Thiago Santos can spend the next few days icing his elbows and rewarding them for their heavy lifting.
Santos planted his flag in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division with gusto, as he forced a between-round stoppage against Eryk Anders in the UFC Fight Night 137 headliner on Saturday at Geraldo Jose de Almeida Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Having been mercilessly battered by close-range elbows, Anders never made it to his corner at the conclusion of Round 3. He collapsed twice en route, prompting referee Marc Goddard to intervene.
A short-notice fill-in for the injured Jimi Manuwa, Anders struggled to a maintain a safe distance from the kick-minded Brazilian; and while he managed to execute a handful of takedowns, the former University of Alabama linebacker failed to consolidate them with damage or positional control. In the waning moments of the third round, Santos braced himself against the fence, stuffed a desperate double-leg takedown attempt and repeatedly buried his elbow into the side of his counterpart’s head. Anders’ body broke just as the horn sounded, a combination of punishment and exhaustion having conspired against him.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Santos vs. Anders,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
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Thiago Santos vs. Ovince St. Preux-Dominick Reyes winner: Santos has reportedly flirted with the idea of staying at 205 pounds and would be wise to do so, considering the lack of depth present in the division. The 34-year-old’s power figures to play at light heavyweight -- a division in which the quality of fighter falls off precipitously after champion Daniel Cormier, former titleholder Jon Jones and No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson. St. Preux and Reyes will lock horns at UFC 229 on Oct. 6.
Alex Oliveira vs. Leon Edwards: His stock once again on the rise, Oliveira put away Carlo Pedersoli Jr. with punches in the first round of their welterweight co-main event. “Cowboy” brought it to a close 39 seconds into Round 1, barely breaking a sweat in the process. Oliveira caught a side kick from Pedersoli and laced a pair of right hands before bullying the dazed Italian to the mat. There, he delivered a series of short rights and hammerfists to Pedersoli’s unprotected face until referee Jerin Valel had seen enough. A former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion, Edwards has posted six consecutive victories since he dropped a unanimous decision to Kamaru Usman in December 2015.
Charles Oliveira vs. Rustam Khabilov: Oliveira recorded his third win in four appearances, as he submitted Christos Giagos with a second-round rear-naked choke in the featured prelim at 155 pounds. Giagos bowed out 3:22 into Round 2 and in doing so became an unwitting participant in history. The submission victory, Oliveira’s 11th inside the Octagon, moved “Do Bronx” past Royce Gracie for first place on the UFC’s all-time list in the category. Khabilov has pieced together a six-fight winning streak since he wound up on the wrong side of a split verdict against Adriano Martins in February 2015. He eked out a contentious decision over Kajan Johnson at UFC Fight Night 136 on Sept. 15.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan: An often-forgotten piece of the UFC’s welterweight puzzle, dos Santos overcame a slow start to author a sensational finish at the expense of organizational newcomer Luigi Vendramini. A flying knee and blistering right hand drew the curtain on Vendramini 1:20 into Round 2. Dos Santos, 31, has won six fights in a row, the last two by knockout. Alhassan last competed at UFC 228, where he cut down Nico Price in just 43 seconds on Sept. 8. The once-beaten 33-year-old has delivered all 10 of his victories by knockout or technical knockout inside one round.
Livia Renata Souza vs. Michelle Waterson-Felice Herrig winner: Souza made her long-awaited and once-delayed promotional debut, and the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder did not disappoint. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt needed less than 90 seconds to submit Alex Chambers with a mounted guillotine choke on the undercard, eliciting the tapout 1:21 into Round 1. Souza has rattled off three straight victories since her five-round split decision loss to Angela Hill under the Invicta banner in 2016. Waterson and Herrig will face one another at UFC 229 on Oct. 6.