Ben Askren survived an opening-minute beating and rallied to choke out Robbie Lawler midway through the first round of his UFC debut on Saturday night.
The 34-year-old Askren's UFC debut and unbeaten record almost ended abruptly when Lawler picked him up, slammed him down on his head and battered him with punches that left Askren badly bloodied.
"It took me a little while to get my bearings after the slam," Askren said. "I was mostly surprised at how quickly he got me up and down."
Askren survived and eventually gained position on Lawler with a bulldog choke. Lawler was furious when referee Herb Dean stopped the bout, insisting he was fine in the choke. Some cageside observers thought Lawler was unconscious, but he sprung out of the stoppage.
"I was bleeding all over the place, so I just squeezed as hard as I could. Everyone is upset with Herb, but he came in and checked on Robbie (in the clinch), and Robbie gave him (no response). As a veteran, that's on Robbie. That's not on Herb or me."
The outspoken Askren (19-0), a former US Olympic wrestler, joined the UFC late last year after a decade fighting in other promotions and sparring with UFC President Dana White on social media.
The UFC surprisingly added him to its roster last year, trading former flyweight champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson to the One Championship promotion.
"Dana, is that the best you've got? Bring it, baby," Askren said after beating Lawler.
Lawler, the former welterweight champion and crowd-pleasing brawler, was fighting for the first time since December 2017 after tearing a knee ligament in his loss to Dos Anjos.