If Junior Dos Santos was in front of a television a week ago watching UFC fights, you have to wonder what was going through his mind.
The heavyweight championship was being contested in front of a big-event crowd in Las Vegas. And if the brawny Brazilian scanned the faces on the scene, he might have spotted a familiar one, Cain Velasquez. But his old foe was in street clothes celebrating another man’s ascension to the top of the division.
It was as if Dos Santos and his generation of heavies were from a different time.
Not so fast.
Dos Santos turned back the clock on Saturday night in Boise, Idaho, returning from a 14-month absence from the Octagon — due to a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency suspension — to reassert himself in the big-boy division.
He dominated promotional newcomer Blagoy Ivanov in the main event of a UFC Fight Night at CenturyLink Arena, peppering him with an array of attacks over five rounds for a unanimous decision. All three judges scored every round for the Brazilian.
“I was feeling kind of weird,” Dos Santos said when asked afterward about his layoff. “I all the time say: Timing of fights is different than training. You have to be fighting to be on timing.”
Dos Santos (19-5) spent much of the first round targeting the rotund midsection of Ivanov, and that paid off in the second round, when the Brazilian varied his attack, bloodying his opponent with some hard jabs.
Dos Santos even threw in a few kicks, including one spinning kick to the head. He looked fresh after two rounds, with Ivanov a bit haggard and frustrated.
It only got worse for Ivanov (16-2, 1 NC), a former World Series of Fighting champion and combat sambo world champ. In Round 3, he did snap back the head of Dos Santos with a right hand, but the Bulgarian couldn’t sustain an attack. It was Dos Santos delivering most of the punches, and some appeared to be big shots; but anytime Ivanov was wobbled, it seemed to be mostly from exhaustion.
It might be that Dos Santos’ constant movement depleted his punching power, as he almost always was moving away or to the side as he connected. In the end, though Ivanov did not have the look of one sculpted from granite, he had a chin made of one and his beefy body was able to withstand everything thrown its way.
“I fought this really tough guy,” Dos Santos said. “Thank you, Blagoy. You deserve to be in the UFC, the biggest organization in the world.”
Dos Santos reigned as heavyweight champion of that organization for a little over a year after knocking out Velasquez in November 2011. He successfully defended the belt once before dropping it the next year to Velasquez, whom he unsuccessfully challenged in 2013 in a third meeting. He had not fought since a May 2017 knockout loss to then-champion Stipe Miocic (whom he had beaten in 2014).
Dos Santos was scheduled to fight Francis Ngannou later in the year but was pulled from the fight by the UFC on Aug. 18 after USADA notified him and the promotion of a potential violation of the agency’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
However, on April 24, Dos Santos was cleared to return after proving to the USADA’s satisfaction that he had not intentionally used the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide. Now, Dos Santos is back and back winning, and he has one thing on his mind, saying, “A rematch with Miocic would be very welcome.”
Northcutt moves up and rises to occasion
Sage Northcutt finally has a welterweight victory in the UFC.
The 22-year-old, who is 5-0 as a UFC lightweight but no longer feels comfortable making weight at 155 pounds, had been 0-2 in the promotion as a 170-pounder before Saturday. He turned that around by storming back against Zak Ottow for a second-round KO in the co-main event.
It was Ottow (16-6) who had the early advantage, flooring Northcutt with a right hand during their first exchange, just 10 seconds into the fight.
“It was a great strike,” said Northcutt (11-2). “I guess I must have blinked right off the bat, so I didn’t see it coming.”
Ottow spent the better part of the first round on top, passing guard to dominant positions and delivering some shots. But late in the round, Northcutt regained his feet, attacked with a vengeance and took over the fight.
Although the second round began with Ottow again getting the fight to the canvas, this time via takedown, Northcutt got the action back to standing much quicker. And when he did, he seized control, stalking Ottow until he sent him to the canvas with a crisp left.
When Ottow got up, Northcutt grabbed him and threw him back down. Then he pounced on him and finished the job at 3:13 of the round with hammer fists.
“Words are powerful,” Northcutt said. “I said I was going to knock my opponent out. I believed it. I planned it. I went out there and was able to accomplish it.”
Mendes makes quick work of return
Chad Mendes hadn’t fought in 2½ years because of a doping suspension. His last two fights, in 2015, were knockout losses.
But the two-time championship challenger returned in style.
Mendes dropped Myles Jury midway through the first round with a left hook and never let him recover, pouncing with a flurry of punches for a TKO finish at 2:52 of the first round.
“I’m back!” screamed Mendes afterward.
The featherweight fight had been nothing but circling and stalking — nothing thrown with conviction — before Mendes (18-4) unleashed the big shot that collapsed Jury (17-3), who had won two in a row after suffering the first two losses of his career.
“He’s a long dude,” Mendes said. “I just needed to find the timing, the range, feel what his speed was going to feel like. I think he was doing a bit of mixing up, kind of bluffing, going a little slow on stuff. So, I just wanted to see if there was going to be anything explosive coming in. Saw my opening and just exploded in, took it.”
Then Mendes issued a huge callout: “Brock Lesnar, where you at?” He laughed and added, “No, man, I’m just super excited to be back. Anyone in the top five — give it to me, let’s go.”
Mendes, who twice challenged Jose Aldo unsuccessfully for the title, had not fought since suffering a knockout loss to Frankie Edgar in December 2015. Six months later, he was informed of a potential doping violation by the USADA, which in July 2016 reported that Mendes had popped for a growth hormone release stimulator. He was suspended for two years.
Zingano breaks out of skid
Cat Zingano was undefeated when she stepped into the Octagon to challenge for the bantamweight championship in February 2015. She lost that fight to Ronda Rousey via submission in 14 seconds. Going into Saturday night, Zingano had not won since.
Zingano (10-3) ended a three-fight skid by repeatedly taking Marion Reneau (9-4-1) to the canvas for a ground-and-pound beatdown. Zingano landed seven takedowns — the most by a bantam female — in the three rounds, and that translated to a 30-27, 30-27, 30-26 verdict from the judges.
Zingano said she had not planned to make the fight so heavy on wrestling.
“I just came in trying to dance to my rhythm,” said the woman known as “Alpha Cat.”
With the losing streak behind her, what’s next? The first name Zingano mentioned was bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes; Zingano is the last to beat the Brazilian, back in 2014, before Nunes was champ.
But Zingano also is open to fighting those to whom she lost.
“I want to fix all the mistakes I made,” she said.
For Reneau, it was the first loss in her past five fights.