For five minutes, Eddie Wineland's boxing was on point. But all it took to derail things for him was one kick from Renan Barao.
Barao, the UFC's interim bantamweight champion, stopped Wineland 35 seconds into the second round after landing a spinning back kick to the face, then following it up with several punches on the ground.
Barao (31-1, 6-0 UFC), from Brazil, and Wineland (20-9-1, 2-3 UFC), of Westville, fought in the co-main event of Saturday's UFC 165 pay-per-view at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
He was fighting for the 30th time in a pro career that is more than 10 years old – and Wineland just turned 29. In eight previous losses, Wineland had never been knocked out.
The stoppage by referee Yves Lavigne was not one Wineland was happy with, though.
"Personal opinion? I think bull(expletive)," Wineland said at the post-fight news conference. "He caught me with a great kick. I was by no means out. I was on my way back up. But the referees have their own discretion, and that's what he felt was the right call. My hat's off to Renan – it was a good kick."
In the first round, Wineland, who was a heavy underdog at more than 5-to-1 in the fight, stood and traded with Barao, and looked good. He tagged the Brazilian several times and stuffed Barao's takedown attempts.
Although Barao landed a few punches of his own, the best of which came late in the round, it was Wineland who took the round 10-9 on all three judges' scorecards.
But in the second, Wineland came out quickly and rushed to the center of the cage, looking to keep the pressure on Barao in the standup game. But then Barao landed a spinning back kick that caught Wineland on the right side of his face and knocked him to the canvas.
Barao moved in quickly, looking to finish, and landed several punches on the ground while Wineland got to his hands and knees, looking to protect himself and recover. But he never got that chance, as Lavigne decided the challenger was about to take too much extra damage.
And just like that, Wineland's hope of another title was gone. He was the first bantamweight champion in World Extreme Cagefighting history, and that promotion eventually merged with the UFC.
UFC President Dana White wouldn't go so far as to call it an early stoppage by Lavigne, though.
"It's one of those tough calls," White said. "Trust me – I don't like it when fights are stopped and the guy jumps right up. But he got blasted with that kick, and that's a nasty kick that knocks people out. He looked wobbly when he got up. If I thought it was, I'd be smashing the ref. But that was a tough one."
Wineland said he'll try to take as many positives out of the loss as he can. But the reality is, he'll now begin what could be a long climb back up the ladder in the UFC's 135-pound division.
"Barao is one of the best in the world," he said. "He's a beast. I think that showed me that I belong in there with the best in the world, and I'm right in the place where I need to be. It's a confidence booster being in there with somebody who's No. 1 in your weight class and possibly winning the first round."