Vitor Belfort beats Henderson early

Originally Published: November 8, 2013
By Brett Okamoto and Josh Gross | ESPN.com

Ladies and gentlemen, Vitor Belfort has done it again.

Belfort (24-10) recorded his third consecutive knockout victory on Saturday, finishing Dan Henderson with a nasty left head kick just 1:17 into the first round of their light heavyweight contest at UFC Fight Night 32 in Goiania, Brazil.

It marked the first time Henderson (29-11) has been knocked out in a professional career that dates back to 1997. It's also the first time he's ever been finished in the opening five minutes of a fight.

"First thing I'd like to say is believe in yourselves whenever someone tells you that you can't do something," Belfort said.

Belfort now has fought five times as a professional in his native Brazil, and he's recorded a knockout in each.

This latest might be the most impressive, considering Henderson's long list of credentials.

A counter left uppercut by Belfort rocked Henderson early when the former Olympic wrestler moved forward with his signature right hand. Henderson fell to his back and tried to recover, but Belfort swarmed with hammerfists and short left hands.

Dazed, Henderson managed to get back to his feet but was immediately dropped again by a Belfort left head kick. That was all referee Dan Miragliotta needed to see, as he pulled Belfort off for his 17th career knockout win.

The loss is Henderson's third in a row, all of which occurred this year. He had been scheduled to fight Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title in 2012, but that bout fell through when Henderson suffered a last-minute knee injury.

Prior to this loss, Henderson dropped back-to-back split decision defeats to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.

Belfort now looks the part of the clear No. 1 contender at 185 pounds. His two previous knockout victories came against top 10-ranked opponents Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold. Belfort was the No. 3-ranked middleweight in the world heading into this bout, according to ESPN.com, behind only UFC champion Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva.

Belfort, 36, came up short in a middleweight title bid against Silva in February 2011, suffering a first-round knockout loss.

Ferreira wrestles past Sarafian

Cezar Ferreira continues to make a strong impression in the UFC middleweight division, as he edged Daniel Sarafian via split decision for his third Octagon victory.

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesCezar Ferreira, facing, outfought Daniel Sarafian both on the feet and on the ground.

Ferreira (7-2) survived a few scary moments on his feet and showcased an impressive offensive wrestling game, outpointing Sarafian via judges' scores of 30-27 and 30-28. The final judge scored it 29-28 for Sarafian.

Sarafian (8-4) stalked early, pushing Ferreira to the fence in the opening minutes of the fight. He landed an early jab/straight right combination that brought a response from the crowd.

Somewhat surprisingly, Ferreira responded to Sarafian's aggressiveness with a steady dose of takedowns. He took Sarafian, his former teammate on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series, down in the first round, although struggled to keep him there.

That changed as the fight continued. Ferreira scored an early double-leg takedown in the second round and landed a few strikes from Sarafian's guard. Sarafian worked to his feet and landed another right hand, but Ferreira answered with a crucial takedown that sealed him the round and nearly set up an arm triangle submission.

Things continued to go Ferreira's way in the final frame, as a tiring Sarafian struggled to stay on his feet. He caught a break when referee Mario Yamasaki stood the fight up, but immediately forfeited another takedown once action resumed.

Ferreira, a protégé of Belfort, has been perfect since winning the inaugural Brazilian version of TUF in 2012. The 28-year-old trains alongside Belfort with the Blackzilians in Miami.

Pokrajac engages Cavalcante, pays the price

Igor Pokrajac chose to push the pace early against Rafael Cavalcante -- and he paid for it.

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRafael ''Fejao'' Cavalcante endured several tense moments before overcoming Igor Pokrajac.

Cavalcate (12-4) earned his first win in the UFC, finishing Pokrajac via submission to strikes in the first round of their light heavyweight contest. Referee Kevin MacDonald called a stop just 78 seconds into the bout.

Pokrajac (25-11) set a fast pace from the opening bell, but Cavalcante was ready for it. He landed an early counter right that slowed Pokrajac's attack, but the Croatian continued to press forward with a takedown attempt moments later.

Cavalcante, a former 205-pound Strikeforce champion, put his back on the fence and defended the shot.

He would hurt Pokrajac shortly after, securing a Thai clinch and leveling him with a knee up the middle. Pokrajac was stunned by the knee to the chin and turtled near the fence. The referee gave him opportunity to recover, but it was pretty much over, as Cavalcante landed a few follow-up strikes to force the finish.

"I was very well prepared," Cavalante said. "I think I was lacking dedication, and I fixed it. I reset my goals, and I started it differently.

"Fighting here in Brazil is priceless, having the Brazilian crowd and this energy. All of my friends are here. Half this arena is here to see me. I'm the best 'Feijão' I've ever been."

It's a nice rebound win for Cavalcante, who lost his UFC debut to Thiago Silva in June. Pokrajac suffers his second consecutive defeat. The 34-year-old's last win came via decision against Fabio Maldonado in May 2012.

Thatch dispatches Thiago with ease

If Brandon Thatch intended to make a statement upon entering the UFC welterweight division, mission accomplished.

The 28-year-old Coloradan scored his second straight first-round finish in the UFC -- making that 11 stoppages before the 5-minute mark, totaling 14 minutes, 43 seconds of cage time -- by beating Paulo Thiago.

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesBrandon Thatch, right, made quick work of a hapless Paulo Thiago.

Thatch stalked Thiago from the start because that's what he does. The 32-year-old Brazilian, best known in the UFC for his knockout of Josh Koscheck in 2009, faced an uphill climb against the lanky, kick-happy American.

Outside of a brief takedown off a lead knee, and a right hand that prompted a hematoma above Thatch's left eye, Thiago didn't accomplish a whole lot.

"The only place I really felt threatened by him was on the ground," Thatch said. "I didn't want to be there. I knew that's where he wanted to get me. He landed some really hard shots. Dangerous dude. It was an honor. I was just scared of the takedown, and that's what I was practicing."

Two minutes into the fight, Thatch followed up a right kick to the body with a devastating knee to the Brazilian's liver. Thiago crumbled onto the canvas, tapping instantly.

The tone of the victory was undeniable, even if it came against a fighter who lost four of six fights coming into the contest.

"I'm happy with the win, but I feel I got a little sloppy towards the end there," Thatch said. "I want to take the next couple of months to get back to basics and get more disciplined.

"I am happy with the win, though. When I heard the cheers for Paulo, I pretended it was for me."

Thatch elevated his record to 11-1. Thiago fell to 15-6.

LaFlare outpaces and outlasts Ponzinibbio

Ryan LaFlare maintained a hellish pace for 15 minutes to take a well-earned unanimous decision over UFC debutant Santiago Ponzinibbio.

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRyan LaFlare's pace and mix of kicks and punches helped see him past Santiago Ponzinibbio.

The unbeaten 30-year-old American went after his Argentine foe from the start, moving forward on his feet with pressure and pace, while carrying on similarly on the ground.

Ponzinibbio couldn't sustain momentum, though he found moments that only inspired LaFlare into quick, decisive counters. In the opening round, for example, LaFlare repelled Ponzinibbio's back-control, outscrambled the Argentine, and popped him in the mouth right a right hand. Otherwise he took dominant positions and hammered down elbows and punches.

The Argentine did better in the second, engaging in wild scrambles while scoring on an uppercut that forced LaFlare to retreat. These were positive stretches, though they weren't enough to earn respect from the judges, who each scored it 30-27 for LaFlare. ESPN.com had it the same.

The third round delivered five minutes of scrambling madness, as each man landed blows and takedowns. One exchange saw Ponzinibbio punch himself into an omoplata sweep by LaFlare that was as entertaining as it was beautiful.

LaFlare won his second straight inside the Octagon, and moved to 9-0 overall in the welterweight division. Ponzinibbio, 27, fell to 18-2.

Stephens blasts though Bezzera

Jeremy Stephens knew coming in that Rony "Jason" Bezzera had the bad habit of ducking his head while throwing wild rights. So the 27-year-old Iowan watched for it, saw it, and timed it perfectly -- finishing a mere 40 seconds after the opening bell.

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRony "Jason" Bezzera never managed to get started before he found himself unconscious.

Stephens stalked Jason from the opening bell and utilized his heavy hands and strong kicks to chip away at the Brazilian.

Bezzera was out on his feet after Stephens planted a high kick to his jaw, and he certainly didn't need the diving right hand -- picture Henderson's finish of Michael Bisping -- that came behind it.

MacDonald immediately stepped in to rescue the unconscious Bezzera.

"I didn't expect it to end like that, but I'm excited it did," Stephens said. "I was able to use faints to set him up and he did, so I was able to time my kick perfectly. It was all technique I worked on with my coaches."

With the win, the hard-striking Stephens moves to 22-9. Bezzera falls to 13-4.

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