Former champion Lyoto Machida stopped Ryan Bader with one punch midway through the second round of the UFC's latest prime-time network show Saturday night, getting a knockout that might have earned him a chance to reclaim his title.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua stopped Brandon Vera in the main event with a flurry of strikes with 50 seconds left in the fourth round for another dramatic finish.
After the fights, UFC President Dana White said Machida had earned another light heavyweight title shot with his sudden victory.
White promised a shot at the winner of champion Jon "Bones" Jones' bout with veteran Dan Henderson next month to the fighter who was most impressive at Staples Center, although the date could be tough to keep immediately.
Machida (18-3) had the light heavyweight belt until Rua took it from him with a first-round knockout in May 2010. Machida failed to reclaim the belt last December from Jones, who stopped him with a standing guillotine choke in Toronto for the formerly formidable Brazilian's third loss in four fights.
Machida looked impressive again in flattening Bader (14-3), who also has lost to Jones.
"I think it was a great performance, and I want to say, the Dragon is back," Machida shouted, citing his own nickname.
Machida needed just one big right hand 90 seconds into the second round to knock out Bader, who spent the first round warily staying outside Machida's dangerous karate-based style. Machida picked apart Bader to win the opening round, and when Bader attempted to close the distance, the Brazilian star ducked slightly and apparently rendered Bader unconscious with a punch square to his face.
White hyped up interest in the Los Angeles show by claiming he would choose the next title contender from this bunch of fighters with significant recent defeats on their records. The UFC could be more interested in matching Jones against welterweight star Georges St. Pierre next year, but Machida did everything possible to get back on a title track.
Earlier, Joe Lauzon ended a thrilling bout with veteran Jamie Varner by securing a triangle choke midway through the third round. Mike Swick also returned from a 30-month octagon absence for a second-round knockout of DaMarques Johnson.
Rua (21-6) survived a grueling fight with the veteran Vera (12-6), bouncing back from multiple spots of trouble and pushing through fatigue that slowed both fighters midway through the scheduled five-round bout.
Rua finally got rid of Vera with a series of strikes that began with a precise right hook to Vera's jaw. Vera's mouthpiece apparently came loose, distracting him moments before Rua finished him with a few more strikes to celebrate his first victory in nearly a year.
"I'll improve, but you'll see my best for sure in the future," Rua said. "The most important thing is a victory. I respect Brandon a lot. It was a good fight. I was a little tired from the second to the third round, more than I expected."
Rua lost his light heavyweight title to Jones in his first defense in March 2011, and Rua lost again to Henderson last November in a five-round brawl.
Varner was a last-minute replacement opponent for Lauzon, a reliably entertaining Massachusetts fighter who still had lost three of his past six bouts. Varner is a former WEC champion who returned to the UFC with an upset victory over Edson Barboza in May.
Although Varner controlled the entertaining first round, he couldn't keep up later with Lauzon, who rallied with strikes that set up superb ground work ending with his legs cinched around Varner's neck.