The first trilogy ever to play out on the Strikeforce Challengers Series came to a definitive end Friday, as Bobby Voelker scored a knockout win over Roger Bowling in the second round of their main event fight in Las Vegas.
It was far from a perfect fight for Voelker (24-8), who entered the second round down on all three judges scorecards. He struggled matching the speed of Bowling (9-2) in the first and absorbed a number of left hooks and body kicks.
It was, however, a perfect knee Voelker landed early in the second frame. After staggering back a few steps, Bowling crumpled near the fence where the fight was eventually stopped 2:16 into the round.
"I have some good knees. I get them pretty high," Voelker said. "I saw him step back kind of wobbly so I went in for the kill.
"It's a great win, but no, I'm not happy. We train hard to get in and out. I started stalking him instead."
After dominating early, Bowling employed a puzzling change of strategy in the second round. Instead of re-establishing his range and dictating the standup, he turned to the clinch in an effort to get Voelker to the ground.
It was a costly mistake for the 28-year-old, who admitted he abandoned his game plan following the loss.
"I was just talking to my corner about that," Bowling said. "I think I clinched up and was working on the cage too much. I got a little too comfortable, I guess. I got off my game plan."
After facing each other three times in the past 14 months, the two welterweights will now finally move on to other opportunities.
Riding a three-fight win streak, Voelker is looking forward to a chance to prove himself in high-profile fights. Bowling, meanwhile, is likely looking at another date on the Challengers series.
"I think there were a couple stars that really shined tonight," said Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. "I think Bobby Voelker stood out and rose his stock."
In addition to the main event, former women's welterweight champion Sarah Kaufman (14-1) turned in a convincing unanimous decision win over Liz Carmouche (5-2).
Carmouche did a nice job of slowing the pace early, putting her weight on Kaufman in the clinch and bottling things up against the fence. As the fight drew on, however, Kaufman created space and started picking Carmouche apart. All three judges ended up scoring it a shutout, 30-27.
"The first round was a lot closer than I wanted it to be," Kaufman said. "My game plan was to break off the cage and get that distance. I really think that distance and length came in the second and third rounds. I felt really good about the strikes I landed."
The win moves Kaufman one step closer to a second shot at current champion Marloes Coenen, who submitted her with an armbar in their title fight last October. Coenen is scheduled to defend the title against Miesha Tate later this month.
"I think a title is always important," said Kaufman, on the potential rematch. "But for me, it's about avenging that loss and winning. I love to win."
Brett Okamoto covers mixed martial arts for ESPN.com.