-- LAS VEGAS -- Luke Rockhold has long claimed to be the No. 1 middleweight in the world. Now, he's finally recognized as it.
Rockhold (15-2) became the seventh UFC middleweight champion on Saturday, knocking out Chris Weidman at 3:12 of the fourth round via strikes on the ground. The 185-pound title fight co-headlined UFC 194 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Referee Herb Dean nearly called off the fight in the third, when Rockhold moved to full mount and devastated Weidman (13-1) with elbows from the top. Weidman defended himself just enough to make it to the end of the round, but it was clear he had little left coming out of the break. Rockhold had his way from there.
"I was hoping he would [stop it]," said Rockhold, of the end of the third round. "He kind of stopped it at the end, I wasn't exactly sure. I sucked it up. Had to go another round. Whatever. All I care is I got the belt. And new."
Weidman landed 62 strikes of 92 attempted, while Rockhold landed 161 of 229, according to immediate cageside stats by Fightmetric.
A former two-time defending champion in Strikeforce, Rockhold, who fights out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, came into the fight a small underdog. Weidman was the No. 4 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet coming into the event, according to ESPN.com. He entered on an incredibly impressive streak, with wins including Anderson Silva twice, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort.
Weidman, 31, came out looking to put pressure on Rockhold in the opening round. He dipped under Rockhold's favorite counter right hook and took him down early. Rockhold made it difficult for Weidman to keep him down, however, consistently working back to his feet. Later in the first, he caught Weidman in a guillotine that was never close to a finish but prevented him from landing strikes.
The key moment of the fight occurred in the third round, when Weidman, who was winning the frame on the feet until that point, threw a spinning wheelkick -- the same kick Belfort knocked Rockhold out with in his UFC debut in 2013. Rockhold was ready for it this time, blocking the shot and taking the opportunity to take Weidman down.
Once he had him down, Rockhold moved to the back and then full mount, where he punished Weidman with strikes.
"Yeah, I remember throwing that," Weidman said. "He caught me and took me down off it. Wasn't the smartest move. I'm going to go out and give everything I have. All I can do is work hard and keep positive."
Said Rockhold on the kick, "That s---'s never happening again."
One controversial moment came in the fourth, as Weidman, bloody and bruised from the previous round, attempted to take Rockhold down early. Rockhold grabbed the fence to remain upright. Dean chastised him for it but didn't take a point and didn't award Weidman top position. After getting away with the grab, Rockhold eventually secured top position again and went on to the finish.
Rockhold, 31, extends his win streak to five. He won the Strikeforce title back in September 2011 by defeating Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza. His first defense could come against former Cuban Olympic wrestler Yoel Romero, who defeated Souza via split decision at UFC 194.