Following a tough loss in his last fight, Ryan Bader returned to the Octagon on Sunday (AEST) and delivered his most thrilling knockout to date as he absolutely flattened Ilir Latifi with a knee strike in the second round at their matchup in Hamburg, Germany.
Bader suffered a devastating defeat the last time he fought in January when he fell to No. 1 ranked contender Anthony "Rumble" Johnson that brought to an end his five fight winning streak.
The loss served as a wake-up call to Bader, who admitted afterwards that he got a little too obsessed with maintaining the streak rather than going out and having fun in the Octagon. On Sunday, Bader changed his approach and ended up with one of his most impressive wins in recent years.
Latifi was a game opponent as he went head hunting on Bader early and often once the two light heavyweights started engaging in some exchanges. It was a back-and-forth battle throughout the opening round until Latifi started swinging big sledgehammer like shots and caught Bader with a short punch that dropped him to his knees.
Bader quickly went for a take-down to stave off Latifi's attack as the round came to a close but he made a necessary adjustment before walking out for the second.
This time around, Bader stayed patient in the pocket and waited for an opening as Latifi ducked his head down looking for a punch and the former Ultimate Fighter winner uncorked a hellish knee strike right up the middle that absolutely blasted the Swedish light heavyweight in the head.
Latifi went flying backwards as he crashed to the canvas thanks to the force from Bader's knee and the fight was stopped immediately from the vicious knockout.
UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell said the strike was Bader's nomination for KO of the year, and MMA journalist Nick Strickland said Latifi "legit looked dead" after the blow.
"I knew the kick or knee was going to be there," Bader said after getting his sixth win in his past seven fights.
Now Bader moves forward after getting back on track with his huge win and it certainly appeared like he was enjoying himself in the Octagon again.
In the main event, Josh Barnett choked out Andrei Arlovski.
As the fight got underway, Barnett and Arlovski came out swinging at each other with a knockout seemingly just inches away as they exchanged a pair of knockdowns in the opening seconds of the bout.
Unfortunately that opening flurry drained a lot of energy from Arlovski and by the third minute of the first round he was already looking up at the clock while measuring how much time was left.
Barnett took advantage of Arlovski's waning gas tank in the second round as he pressured the former UFC champion against the cage and continued to watch his oxygen reserves deplete with each punch landed.
Finally after a few gruelling exchanges, Barnett took Arlovski to the ground and quickly mounted him with less than two minutes left on the clock. Rather than work for a submission, Barnett started raining down punches with several slipping through Arlovski's defence and blasting away at him until the horn finally sounded.
Arlovski survived the round but sat on his knees for several seconds before finally rising to get to his corner. The brief one minute break did give Arlovski enough recovery time to make a final push towards a knockout and he nearly got it after an accidental eye poke caused Barnett to turn his back while wincing in pain.
Referee Leon Roberts didn't see the infraction and Arlovski tried to take advantage of the opening, but Barnett was able to recover before quickly taking the fight back to the ground.
Arlovski never got back up again because Barnett quickly transitioned from an arm lock attempt to a rear naked choke that brought an end to the contest. Arlovski was forced to tap out for the first time ever and Barnett celebrated the victory in Germany.
"Give me an opportunity, give me a limb - I'll take it home," Barnett said after the win. "I wanted that arm real bad, that double wristlock, but I bailed on it. Went to the strike and in turn gave him that short choke."
Barnett now moves to 3-2 since returning to the UFC in 2013 while Arlovski has dropped three consecutive fights following a career resurgence that saw him win four in a row when first coming back the promotion.