Those who believed Junior dos Santos’ days as an elite Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight were over appear to have been mistaken.
The resurgent dos Santos walked the tightrope and put away Derrick Lewis with punches in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 146 main event on Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas. Lewis bit the dust 1:58 into Round 2, as the former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time in his 28-fight career.
Dos Santos did not escape the cage unscathed but managed to live to tell the tale despite experiencing his counterpart’s nuclear punching power on more than one occasion. The composed Brazilian stung Lewis with an overhand right in the first round and later doubled over “The Black Beast” with a savage spinning back kick to the body, burying his heel into the New Orleans native’s solar plexus. As the encounter drifted into Round 2, dos Santos stepped up his attack, buzzed Lewis with a straight right and forced him to retreat to the canvas with a volley of follow-up punches. With the Bob Perez protege offering no discernible defense, referee Herb Dean swooped in and called for the stoppage.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Lewis vs. Dos Santos,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Junior dos Santos vs. Daniel Cormier: Pushed to the back burner after violent technical knockout losses to Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic, the rejuvenated dos Santos has suddenly resurfaced as a genuine threat to the heavyweight throne. The 35-year-old Brazilian has now defeated Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Blagoy Ivanov in succession -- a run of success that has allowed him to take aim at the top of the division. Whether or not dos Santos can complete his improbable climb back to the top of the mountain remains to be seen. Cormier, who turns 40 in a little more than a week, last fought at UFC 230 in November, when he submitted Lewis with a rear-naked choke to retain the undisputed heavyweight championship.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Leon Edwards-Gunnar Nelson winner: Zaleski dos Santos has made himself impossible to ignore in the welterweight division. The onetime Jungle Fight champion improved to 7-1 under the UFC banner with his seventh consecutive victory, as he submitted Curtis Millender with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their co-main event. Millender raised the white flag 2:35 into Round 1, losing for the first time in more than three years. Edwards will toe the line against Nelson in the UFC Fight Night 147 co-headliner on March 16 in London.
Niko Price vs. Geoff Neal: In what was easily the most significant win of his career to date, Price turned out the lights on former King of the Cage titleholder Tim Means with a crushing counter right hook and follow-up punches in the first round of their welterweight showcase. Means, who had never before been stopped by strikes, met his end 4:50 into Round 1. Price has quietly compiled a 5-2 record since joining the UFC roster in 2016, losing only to Abdul Razak Alhassan and Vicente Luque. Neal, 28, finds himself on a five-fight winning streak after he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Belal Muhammad at UFC Fight Night 143 on Jan. 19.
Blagoy Ivanov vs. Marcin Tybura-Shamil Abdurakhimov winner: Ivanov saw his hand raised inside the Octagon for the first time, as he spoiled the return of Ben Rothwell and took a unanimous decision from the International Fight League veteran in their three-round heavyweight feature. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28 for Ivanov, a former World Series of Fighting champion who has posted six wins across his last seven bouts. He did just enough to get by the “King of Kenosha,” outperforming Rothwell in the first and second rounds of a fight that was contested entirely on the feet. Tybura and Abdurakhimov have been booked opposite one another at UFC Fight Night 149 on April 20 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Beneil Dariush vs. Nik Lentz: Always an adventure at 155 pounds, Dariush withstood several precarious moments to submit Drew Dober with an armbar in the first round of their featured lightweight battle. Dober conceded defeat 4:41 into Round 2. Even in victory and despite Dariush’s undeniably well-rounded skills, questions abound regarding his staying power in a lightweight division overflowing with talented fighters. The 29-year-old Kings MMA mainstay will carry momentum from a modest two-fight winning streak into his next outing, though his brutal knockout losses to Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez remain seared into the memories of most observers. Lentz last fought on Feb. 17, when he took a unanimous decision from Scott Holtzman at UFC on ESPN and won for the fifth time in seven appearances.