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Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold appeared a bit hesitant in his first appearance in more than 15 months but shook off the cobwebs to earn a second-round finish of David Branch.

The middleweight matchup served as the FS1-televised headliner of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116 from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

Branch pushed the pace to start, firing off right hands as he walked forward. Meanwhile, Rockhold tried to retreat to create space and fire in kicks to the body. Branch was relentless in the early going, continually moving forward and not allowing Rockhold space to operate. The two worked from the clinch, battling for position, before Rockhold was able to circle away and move back to the center. Rockhold was effective briefly from range, but Branch was quick to get back into tight range. Rockhold did counter with a late takedown but ran out of time before he could capitalize on the position.

Branch still looked to push forward in the second, though Rockhold was able to keep range in longer spurts and attack with kicks to the leg and body. However, Branch continued to push and did eventually get to the clinch, where he looked to turn the bout into a grinding affair. Rockhold wisely wrapped the body and brought the action to the floor with a slick takedown and a beautifully quick step over into mount. Branch turned to expose his back, and Rockhold staring to tee off. Branch tried to turtle and defend, but Rockhold pummeled away from the back, eventually getting a tap from his opponent with 55 seconds left in the frame.

Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) proved victorious in his first appearance sine ceding the UFC belt to current champ Michael Bisping. Afterward, he had a message for Georges St-Pierre, who faces Bisping at November’s UFC 217, telling the former welterweight champ to step aside for a more deserving contender.

Branch (21-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) sees an 11-fight winning streak snapped.

UFC Fight Night 116 results include:

For more on UFC Fight Fight 116, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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