Junior dos Santos fought through significant adversity. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Junior dos Santos once again proved why most view him as the No. 2 heavyweight in mixed martial arts by earning a unanimous decision over Stipe Miocic in the UFC on Fox 13 main event on Saturday at the US Airways Center in Phoenix.
With scores of 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46, the Brazilian overcame a sluggish start and seemed to get progressively better as the fight went on. Truth be told, perhaps Miocic deserved more credit than he was given in the weeks leading up to the fight. An Ohio native born to Croatian parents, he used a bag of mixed tools early in the bout. Miocic put his standup on display right out of the gate, rocking the former champion with a right hand in the opening round. He connected often as they broke from clinches, leaving dos Santos to paw at him with an awkward-looking sideways jab.
Through the first few rounds, dos Santos, regarded has perhaps the best pure boxer in the division, was determined to make it a one-dimensional fair. By the third round, he was actively working Miocic’s body, which opened up the head for damaging strikes. Dos Santos was bloodied by this point, but he was also starting to take over and wear down his opponent. He was in firm control from the midway point to the end of the 25-minute duel.
“I really believe this fight showed a lot of good things about both of us. Miocic is a great athlete. He did great in the first two rounds,” dos Santos said. “He’s a really tough opponent [and] came very well-prepared for this fight. I believe I can win any fight. It doesn’t matter what happens during the fight, I will keep believing until the end of the fight.”
Dos Santos certainly showed his resolve, refusing to buckled under the early onslaught Miocic brought his way. He threw more than 100 more strikes than Miocic throughout their five rounds and stuffed 17 of his 18 takedown attempts. However, keeping the fight on the feet came at a price, as dos Santos absorbed 89 significant strikes, according to FightMetric figures.
“It doesn’t matter too much; it’s part of the [game],” he said, shrugging off the concern over the amount of damage put on him. “I really believe I have a warrior heart.”
EARNING THEIR PLACE
Two future title bouts were likely cemented following victories by Rafael dos Anjos and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, according to Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White.
In the case of the former, his performance against Nate Diaz in the co-main event was impressive enough, but he also appears to be benefitting from timing. No. 1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov remains sidelined following knee surgery. To further his cause, dos Anjos put a one-sided beatdown on Diaz, turning what was believed to be a “Fight of the Night” contender into a laugher.
By the second half of the first round, it became clear Diaz had no answers for dos Anjos, on the mat or on the feet. The judges’ verdict told the story: 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27.
Something seemed amiss with Diaz all week. He missed weight on the eve of the fight, as he came in at 160.6 pounds -- nowhere near the 156-pound lightweight limit -- and forfeited 20 percent of his purse.
“I ran into some issues in camp, and I wish I could’ve fought and won,” Diaz said. “I know what I can do. I had to come and get paid. I had some issues and was injured. I was not in the best type of shape I could be in. I’m here to fight, always. I’m here; you see me. I’m not like other guys pulling out of fights with injuries.”
That might not be the best strategy, as he squandered a chance to leapfrog a handful of other contenders in a stacked lightweight division, missed out on some money he claims to have badly needed and fell several rungs on the 155-pound ladder. Dos Anjos experienced quite the opposite. With an eighth win in his past nine fights, he looks to be next in line to challenge champion Anthony Pettis.
“That was the best news that I had,” he said. “I’m so happy. I’ve been working hard for the past six years in the UFC. That’s my dream. I think my hard work paid off. I fought a lot this year: four times in eight months. I just need to take some rest and time off with my family and start getting back on track so I can get this belt.”
Meanwhile, Poland’s Jedrzejczyk looks to have locked up a shot at newly crowned women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza with a split decision over Claudia Gadelha. The decision could have gone either way, and neither fighter wanted to give an inch -- even after the final bell sounded. Gadelha threw and landed a punch on the muay Thai stylist after time had expired on round three. The Brazilian quickly apologized, and her show of remorse was not lost on White in the aftermath.
“As soon as [Gadelha] did it to her, she reached her hand out and she apologized to her,” he said. “Those two had a war; they’re in the heat of the battle. If they raised Claudia’s hand [I wouldn’t have objected, but] I love the way [Jedrzejczyk] fights. I love her striking, [and] she’s probably going to get the next shot.”
Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo finally made his Octagon debut and cruised to an across-the-board 30-27 decision win over Dustin Kimura. Cejudo was forced to withdraw from a flyweight matchup with Scott Jorgensen because of medical reasons associated with a weight cut at UFC 177 in August. He used array of strikes in sinking Kimura, mostly leaving his world-class wrestling skills on the shelf. Afterward, he asked for the UFC’s blessing to return to the 125-pound division and promised to make weight if given the opportunity ... British bantamweight Ian Entwistle opened the event with a heel hook submission on former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Anthony Birchak in just 64 seconds. The performance earned Entwistle a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus ... A preliminary middleweight bout between Derek Brunson and Ed Herman was scrapped after the former reportedly became ill with food poisoning ... Former World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion Jamie Varner saw his career come full circle -- he made his professional debut in Tempe, Ariz., in 2003 -- and announced his retirement following a submission loss to Drew Dober. Varner will be best remembered for his technical knockout on “Razor” Rob McCullough in 2008, his rivalry with Donald Cerrone and his improbable victory over Edson Barboza at UFC 146. Against Dober, he dazed himself during a failed lateral drop, surrendered his back soon after and succumbed to a rear-naked choke 1:52 into the first round ... Joe Riggs -- who had not fought in the UFC in exactly eight years -- met a similar end, as he suffered a neck injury while executing a takedown on Ben Saunders and tapped out moments later ... Newcomer Willie Gates angered the live crowd when he punched John Moraga while the Arizona Combat Sports-MMA Lab representative complained to the referee about an apparent low blow. While the strike from Gates was legal, it came off like a cheap shot to some. Moraga got his revenge, however, securing a third-round submission.
UFC on Fox 13 “Dos Santos vs. Miocic” drew an announced attendance of 15,300 to the US Airways Center for a $1.5 million live gate.