The bout marked the first time that Rockhold has fought since losing the UFC middleweight championship to Michael Bisping in June 2016. It didn't take him long to remember how to dominate a fight.
Branch immediately looked to close the distance with his opponent and force him to the fence. The 35-year-old also had success landing combinations on the inside, breaking his own clinch. However, the former champion made it an interesting round with the late-round surge, including a takedown.
Josh Gross of The Guardian summed up the round for Branch:
The second round looked a lot like the first at the outset but turned in Rockhold's favor much earlier. The American Kickboxing Academy product turned Branch's pressure against him in the second frame and scored his takedown much earlier.
Then he reminded everyone that the bottom is no place to fight Luke Rockhold.
He wasted nearly no time in transitioning to mount. Branch gave up his back in response, and the former UFC champion went to work with ground-and-pound that ultimately drew the tap from Branch.
It was the kind of performance that reminded fans and fighters alike how dominant Rockhold can be. Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting reacted accordingly:
After the fight, Rockhold did his best to inject himself into the middleweight title talks. He called out Georges St-Pierre, pleading with him to drop out of his scheduled November bout with champion Michael Bisping.
Chamatkar Sandhu of MMAjunkie passed along the quote from the post-fight interview:
The main event capped off an interesting night of fights marked by strong finishes. From Anthony Smith to Kamaru Usman, plenty of fighters made bold statements in their personal quests to climb the hierarchy in their respective divisions.
Here's a quick rundown of all the results from Pittsburgh followed by a closer look at all of the main card action.
UFC Fight Night 116 Quick Results
Main Card on Fox Sports 1
- Luke Rockhold def. David Branch, submission (Round 2, 4:05)
- Mike Perry def. Alex Reyes, knockout (Round 1, 1:19)
- Anthony Smith def. Hector Lombard, TKO (Round 3, 2:33)
- Gregor Gillespie def. Jason Gonzalez, submission (Round 2, 2:11)
- Kamaru Usman def. Sergio Moraes, knockout (Round 1, 2:48)
- Justin Ledet def. Zu Anyanwu, split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Prelims on Fox Sports 1
- Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Tony Martin, split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Daniel Spitz def. Anthony Hamilton, TKO (Round 1, 0:24)
- Uriah Hall def. Krzysztof Jotko, knockout (Round 2, 2:25)
- Gilbert Burns def. Jason Saggo, knockout (Round 2, 4:55)
Mike Perry vs. Alex Reyes
What was supposed to be a veteran test for welterweight up-and-comer Mike Perry against Thiago Alves became a showcase of talent against UFC newcomer Alex Reyes. Platinum looked sharp in adding a brief KO victory over Reyes to his record.
Alves was forced out of the fight due to travel difficulties caused by Hurricane Irma, and Reyes went into action on late notice.
Perry, who always puts on a show, sprinted off to a fast start, immediately swinging for the fences against Reyes. Although his boxing invaded his opponent's guard, it was a knee from the clinch that sent the fight into its final sequence.
Perry crumbled Reyes with a follow-up right hand and another knee for good measure.
After the bout, he was sure to have a name ready to call out:
With the excitement that Perry brings into the cage and his skills on the mic, his self-promotion should lead to bigger fights sooner rather than later. A potential war with Robbie Lawler seems like a logical step to becoming the star he imagines himself to be.
Hector Lombard vs. Anthony Smith
Hector Lombard came into UFC Pittsburgh desperately hoping to get back on track. Having lost three fights in a row, Smith was supposed to be the guy he could beat to get back to his winning ways.
It looked like that's exactly how the fight would play out as it went into the third round. The explosive Lombard got the better of the exchanges with his power and quickness. But the final round proved tricky to navigate.
Smith came back with a massive right hand that put the former Bellator star on the floor. From there, he followed up with strikes to draw the comeback win by TKO.
UFC on Fox passed along the finish:
While Lombard is struggling, this is just the latest in a line of good performances from Smith. The 6'4" middleweight has won three straight by KO/TKO, setting a pattern of struggling early and coming back to knockout his opponent.
However, Smith used the spotlight of his postfight interview to hint at a move up to light heavyweight where he could have an easier path to big fights:
Gregor Gillespie vs. Jason Gonzalez
Gregor "The Gift" Gillespie was supposed to be gifted a win in Pittsburgh against Jason Gonzalez but found himself in a firefight.
Gonzalez came into the fight as a plus-325 underdog (bet $100 to win $325), per OddsShark. Gillespie came out swinging, looking to make a statement, but Gonzalez dug his toes in and fired right back, leading to plenty of fun exchanges.
The UFC showed off one of the highlights:
In the second round, Gillespie was done messing around. The 30-year-old wasted little time in taking his opponent to the ground where an apparent talent gap was immediately exposed. Gillespie cut through Gonzalez's guard to mount and finished the bout off with a head-and-arm choke.
This was the kind of bout where everyone wins. Gillespie came through as the favorite with a performance that showcases the kinds of skills he has. Gonzalez put forth the kind of effort that proves he belongs in the UFC, while the fans were treated to one of the best fights of the night.
Kamaru Usman vs. Sergio Moraes
It's getting harder and harder for the UFC to ignore Kamaru Usman as an intriguing welterweight prospect. The Nigerian Nightmare ran his win streak up to six straight wins in the UFC with a first-round finish over Sergio Moraes.
After four straight decision wins, Usman showed that he's got some power and patience. He waited until just the right opening came about and took full advantage. UFC on Fox passed along the finish to the fight:
The win makes Usman one of the hottest prospects in a division that is short on new blood. With an exciting finish now on his resume after some decision wins, the time might be now for him to see some stronger competition.
He even had someone specific in mind after the fight:
After this win, a fight against the likes of Rafael dos Anjos is an appealing matchup for fans. The UFC could do worse than setting that one up.
Justin Ledet vs. Zu Anyanwu
After 10 months away from the Octagon, Justin Ledet returned to the cage to extend his unbeaten record to 9-0 (plus one no-contest) with a split-decision win over Zu Anyanwu.
Ledet was suspended for a USADA violation after an impressive win over Mark Godbeer to run his UFC record to 2-0. Facing a short-notice opponent in Anyanwu, it was important for the 28-year-old to make a good impression and make up for lost time.
That didn't exactly happen, as he found out his opponent was a little more effective than he appeared on paper. The 36-year-old was able to find the chin of Ledet with power on occasion.
UFC Canada highlighted one of his better moments in the fight:
Ledet ended up coming out on top. His ability to use his length and keep Anyanwu at bay with his jab was enough to carry the round, but he'll have to make a better impression the next time out if he's going to make waves in the heavyweight division.