The stacked UFC 164 main card was graced by former UFC champions Frank Mir and Josh Barnett, former Strikeforce champion Clay Guida and former WEC champion Brandon Vera inside Milwaukee's Bradley Center; but it was featherweight contenders Chad Mendes and Dustin Poirier who made the most convincing arguments for future champion status in their dominant rounds.
Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett
After 12 years orbiting one another in the heavyweight division, two former UFC champions finally met in what turned out to be a one-sided, two-minute standup affair between submission wrestlers Frank Mir and Josh Barnett.
Barnett wasted no time coming forward with blows and knees, which Mir eagerly welcomed with uppercuts from the clinch. But Barnett was speedy to move things to the Octagon wall, where he used knees to do damage and then more knees to put Mir back on it when he spun out. From there Barnett pointed with elbows and body shots, knocking Mir’s mouthpiece onto the mat. Referee Rob Hines picked up the mouthpiece but did not call a pause to replace it, and in ensuing seconds, a knee from Barnett dropped Mir to the mat. One more right hand from Barnett got through and Hines waved it off at 1:56, to the protests of Mir and the very-vocal Milwaukee crowd.
"The Warmaster" has now won 10 of his last 11 and moves to 33-6 in his first UFC appearance since 2002. “It felt great to get this win here in the UFC," said Barnett, who gave a high-drama post-fight Octagon interview but was more straightforward afterward. "There’s always been a likelihood of me and Frank fighting, we were always in the top ten in our division; it just never quite worked out until tonight. I actually do feel that it was an early stoppage -- I would always prefer to get the clean finish." Mir loses his second in a row and falls to 16-8.
Chad Mendes vs. Clay Guida
Top-ranked featherweight Chad Mendes (14-1) matched Clay Guida’s high-energy style, then outwrestled and outstruck him for two rounds before becoming the first man to TKO Guida (30-11) early in the third.
Guida was kinetic and testing, as is the Guida way, with Mendes staying light on his feet to evade while looking for entrances. Mendes had to reach to connect and struggled with Guida’s movement, but a red welt on the left side of Guida’s face showed that Mendes succeeded at least in part. Guida shot for a takedown, but the pedigreed wrestler easily stuffed it and rolled with a tight guillotine until bouncing back to his feet. Late in the round it was Mendes who easily steamrolled his way to a mid-mat takedown, then threw elbows as Guida attempted to tie things up.
A smiling Mendes feinted fast for the second round and edged away from Guida’s long jabs and front kicks. Guida started to connect, including one square lob to Mendes’ groin that caused a short halt. Guida tried another takedown but Mendes sprawled and spun to back control, then kneed Guida from behind. Another takedown attempt from Guida got him pinned to the fence and punched. Then Mendes got his takedown and stayed heavy on top, threatening with an armlock before allowing Guida to stand. Mendes was on the winning side of an uppercut and a flurry against the fence before round two ended.
Fresh in the third, Mendes dropped Guida with a right, then capitalized with followups against the cage. When Guida stood, he was trapped quarry for the Duane Ludwig-trained athlete, who attacked with a left, dropped him with a right and threw power shots until the ref pushed him off 30 seconds into the stanza.
The win is Mendes’ fourth straight knockout win, with his only loss coming against then- and current divisional champion Jose Aldo. “I have made as big of a statement as I possibly could in this division," said Mendes, whose runner-up records for most victories and most T/KOs in the division are topped only by Aldo. "I wanted a TKO knockout very badly and I got it. I knew it was my best bet and after the first big hit, I knew he was out of it.”
> Watch: Chad Mendes' post-fight interview
Ben Rothwell vs. Brandon Vera
Kenosha, Wisconsin native Ben Rothwell used Brandon Vera’s own Muay Thai game against him, using knees to spoil Vera’s return to heavyweight via third-round TKO.
Vera started out with the pressure, but as soon as he moved in with a low kick, Rothwell opened with a combination that sent him backward. Vera touched Rothwell with a right hand and a resounding body kick, but having tasted the best he had, Rothwell took on the role of predator, calmly walking the southpaw Vera down. Caught against the fence, Vera connected with hard lefts that bought him space, but Rothwell remained on the hunt. The final minute saw almost no contact save a loping low kick that hit Vera below the belt and gave both men an early break.
Round two was more of the same but more evenly matched than the first. The two traded hard low kicks and Rothwell launched a headkick in the second before trying to unload and being clinched by Vera. Vera earned space with a hard elbows when cornered by Rothwell and started putting together body-targeting kick-punch combinations. The Muay Thai-trained Vera tried his own headkicks, landing the second, and even dove twice for takedowns.
It was Rothwell who moved Vera backward with a body kick in the third, but again when he moved forward, Vera tied him up on the cage. Referee Herb Dean restarted the action in the center where Rothwell, frustrated by Vera’s constant clinching on the cage, began switching stances, bobbing up and down and then charging forward for a takedown. The approach confused Vera for long enough that Rothwell could unleash a knee followed by a series of uppercuts and a second knee that dropped Vera and ended the bout at 1:54.
The finish was Rothwell’s 23rd career KO, as he moves to 33-9 over all. “I think the best of me came out in that third round tonight,” he said. “I still got some things to do, but I've got a great training facility, coaches and training partners. I've also watched my diet and tonight, I was just here to do work.” San Diego’s Vera slides to 12-7, 1 NC in his 16th Octagon appearance.
> Watch: Ben Rothwell's post-fight interview
Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier
Two WEC vets opened the UFC 164 main card with a featherweight thriller, a fitting bookend for an event headlined by the rematch of an epic WEC event. Sixth-ranked featherweight Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier shone early, earning himself a unanimous decision over tenth-ranked Erik Koch, a Milwaukee local and the third of four Duke Roufus-trained fighters on the card.
Mirror images in age (24) and separated by one inch in height, the southpaws came out fast and furious trading low kicks. Poirier dropped Koch with a short fist, then followed him to the mat with ground-and-pound before landing in a tight Koch triangle less than 90 seconds in. But he spun and pulled his way out, looking to reset in guard and stack Koch, who’d again isolated an arm. Eventually they rose, with Poirier gesturing Koch forward, only to be bulled into the Octagon. Poirier hurt Koch again with a series of strikes, and dropped him outright with another right. Poirier followed up with more strikes on the ground, took him down again, and ended the round with a deep arm triangle choke.
Poirier continued to dictate in the second, with Koch defending with jabs but otherwise on his heels. Poirier used a bodylock to throw Koch down again and stuck to his back as he tried to stand. As Koch squirmed to defend, he found himself mounted by Poirier against the fence. As if it weren’t a bad enough sequence for Koch, rising to his feet against the fence dragged his Muay Thai shorts sliding down his legs. Poirier controlled the clinch against the fence and hit a clean left on the break.
Koch was far from defeated and came out for the third popping hard left jabs, but the same strike from Poirier connected with enough force to be heard throughout the floor. They traded knees against the cage, with Poirier working from the outside for a single before Koch pushed forward to the ground into his opponent’s guard. Koch landed elbows as BJJ brown belt Poirier tried for an armbar, but Koch’s nasty Muay Thai elbows opened a cut on Poirier’s face. He then took Poirier’s back as the Louisiana native turtled, stood, and tried to shake Koch off over the top. Koch locked a body triangle and got one arm under Poirier’s chin with ten seconds to go, but was unable to finish.
Scores were 29-28 29-27 and 29-27 for American Top Team’s Poirier (14-3), who admitted after that he was close to going to sleep in the early triangle. “I was dominant in the first two rounds, but I made a mistake in the third and he capitalized,” said Poirier. “I feel like I’m still right there in the contender fight. I'd like to fight Cub Swanson or have a re-match with the Zombie [Chan Sung Jung].” Koch’s defeat marks the first time he’s lost two in a row in his career (13-3;2-2 in the UFC and 3-1 in the WEC).
> Watch: Dustin Poirier's post-fight interview