Donald Cerrone downs Eddie Alvarez

LAS VEGAS -- Eddie Alvarez very well may have a bright UFC career ahead of him -- he just happened to draw Donald Cerrone in his promotional debut.

Cerrone (25-6) got off to a flat start but was terrific late, en route to a unanimous decision over the former Bellator MMA lightweight champion in a bout that served as the co-main event at Saturday's UFC 178 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. All three judges scored the fight for Cerrone, 29-28.

"Not my best first round," Cerrone said. "I had to dig deep out there tonight. He hit me with a few shots and I figured, 'All right, that's enough of that.' I wish I could figure out why I start so slow because it would definitely make things easier.

"Eddie hits very hard and he stays in it the whole fight. He's definitely a threat here in the UFC. As far as who I want next, y'all know how I feel. Anyone, anyplace, anytime."

The 31-year-old Cerrone admitted to the slow start afterward, but it didn't prevent him from decisively taking the last two rounds. The win is Cerrone's fifth in a row, dating back to last November. It was the first fight during that span to go the distance.

Alvarez (25-4), who was granted his release from Bellator last month, showed no hesitation in his UFC debut. Within the first minute, he tied up with Cerrone in the center of the cage and landed a long string of right hands to the head as Cerrone tried to posture to throw a knee. As good of a first round as it was for Alvarez, he failed to hurt Cerrone significantly or, more importantly, wrestle him to the mat.

Cerrone showcased outstanding takedown defense throughout the lightweight bout, repeatedly stuffing Alvarez' attempts to take him down. After defending Alvarez' shots, Cerrone would repeatedly throw hard knees to Alvarez' ribs, which took a visible toll as the fight continued.

Early in the third round, Alvarez nearly pulled off a hail mary -- catching Cerrone flush with a right hand. Cerrone was off-balance, throwing a knee as it happened, which resulted in a knockdown for Alvarez. Cerrone quickly recovered, though, and responded moments later with another knee up the middle that had Alvarez seeking a breather along the fence.

It was Alvarez's his first loss since a fourth-round submission loss to Michael Chandler in a Bellator title bout in November 2011. The 30-year-old had fought only three times since (all wins) due to a contract dispute with Bellator. He reclaimed the title in a split decision win over Chandler last November.

Cerrone, the No. 5-ranked lightweight in the world, according to ESPN.com, improves to 12-3 in the UFC. He is a prime candidate to fight the winner of a UFC title bout between Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez on Dec. 6, but has expressed interest in taking another fight before then.

McGregor makes short work of Poirier

If the Conor McGregor hype is to be derailed, it will have to be done by someone other than Dustin Poirier.

McGregor (16-2) made quick work of another UFC featherweight, knocking out Poirier with a grazing left hand at 1:46 of the first round.

There was some controversy over whether McGregor hit Poirier (16-4) in the back of the head with his elbow as he followed through, but referee Herb Dean made no such signal and Bob Bennett, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director, told ESPN.com the elbow landed to a legal area of Poirier's head.

"He caught me with one, but other than that I feel good. I'll have to go watch it back, but it felt great," McGregor said.

"I'm honored to hear a percentage of the tickets were bought in Ireland and my countrymen came to support me. When one of us go to war, we all go to war. Our countrymen have been fighting our whole lives, this is where we come from."

McGregor, 26, looked sharp leading up to the finish. He threw several spinning back kicks at Poirier in the opening seconds of the fight, showcasing a developing part of his game that he talked about in detail leading up to the bout.

Poirier, who entered the fight a more-than 2-to-1 betting underdog, landed a hard straight left hand to McGregor's chin at one point, as the Irishman came forward with punches. McGregor ate the punch well though and continued to back Poirier up with spinning kicks and punching combinations.

The final punch was set up by a double jab from McGregor, which he followed with the straight left. After Poirier dropped from the shot, he turtled and tried to cover up, but heavy left hands by McGregor rolled him over on his back. One final shot put Poirier out and forced Dean to step in.

After the bout, McGregor said he had injured ligaments in his thumb, which had altered his preparation for the fight.

"I'm cocky in prediction but humble in defeat," McGregor said. "I said this wasn't going to be a challenge and I felt this was handed to me. I said I was going to show the difference between a king and a contender and I proved that tonight because Dustin had never been knocked out and I did that in the first round.

"I'll go to Brazil If they need me to step in, I'm ready. We'll see what happens but who else can they give me? It's my belt and I'm ready to steal it and take it back to my country."

McGregor moves to 4-0 in the UFC, with three first-round knockouts. His only UFC bout to to go to decision was against Max Holloway in August 2013, during which he tore his ACL. The injury sidelined him the remainder of last year.

Poirier suffers his first loss since he came up short in a unanimous decision to Cub Swanson in February 2013.

Romero weathers storm to KO Kennedy

An outstanding back-and-forth middleweight fight between Yoel Romero and Tim Kennedy will be marred in controversy.

Romero (9-1) earned a TKO victory 58 seconds into the third round, but the win came after a highly questionable moment in his corner between rounds.

At the end of the second round, Kennedy (18-5) badly hurt Romero with a series of right uppercuts to the chin. As the bell sounded to end the round, Romero leaned back on the cage and then wobbled to his corner.

The start of the third frame was then delayed considerably when Romero's corner was instructed to wipe residue off his face. Referee John McCarthy allowed Romero to stay seated on his stool while it occurred, which gave him precious recovery time.

Seconds into the third round, Romero landed a lead left land followed by a right hook that dropped Kennedy. Kennedy tried to scramble and slow down the fight, but Romero stayed on him and eventually dropped him again and finished the fight. The crowd booed the finish immediately.

"I don't know what happened between rounds," Romero said. "I was fine, but I didn't hear him trying to start the fight. My coach was in front of me and there was a lot of confusion. I was ready to fight; I just didn't know it was time."

It was an unfortunate end to what was a stellar fight between two highly ranked middleweights. Romero, who moved to 5-0 in the UFC, was on point early. He bloodied Kennedy's nose with a straight left and blasted through a double leg late in the first round. He stuffed all of Kennedy's attempts to take him down.

Kennedy started to respond in the second round, however, moving in tight on Romero and scoring uppercuts on the inside. Romero never appeared exhausted, but the pace had him breathing heavily from his open mouth midway through the round. He ate a spinning backfist well during one exchange, but nearly went out moments later from the Kennedy uppercuts.

For Romero, the win is his eighth career knockout.

Prior to fighting Kennedy, the Cuban silver medal Olympic wrestler went the distance for the first time in his career against Brad Tavares. Kennedy suffers his first loss in the UFC, dropping to 3-1 overall.

Zingano overcomes Nunes

It will take something special to eventually dethrone UFC female bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

Cat Zingano looks like something special.

Zingano (9-0), who was scheduled to challenge Rousey late last year but couldn't due to a torn ACL, earned a TKO finish against Amanda Nunes at 1:21 of the third round. It was her first appearance since a knockout win over Miesha Tate in April 2013.

The win sets up a Zingano, Rousey (10-0) title fight early next year.

Zingano, 32, got off to a miserable start, as she surrendered a bodylock takedown to Nunes (9-4) within the first 15 seconds of the bout. Nunes eventually stood over Zingano's guard and appeared to hesitate over what to do next. She surprised Zingano moments later with a wicked right hand that landed flush.

Nunes poured it on Zingano for the better part of the round, standing over her guard and repeatedly hitting her with right hands. Zingano kept scrambling on the floor, however, and managed to stand back up with 90 seconds left in the round. Before the first break, she ignited the crowd with a suplex from a front head-lock position.

Momentum stuck with Zingano the rest of the way, as she scored takedowns in the second and third rounds and busted Nunes up with elbows from top position. She attempted a gnarly heel hook midway through the second round, but couldn't quite produce a tap. A cut opened under Nunes' right eye, due to the elbows.

Early in the third, Zingano moved to full mount after another suplex. She bloodied Nunes more from the position, until referee Jason Herzog stopped the fight.

Zingano remains unbeaten as a professional and has now finished eight of the nine opponents she's faced. The win over Nunes marked her fifth career knockout. Fighting out of Broomfield, Colo., Zingano overcame a personal tragedy in the comeback as well, as her husband, Mauricio, took his own life in January.

Nunes suffers her first loss in the Octagon.

Cruz cruises to victory

The belt might not be around Dominick Cruz' waist, but he sure looked like a champion Saturday night.

Cruz (20-1), who was stripped of the UFC bantamweight title early this year due to a long injury layoff, looked incredible in his first appearance in nearly three years. It took the former champion just 61 seconds to record a TKO win against Takeya Mizugaki, who came into the bout on a five-fight win streak.

"It's a weird thing when you're out there ... it's all just reaction," Cruz said. "I felt like I had to do what I did after all this time. That's the only thing that would've felt right.

"It was an amazing feeling and I have so much thanks for the fans who helped me through all this difficult time off [due to injury]. I think I've grown into my body and I'm faster and [more] powerful than I was before. I'm in my prime and I'm ready for this!"

Officially, the win is Cruz' 11th in a row and his first finish since March 2010.

Cruz feinted a right hand and shot on a crisp double leg early in the bout. As Mizugaki (20-8-2) crawled toward the fence to get back to his feet, Cruz battered him with left hands from the back.

Hurt, Mizugaki managed to slowly get back to his feet, only to be dropped violently with a left hook by Cruz. The relentless finish continued with more right hands to Mizugaki's head as he was trapped along the fence. Referee Chris Tognoni finally called an official stop at the 1:01 mark.

Cruz had not fought since October 2011, when he recorded his second title defense against Demetrious Johnson, who is now the UFC flyweight champion. He was scheduled to fight Urijah Faber at UFC 148 in July 2012, but was forced to withdraw due to a torn left ACL. A second ACL tear and a quadriceps injury delayed his return until UFC 178. Cruz was officially stripped of his title in January.

Masvidal navigates way past Krause

Jorge Masvidal pocketed his fifth win in the UFC, outpointing James Krause in a decisive unanimous decision.

Masvidal (28-8) set a high pace in the lightweight bout that had Krause fading late. He struggled to stay out of the way of Krause's jab, but ultimately landed far more significant offense and was better on the floor. Judges scored the bout for Masvidal 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

"I'm disappointed because I wanted to finish him," Masvidal said. "He moved really well and hit me with some stiff jabs.

"Nothing hurt me but he did a good job with the distance. Could've been better but a win is a win and I'll be tougher next time."

The game plan of Krause (21-6), appeared to focus almost exclusively on the jab, which he did land regularly. Fighting out of Lee's Summit, Missouri, Krause never was able to build off the jab, however, and rarely even attempted to. He did bloody Masvidal's nose in the second round, though.

Late in the second round, Masvidal's pressure started to have an effect on Krause. He walked through the jab and started to land with combinations. He scored a single leg takedown with under two minutes left int he frame and dropped Krause with a right hand after he scrambled back to his feet.

The final round was all Masvidal, although he never came close to a finish. Immediate cageside stats showed Masvidal out-landed Krause in total strikes just 84-to-80, but there was no question Masvidal was the more powerful, versatile of the two.

Masvidal improves to 5-1 in the UFC and extends his win streak to three. Krause falls to 2-2 in the Octagon.

Thompson grinds down Cote

No knockout for Stephen Thompson, but he'll certainly take a hard-fought decision over Patrick Cote.

Thompson (10-1), whose accurate striking has landed him on the highlight reel many times, struggled to find his range at times against the veteran Cote (20-9) but ultimately did enough to win a clear-cut unanimous decision. All three judges scored the bout for Thompson by scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.

"I'm at my best on the feet, so I wanted to keep it standing tonight," Thompson said. "Everyone wants to see a knockout and that's what I tried to make happen for the fans. Unfortunately, Patrick is very tough and he has a hard head, so I didn't want to chase."

Late in the third round, Thompson dropped Cote with a counter right hand after stepping out of the way of a wild left hook. Cote fell backward from the punch, but was able to jump back to his feet quickly. He smiled and touched gloves with Thompson after the sequence.

"I knew I hurt him in the third and he is slippery on the ground, so I let him stand back up," Thompson said. "I tried to put him down again but he recovered quickly. Just glad to have the win."

It was not an easy win for Thompson, who entered the welterweight bout a heavy favorite. He was inactive throughout much of the first round, as Cote alternated from fighting well on the outside and rushing Thompson into a clinch near the fence. Thompson did, however, defend every Cote takedown attempt.

The 31-year-old Thompson started to find his range in the second round, though. He chopped down Cote's lead leg with inside and outside kicks and started to pop his head back with the jab. Cote tried to entice him into a brawl late in the round, to no avail.

The crowd started to boo the 170-pound fight in the final round, as Thompson continually side stepped out of Cote's range and bothered him with the jab. Knowing he was down on the scorecards, Cote started stepping forward aggressively with big shots, which opened up the right hand counter for Thompson.

Fighting out of Simpsonville, South Carolina, Thompson improves to 5-1 in the UFC. He is currently on a four-fight win streak. Cote, 34, sees a three-fight win streak snapped.