Rockhold didn't get off to the best start in the fight, as Branch tagged him with a hard combination against the cage in the early going.
"We've seen Luke finish people with that and put people in trouble".
Branch began very aggressively, initially catching Rockhold off guard. After getting in the clinch, he was able to take Branch to the ground and easily had full mount for punches. A late takedown from Rockhold to close out the round saw the momentum shift, and also gave everyone an indication what was to come next. "I might have. They posted (my knockout of Jake Ellenberger) this week and said it was the 'Knockout of the Week.' He might have seen that and replayed it in his head".
Kamaru Usman, the No. 13 welterweight, knocked out Sergio Moraes with a straight right hand to the jaw in the first round.
"He's the true champion right now", Rockhold said of Whittaker.
Daniel Spitz and Mike Perry picked up first-round TKO victories over Anthony Hamilton and Alex Reyes respectively. "So, we'll see what happens", added Rockhold, before suggesting that he would be willing to step in and replace St-Pierre on short-notice if necessary. As evidenced in his fight with Weidman, Rockhold skills on the ground are formidable even against accomplished grapplers.
"In this fight he has all his weapons".
On the preliminary card, No. 14 middleweight Uriah Hall came back from an ugly first round to knock out No. 10 Krzysztof Jotko. He'll scowl and glower over a loss that he won't get to revenge. Perry was originally scheduled to fight Thiago Alves, who backed out of the fight due to travel concerns related to Hurricane Irma.
The middleweight division is drastically different since last June, but the outspoken former champion still carries the star power to make waves with a win on Saturday. Moraes got back to his feet, but his left leg appeared to be compromised.
Stylistically, the X factor will come down to the condition of Rockhold after his layoff.
It was a case of Rockhold attempting to use his moment on the microphone to will into existence the future he desperately wants. The winner moves forward at 185, a feat that has never been more important in the division.
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