After being wrongly flagged for an anti-doping violation last year, Junior dos Santos was grateful to return to the Octagon on Saturday night.
The former heavyweight champion used his boxing to outstrike promotional newcomer Blagoy Ivanov for five rounds in the UFC Fight Night 133 headliner in Boise, Idaho, to take a clear cut unanimous decision over the ex-World Series of Fighting belt holder. Still, dos Santos’ face wore the damage of a man that went 25 hard minutes.
“Actually, I was expecting a little bit more grappling because he’s from sambo,” dos Santos said on Fox Sports 1. “It didn’t happen. I was kind of surprised, but that’s fine. He was throwing hard bombs at my face – you can tell. I was missing a lot, this whole thing – I wasn’t missing this (points to face) – but the fighting thing I was missing.”
According to FightMetric.com figures, Dos Santos outlanded his opponent by a comfortable 110-to-51 count. Still, Ivanov hung tough throughout the contest and was never in danger of being finished by “Cigano.” It was nonetheless a welcome return to the win column for the 34-year-old Brazilian, who hadn’t competed since being stopped in the first-round in a title bout against Stipe Miocic in May 2017.
“The whole time during the fight, I was thinking about one year ago. I was stopped and, one year later, I am victorious again,” dos Santos said. “Ivanov is a tough guy with only one defeat on his career and he deserves to be here in the UFC, the best organization in the world. It feels great to be back. You usually don’t throw jabs at southpaw guys because they are good at countering that. But, I started finding a place for my jab and the rest just came natural.”
Miocic is now longer the heavyweight champion after relinquishing the belt to Daniel Cormier via first-round knockout at UFC 226. Dos Santos believes he has unfinished business with Miocic, as in their first meeting he defeated the Ohio-based firefighter via unanimous decision in a brutal five-round battle at UFC on Fox 13. With their series tied 1-1 and Miocic no longer atop the division, dos Santos admitted in his post-fight interview that “a rematch with Miocic would be very welcome.”
A little bit later, however, dos Santos sounded open to other possibilities, as well.
“Right now, I’m not sure [what’s next],” he said on FS1. “In the heavyweight division there are many, many interesting things happening, so let’s sit down with my team and very soon we’re gonna know.”