A new era began in the UFC featherweight division Saturday.
Interim champion Max Holloway knocked out champ Jose Aldo in the third round in the main event of UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro to unify the 145-pound title with a spectacular performance.
“I’ve been telling you guys this is the ‘Blessed’ era,” said Holloway, alluding to his nickname after his 11th straight win. “How about that?”
After a slow start, Holloway started to find his rhythm in the second round. That was clear once the third round began and Holloway opened up his offense.
He dropped Aldo with a three-punch combo and never let him back up. Holloway smothered Aldo and didn’t let him rest on the ground, as he landed punches every time Aldo tried to find room to breathe.
Eventually he trapped Aldo on all fours and landed hard right hands until the fight was stopped midway through the third round.
Aldo was the only champion in the featherweight division until he was knocked out by Conor McGregor in December 2015. McGregor never defended the title, and Aldo won the interim belt with a win over Frankie Edgar in July 2016.
Aldo was promoted to champion, and Holloway won the interim title with a win over Anthony Pettis in December when it became clear McGregor wasn’t returning to featherweight.
Holloway’s victory clears up the title picture. He hopes it also opens the door for a UFC event in his home state.
“It’s time for UFC Hawaii,” he said. “Make it happen, UFC.”
Top women’s strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha solidified her spot atop the rankings by making quick work of former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Gadelha secured a takedown in the first round and eventually a rear-naked choke to force Kowalkiewicz to tap out.
Gadelha might have earned another shot at champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk but has more pressing concerns first.
“I’m buying a nice car and a fancy dog,” she said.
Gadelha has been spending her training camps in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and plans to relocate there full time. She said she thinks her work there has transformed her game.
“This is the new Claudia,” she said. “It’s going to be (expletive) hard to beat me.”
Veteran middleweight Vitor Belfort might have convinced himself he still has more left by winning a unanimous decision over Nate Marquardt in what was billed as his retirement bout.
Belfort landed a barrage of shots early in the second round and was more active than Marquardt in the third to overcome long stretches of inactivity.
“I’ve got five more fights to go, guys,” Belfort said.
Rising Brazilian star Paulo Borrachinha improved to 10-0 overall and 2-0 in the UFC with a second-round knockout of middleweight Oluwale Bamgbose. It was the first time an opponent had survived the first round against Borrachinha.
Welterweight Yancy Medeiros improved to 2-0 since moving up to 170 pounds with a second-round knockout of Erick Silva in the first fight on the main card.
Las Vegan Jamie Moyle and Eric Spicely lost to Brazilians on the preliminary card.
Moyle dropped a decision to undefeated women’s flyweight prospect Viviane Pereira, and Spicely was submitted by jiu-jitsu world champion Antonio Carlos Junior in the second round of a middleweight bout.
Also on the preliminary card, bantamweight veteran Raphael Assuncao spoiled the UFC debut of former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes with a split-decision victory. Matthew Lopez, Brian Kelleher, Luan Chagas and Deiveson Figueiredo also picked up wins.
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UFC 212 main card
— Max Holloway def. Jose Aldo, TKO, third round (4:13), to unify the UFC featherweight title
— Claudia Gadelha def. Karolina Kowalkiewicz, submission, first round (3:03), women’s strawweights
— Vitor Belfort def. Nate Marquardt, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), middleweights
— Paulo Borrachinha def. Oluwale Bamgbose, TKO, second round (1:06), middleweights
— Yancy Medeiros def. Erick Silva, KO, second round (2:01), welterweights