weather icon Partly Cloudy

Rejuvenated former champ Dos Santos cruises to UFC win in Croatia

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos once again looked like a contender on Sunday.

The Brazilian delivered a virtuoso performance in winning all five rounds of the main event over Ben Rothwell on a UFC card in Zagreb, Croatia. It was the organization’s first event in the nation.

Dos Santos had won just two of his last five fights, including two lopsided losses to Cain Velasquez. He was coming off a second-round knockout loss to Alistair Overeem in December.

On Sunday, dos Santos peppered Rothwell with body shots and frustrated him with his movement for nearly the entire 25 minutes.

“I think we did the right strategy,” dos Santos said after ending Rothwell’s 4-fight winning streak. “You can’t go (straight into) a guy that size. He’s too big. I used my footwork to move a lot and throw hard punches and used my boxing.

“Forget about jiu-jitsu and wrestling. I’m a boxing guy.”

Dos Santos has had his once iron chin called into question, but indicated part of the strategy put together at his new camp in Florida was to avoid Rothwell’s power. It worked as Rothwell was never able to set his feet and take aim at the former champ.

“I kept myself calm and just did my job,” dos Santos said. “For me it’s been great training at (American Top Team) and they have helped me a lot. I have learned a lot.”

He said he hopes the performance will serve as a springboard back to the top of the division.

“Of course, this is just the beginning though. It was only my second training camp here so I’m learning all the time,” he said. “Write it down. I’m going to be champion again. I don’t know what’s next, that’s up to the UFC, but I needed this to feel the passion inside my heart again.

“I gave my all to win the fight. I found that passion tonight and now anything is possible.”

The top four fights on the card were all heavyweight matchups.

Derrick Lewis recorded his third consecutive knockout victory with a first-round stoppage of Gabriel Gonzaga.

“I feel hungry after that victory,” Lewis said. “I feel really good. I appreciate my opponent and what he did in the fight. I’m hoping that I get to fight Roy Nelson in July at UFC 200. I want to fight again soon and keep this run of victories going.

“Eventually I want to fight for the title and this victory definitely puts me in the top 15.”

The matchup is now likely to be booked, though the date is unclear, after another impressive performance.

Nelson, a Las Vegan, congratulated Lewis for the win on social media and referred to him as his “next opponent.”

Francis Ngannou earned a victory over Curtis Blaydes when the ringside physician ruled Blaydes could not see out of right eye following the second round. Timothy Johnson took a unanimous decision over Marcin Tybura.

In a light heavyweight matchup, Jan Blachowicz earned a unanimous decision victory over hometown hero Igor Pokrajac.

Blachowicz rallied to win the final two rounds after a slow start. Pokrajac, who was released from the UFC in 2014 but re-signed for this event after three wins outside the organization to compete on this card, said he enjoyed the experience.

“It was a heck of a fight. I tried to put on the best show for my crowd here in Croatia,” he said. “I’m very proud that we managed to fill out this arena and it was an honor to be able to fight in front of them. It’s up to the UFC to decide what’s next but I will be back in the gym tomorrow training. I want to show everyone that next time I will be better.”

Maryna Moroz kicked off the main card with a unanimous decision victory over Cristina Stanciu in a women’s strawweight bout.

Alejandro Perez highlighted the preliminary card by forcing Ian Entwistle to verbally submit due to punches in the first round of a bantamweight bout.

Lightweight Mairbek Taisumov knocked out Damir Hadzovic in the first round and bantamweight Damian Stasiak needed just 2:16 to submit Filip Pejic by rear-naked choke.

Zak Cummings capped off the televised portion of the preliminary card by winning all three rounds over Nicolas Dalby on his way to a unanimous decision. The welterweight improved to 4-1 since signing with the UFC in 2013.

Lucas Martins, Jared Cannonier and Bojan Velickovic all picked up wins on the card.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Covering The Cage Videos
Shevchenko says defending the UFC flyweight belt is her number one challenge
UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko claimed the vacant title when she defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 last December. She will put the belt on the line for the first time in Chicago, Ill., when she faces Jessica Eye at UFC 238 on June 8.
UFC title contender Jessica Eye says her move to Las Vegas gives her an edge
Ohio native Jessica Eye says she moved to Las Vegas to get an edge in performance ahead of facing UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 238 in Chicago, Ill., on June 8.
Greg Hardy, former NFL star, on MMA knockout
The former NFL star needed just 17 seconds to score a knockout on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series (Adam Hill/Review-Journal)
Marlon Moraes says Henry Cejudo will regret stepping up to bantamweight - VIDEO
UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo is coming up to the bantamweight division to battle Marlon Moraes for the vacant belt on June 8 at UFC 238. Moraes said Cejudo will regret going after a second title in a new division and added that he thinks his path will cross with former champion TJ Dillashaw in the future.
Paige VanZant details her arm injury, when she can return - VIDEO
UFC strawweight Paige VanZant was briefly linked to fight at UFC 236, but had to withdraw from the bout due to a broken arm. As a guest on the RJ Ringside Podcast, she detailed the injury and also spoke about joining the M-1 Global booth as a color commentator.
UFC 236 Press Conference Highlights
UFC 236 will feature a pair of interim title fights. In the main event, UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway will face lightweight contender Dustin Poirier and middleweights Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum will collide in the co-main event. UFC 236 will take place in Atlanta, Ga., on Apr. 13.
Jon Jones retains light heavyweight belt at UFC 235 - VIDEO
Jon Jones retained the UFC light heavyweight belt when he earned a decision over Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235.
Kamaru Usman crowned new champ at UFC 235 — VIDEO
Kamaru Usman became the first African-born fighter to claim a UFC belt when he defeated Tyron Woodley to become the promotion's new welterweight champion.
UFC 235 Official Weigh-in Results - VIDEO
All 24 fighters competing at UFC 235 at the T-Mobile Arena on March 2 stepped on the scale prior for the official fight card weigh-ins. All four fighters competing in the title bouts slated for the event made weight.
UFC's Jones says he has no shame after recent drug test results are released - VIDEO
Though recent drug test results still show trace amounts of Turinabol in his system, UFC light heayvweight champion Jon Jones says he has no shame and is hiding nothing as he prepares for his UFC 235 title bout against Anthony Smith.
Anthony Smith stays level-headed prior to UFC 235 title fight - VIDEO
Despite UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones being in the spotlight for drug test discrepancies and other outside the cage struggles, Anthony Smith says he is tuning out the noise and remaining focused on the challenge of beating the reigning champion in the cage.
UFC 235 Media Day Highlights
Highlights and staredowns from the top three fights on the UFC 235 fight card taking place at the T-Mobile Arena on March 2.
Dustin Poirier beats up Max Holloway at UFC 236

Dustin Poirier bloodied Max Holloway and won a unanimous decision for the UFC interim lightweight title on Saturday night, denying Holloway his chance to become only the fourth fighter to hold two belts at the same time.

Poirier bloodies Holloway, wins UFC interim lightweight belt

Dustin Poirier bloodied Max Holloway and won a unanimous decision for the UFC interim lightweight title on Saturday night, denying Holloway his chance to become only the fourth fighter to hold two belts at the same time.