Luke Rockhold punishes Chris Weidman by TKO to win middleweight title

LAS VEGAS — Luke Rockhold punished and pummeled Chris Weidman in a dominant performance to win the UFC middleweight title Saturday in the co-main event at UFC 194.

Rockhold had to endure a tough first round from Weidman, but then came back to put on a masterful performance until finally getting the win at 3:12 into the fourth round.

As soon as the referee started the fight, Weidman wasted no time pushing into the clinch and looking for the takedown as Rockhold had to go on defense immediately. Rockhold looked for a guillotine choke, but the position stalled, and referee Herb Dean ended up standing the fighters back on their feet.

Weidman immediately rushed into another takedown, but Rockhold countered and ended up putting the champion on his back instead as the round came to a close.

The start of the second round saw Weidman slow down and Rockhold began firing off a series of body kicks while trying to set up one to the head. As time ticked away, Rockhold turned to his hands more and more while still punishing Weidman with his kicks.

Weidman’s mouth gaped at the end of the round and it appeared that his gas tank was started to trouble him thanks to Rockhold’s assault on his midsection.

The champion got a second wind at the start of the third round as he landed his best punch all fight with a stinging right hand followed by a takedown. Rockhold quickly adjusted and worked back to the feet in a hurry.

Rockhold seized control of the fight when Weidman attempted to throw a wheel kick in the third round. Rockhold dodged it and took the champ to the ground — the first time Weidman had ever been taken down in a UFC fight.

"He shouldn’t be trying that kind of stuff on me," Rockhold said.

Rockhold immediately started to rain down shots and Weidman couldn’t do much but cover his head and hope the end of the round would come quickly. Rockhold absolutely battered Weidman with short elbows and punches as Weidman’s face exploded with blood, but Dean let the fight continue until the horn sounded.

At the start of Round 4, Rockhold took Weidman down and tried to repeat what he had done just moments before to finally put the champion away.

Rockhold continued to work until he ended up back in the mount, landing hard shots as Weidman’s face was colored crimson once again and there was no escape for him this time.

Dean finally saw enough and called a stop to the contest as Rockhold was declared the new UFC middleweight champion.

"I was hoping he would (stop it)," Rockhold said about the end of the third round. "He kind of stopped it at the end so I wasn’t exactly sure, so I sucked it up and had to go another round. All I know is I got the belt and I got the ‘W’."

Rockhold was widely considered the toughest challenge that Weidman had faced during his title reign and he proved it with his outstanding performance to claim the UFC title and become the new middleweight champion. 

Weidman had reigned atop the division since dethroning Anderson Silva in 2013 and breaking Silva’s leg in the rematch. Injuries limited Weidman’s activity, but Rockhold established himself as the clear No. 1 contender with four straight UFC victories since a testosterone-aided Vitor Belfort stopped him in Rockhold’s only loss in 14 fights since November 2007.

Rockhold already was asking UFC President Dana White for a shot at revenge.

"I’m not very impressed with what’s going on in the division right now," Rockhold said. "All I can think of is Vitor Belfort on a silver platter. Give him to me, Dana!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.