only to look down and see that Ludwig was discombobulated but still kicking. So Hardy followed up with several well-placed elbows to the face, putting Ludwig out and forcing the stoppage.
Hardy euphorically erupted about the cage, then kissed the Octagon in celebration. One of Britain’s most popular fighters, as well as one of the sport’s most colorful and exciting fighters, was back.
“It’s good to be back,” Hardy said afterward. “One thing about this fight is it’s a little bittersweet. Duane has been a bit of a hero to me. I’ve always admired him, I’ve always respected him.”
DARREN ELKINS VS. DIEGO BRANDAO
Darren Elkins’ coaches offered him this advice leading up to his featherweight bout against Diego Brandao, season 14 winner of The Ultimate Fighter: “He comes out hard and swinging and fights with a lot of emotion. You gotta survive the first two or three minutes and then find a rhythm.”
The strategy worked to perfection, though it did require Elkins (15-2) to weather a furious storm from Brandao in the first round. The action saw Brandao cracking the Indianan with bombs, a thundering flying knee and a diving right hand to Elkins’ grill while he was on his back and trying to play guard.
But as the fight wore on, in rounds two and three, Brandao’s output did begin to fall and Elkins opportunistically imposed his wrestling takedowns and top control. In the second round, in particular, Elkins mounted the Brazilian and whaled away with a barrage of heavy shots. In the third frame, Elkins again controlled on top for most of the round, sealing the deal.
Judges scored it 29-28 across the board for Elkins.
JAMIE VARNER VS. EDSON BARBOZA
Rightly or wrongly, Jamie Varner has attracted his fair share of “haters” who have questioned his heart under heavy fire. Once upon a time the Arizona lightweight had held the prestigious World Extreme Cagefighting belt; a string of tough losses later, the 27-year-old dropped off the big stage radar.
The Prodigal Son, five years after he last fought in the UFC, returned home Saturday night, but as a substantial 4-to-1 underdog to unbeaten Edson Barboza. Clearly many had mistook Varner as a sacrificial lamb of sorts, and they had reasons to pat themselves on the back early on as Barboza whacked away at Varner’s legs with potent leg kicks. Yet Varner ate those kicks and stayed aggressive, landing a flurry of shots then stunned the Brazilian. Smelling hurt, Varner scored a takedown and relentlessly teed off with a hail of punches, earning a referee stoppage.
Barboza immediately protested to the referee while Varner ran around the cage yelling “I’m back!!”
“Once you hit rock bottom you can really appreciate some of the places you been,” Varner said, so I really appreciate the UFC giving me a second chance. Barbosa is tough, he’s a scary dude. I didn’t care whether I won or lost, I just wanted to put on a show for the fans.”
Winner of four of his past five, Varner conceded he had plenty of nerves headed into this fight with the previously 10-0 Barboza. But he was inspired, he said, by his cornermen, who implored him to “Go be the wolf.”
“What that means: Go eat,” said Varner (20-6-1, 2 NC). “I can’t believe it’s me. I can’t believe I just beat Edson Barboza, a guy who was this monster in my mind.”
JASON MILLER VS. C.B. DOLLAWAY
Jason Miller presents himself as wild and carefree. But after dropping a three-round decision to C.B. Dollaway, the star of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown” looked to be quite sober in demeanor and probably in line for a lot of soul-searching regarding his career. Miller (34-10, 1 NC) showed glimpses in this one, stunning Dollaway with a punch in round one, and landing a sizzling overhand right in round two that made Dollaway do the so-called “chicken dance” about the cage.
But Dollaway (13-5) survived each scare, looked much-improved in his own boxing and rode his takedowns and top control to grind out a three-round unanimous decision by scores of 29-28, 30-26 and 29-28.
“I did what I had to do coming off hip surgery, so …,” Dollaway said.
JACOB VOLKMANN VS. PAUL SASS
Jacob Volkmann’s quest for a sixth straight win in the Octagon was denied, courtesy of unbeaten Sass and the lanky Brit’s trademark triangle submission. Volkmann, a top-shelf grappler and former All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota, got going early with takedowns. But daring to test Sass’s guard proved his undoing as Sass (13-0) swiftly locked in a deep triangle and then cranked the professional chiropractor’s arm for good measure, earning the tap at 1:54 of the opening stanza.
GLOVER TEIXEIRA VS. KYLE KINGSBURY
Based on first impressions, light heavyweight Glover Teixeira is going to be around for a while. The highly-touted Brazilian (18-2) made quick work of UFC veteran Kyle Kingsbury, choking the former Arizona State University football player out with an arm triangle at 1:53 of the first round.
Teixeira, victorious in 16 straight now, never offered the slightest glimmer of hope to Kingsbury in the bout, jumping out of the gate and cracking Kingsbury with hard overhand right after hard overhand right. Kingsbury (11-4) was wobbled early, and when he went to the canvas, Teixeira followed him there and dished out some very effective ground and pound before slipping in the fight-ending choke.
“It was a little bit of pressure, I tell you, man,” Teixeira said. “I felt, ‘I gotta win.’”
MIKE BROWN VS. DANIEL PINEDA
Mike Brown, the former WEC world champion at 145 pounds, outworked a very game Daniel Pineda en route to a unanimous decision victory.
The former collegiate wrestler was able to muscle Pineda to the canvas throughout the fast-paced fight, and effectively dished out some ground and pound. There were moments of splendor in the standup game, with both fighters winging and landing some hard shots.
Early in the second round, Pineda – who had won seven straight coming in — got the better of the banging, but midway through, Brown turned the tides with a torrent of hard uppercuts. The difference in that round was Brown’s ground-and-pound, opening a cut on Pineda (17-8). In the third round, Brown (26-8) dropped the Houstonite with a vicious knee to the body and retained top control for the bulk of the round. Pineda rallied in the last 90 seconds by reversing and taking Brown’s back, but was unable to capitalize or inflict much damage.
The 36-year-old Brown has now won two straight.