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LAS VEGAS – Clint Hester spent three rounds testing Bristol Marunde’s chin with kicks, knees and punches.

In the end, it was a relatively subtle standing elbow that dropped “The Ultimate Fighter 16? competitor and kept him down late in the third round, earning Hester a TKO victory at the 3:53 mark of the final round of his UFC debut.

The middleweight bout was part of the preliminary card of The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. It aired on FUEL TV following additional prelims on Facebook and ahead of a main card on FX.

The stoppage didn’t come easy for Hester. After getting off to a slow start, he dropped Marunde for the first time with a right hand late in the opening round. Although visibly stunned, Marunde managed a takedown that helped him ride out the final minute of the round, though ultimately he couldn’t fix the defensive problems that had gotten him there in the first place.

When he wasn’t fending off takedowns from Marunde, Hester had little trouble finding his comfort in the striking game. Hester wobbled the former Strikeforce and IFL fighter with everything from hooks on the feet to upkicks from his back. Marunde gamely held on through one seemingly fight-ending blow after another, but a perfectly timed standing elbow by Hester caught Marunde squarely as he charged in late in the fight, and referee Steve Mazzagatti immediately called a halt to the bout.

“Bristol was a great opponent,” Hester said. “He kept pushing me out there and never gave up. He’s a very smart and experienced fighter, but I started to get the timing on his overhand right late in the first and was able to counter with the jab. He took the fight on two days’ notice, so imagine what he could do on a full training camp.”

“Clint fought a great fight,” Marunde said. “I took this one on very short notice and I’m looking forward to showing what I can do on a full camp.”

Hester (8-3 MMA, 1-0 UFC) earned his first UFC victory with the TKO win. Marunde (12-8 MMA, 0-1 UFC) lost his second in a row, following a submission loss to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in Strikeforce this past May.

Up-to-the-minute TUF 17 Finale results include:

For complete coverage of The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

John Morgan contributed to this report on-site in Las Vegas.

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