- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was just Tim Kennedy's night.
A decorated service member in the U.S. Army, Kennedy (17-4) scored one of the biggest wins of his career at a special UFC event held Wednesday inside a military base at Fort Campbell, Ky.
A perfectly placed lead left hook scored Kennedy a knockout victory against fellow UFC middleweight Rafael Natal. Referee Herb Dean stepped in with just 20 seconds remaining in the round, handing Kennedy his first knockout win since 2007.
"Moments before I threw the left hook, I heard [my coaches] -- they called for it," Kennedy said.
"Instinctively, I listened. I did what they want. At [Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts], we want finishes. This is what we do; we finish fights."
Kennedy trains under coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, among others, in Albuquerque, N.M. He fought for the Strikeforce 185-pound title in August 2010 but came up short in a decision loss to then-champion Ronaldo Souza.
A few more victories like Wednesday's, and Kennedy could find himself fighting for the UFC title.
The 34-year-old got off to a sort of rigid start -- understandable, considering the atmosphere. Kennedy has a strong military background as an Army Ranger and a Green Berets sniper.
Moments into the UFC Fight Night 31 main event, the crowd started a loud chant of "Ranger up." Natal (17-5-1), however, dictated the majority of the first round. He threw his punches in combinations, landing an early left hook at the end of a three-punch series. At one point, he swept Kennedy off his feet with a leg kick.
Kennedy remained calm and continued to walk Natal down, as is his style. With less than 30 seconds remaining in the round, Kennedy landed the left hook to Natal's chin that dropped him along the fence.
Dean gave Natal a chance to recover, but he was out cold from the initial shot. After two follow-up punches from Kennedy, Dean moved in to stop the contest, much to the joy of the crowd.
"I'm 100 percent overwhelmed," Kennedy told the crowd. "Your guys' job is infinitely harder than anything I can do in here. You guys are my heroes."
Kennedy improves to 2-0 in the UFC middleweight division. He recorded a one-sided unanimous decision over submission specialist Roger Gracie at UFC 162 in July.
Natal, who had been on a three-fight win streak, falls to 5-3-1 in the Octagon. He replaced Lyoto Machida on short notice in this fight, when Machida was moved by the UFC to another card.
Davis outwits Carmouche
Davis (15-5) terrorized Carmouche's lead leg with an inside kick throughout the 15-minute contest. That kick opened other offensive opportunities for Davis, who took the bout by scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
The volume of Davis' leg kicks had Carmouche wincing in the second round and overcompensating defensively by the third. Any time Davis would move into range late in the fight, Carmouche raised her right leg out of harm's way, robbing her of punching power and mobility.
It was Carmouche (9-4) who started the fight off with kicks, peppering Davis on the outside with strikes from her lead leg.
It wasn't long before Davis had turned that momentum, though, as she stalked Carmouche around the cage. An early exchange in the second round produced a cut over Davis' left eye, but that only seemed to push the Canadian bantamweight more. Recognizing the effectiveness of her kicks, she began leading with them and following with punches.
A late takedown in the middle frame by Davis cemented the round for her, and she carried that momentum into the third.
Carmouche responded bravely, firing back with counter right hands off one leg, but Davis dominated down the stretch.
Davis is now 2-0 in the UFC, including a decision win against Rosi Sexton in June.
"I feel like I'm on a high right now," Davis said. "She is such a tough fighter and all of her losses are super close, so I knew I was in for a really challenging fight.
"All the pressure was on her fighting in front of the troops, but I relish the underdog role. This was a big win for me. I can't wait to get back out there and perhaps fight for the title in the near future."
Carmouche, who fought Ronda Rousey at UFC 157 for the inaugural women's title, falls to 1-2 in the Octagon.
Romero blasts through Markes
World-class wrestler Yoel Romero is proving to be a pretty solid striker, too.
Romero, 36, added another knockout to his martial arts résumé, dropping Ronny Markes with a hard left hand at the 1:39 mark of the third round.
Romero (6-1), who won a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics as a member of the Cuban wrestling team, has recorded knockouts in all six of his MMA wins. He began fighting professionally in 2009.
The straight left landed early and often for the southpaw Romero, who is now 2-0 in the UFC. It started to find its mark in the first round and then really dominated Markes in the second and third.
Surprisingly, Markes (14-2) scored multiple takedowns in the fight, but he was mostly ineffective from top position. He appeared a little tired in the second round, especially after Romero dropped him midway through with a body kick.
Markes managed to find a second wind late that round, however, catching Romero with a couple of haymakers, including a step-in right, moments before the horn.
That late rally mattered little when Romero dropped the hammer early in the final round, handing Markes his first loss since October 2010. The 25-year-old falls to 3-1 in the Octagon.
"I want to give thanks to the U.S. for the opportunities they have given me in my career," Romero said after the bout. "I am an optimistic person and I knew I could overcome anything. It is a great blessing to be fighting in front of the troops of such a great country. I am very proud right now."
Khabilov shows new wrinkle in arsenal
Violent takedowns had been Rustam Khabilov's greatest weapon in the UFC thus far. He showed a new one in his latest win Wednesday.
Khabilov (17-1) remained unbeaten in the UFC with a unanimous decision over Jorge Masvidal. All three judges scored the lightweight bout for Khabilov, 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
Known primarily as a physical grappler, Khabilov pulled an awkward, spinning wheel kick out of nowhere in the final round to drop Masvidal. He also opened the fight by landing a winging overhand right.
Masvidal (25-8) proved to be an extremely tough out, however -- as has been the case his entire career. After absorbing several hard right hands early in the fight, the American Top Team product started to establish his defense and find his own range. He also did a phenomenal job of stuffing Khabilov's takedown attempts.
The Russian lightweight had finished his two previous UFC opponents by slamming them forcefully to the canvas. Masvidal, though, sprawled on one takedown attempt after another, which had Khabilov visibly exhausted late in the fight.
That fatigue didn't stop Khabilov from landing the strike of the night. Backing up to the cage, Khabilov broke into a sort of delayed spin, landing his heel to the chin of Masvidal, who dropped his hands to protect the body.
Masvidal recovered quickly but couldn't make up the lost ground. He attempted his own spinning back kick later in the round, but Khabilov saw it coming and managed to take him down in the middle of it.
"This was a hard night, hard fight and hard training went into this camp," Khabilov said. "This was the best camp I've ever had. I've been working on the 'Tiger' kick you saw me land with my coaches. I'm happy I was able to use it in the fight. I'm very happy with my work tonight."
Khabilov is now 3-0 since signing with the UFC last year. A 27-year-old prospect who trains under Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, N.M., Khabilov's only professional loss came via split decision in February 2011.
Masvidal sees a three-fight win streak snapped and suffers his first UFC loss.
Chiesa overcomes adversity to stop Smith
Both lightweights had opportunities to finish the other in the first round. Smith (3-3) scored the fight's first takedown with an early slam, but Chiesa executed a quick sweep and moved straight to Smith's back.
Smith, an active-duty solider in the U.S. Army, showcased terrific submission defense. At one point, he gave a thumbs-up to referee Gary Copeland, despite a heavy neck crank being applied by Chiesa from his back.
Chiesa (10-1) eventually lost the position and surrendered his back in a scramble. Smith nearly submitted him with a rear-naked choke from the standing position, but Chiesa broke the hold by slamming his opponent to the canvas.
The finish came early in the second round. After moving to a clinch along the fence, Chiesa took Smith down with a strong hip toss, which planted Smith headfirst. Clearly dazed from the fall, Smith failed to prevent Chiesa from taking his back again and submitting him quickly with the choke.
"I felt like this was a fight to defend my 'Ultimate Fighter' title," Chiesa said. "He was a champ, I was a champ, this was a big fight for me. Also, to do it in front of the troops was a huge honor. Colton is one of their guys, and I'm overwhelmed by the support they still gave me."
Chiesa, winner of the 15th season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series, rebounds nicely from his first professional loss, a second-round submission defeat to Jorge Masvidal in July.
Smith, a TUF 16 champion, falls to 1-2 in the Octagon.