Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos put on one of the most entertaining, and closest, standup wars in UFC heavyweight history on Saturday night. The fans cheered the fighters upon the final horn but booed the judges upon the decision.
Miocic and dos Santos both landed powerful shots in an entertaining opening-stanza of their nationally-televised main event. Miocic continued to land solid punches in the second round, opening up cuts on a crimson-faced dos Santos. The underdog finally scored a takedown to end the round after repeated attempts. The underdog appears in control.
Miocic lays leather on dos Santos to start the third. Midway through the round, dos Santos, losing the fight by this point, lands a counter left on Miocic’s jaw that drops his opponent. Suddenly, dos Santos appears as the fresher fighter and his opponent displays cuts of his own.
Miocic starts the third with a kick to the cup that delays the action. Miocic tracks down dos Santos, who appears to have regained confidence and momentum. Miocic scores with several rights to hurt Junior with two minutes remaining. But Junior, as Miocic did earlier, took his adversary’s best shots to answer with his own. Dos Santos shocks in a sudden grounding of Miocic four minutes into the round. Miocic regains his feet after 30 seconds.
As the foes enter the fifth, the fight, but not the fighters, appear even. Dos Santos, a swollen, bloody mess, nevertheless looks energetic. Miocic, whose face now wins a beauty contest with his opponent, starts listlessly.
The former heavyweight champion attacks the body with punches. Miocic stalking. Dos Santos boxing. The former champion lands a big right halfway through a round he controls, mainly because of body-shot jabs. A resurgent Miocic lands several hard punches to move the favorite against the fence. Both fighters finish strong in one of the greatest standup battles in UFC heavyweight history.
The judges see it unanimously for Junior dos Santos. The live crowd disagrees.
With little public appetite for JDS-Cain 4, pairings with Travis Browne or Alistair Overeem, both coming off wins, may make for marketable matchups. Should Fabricio Werdum find a way to win the title from Cain Velazquez, dos Santos likely steps to the front of the line for a title shot.
Miocic wins despite losing by standing toe-to-toe for five rounds with the best heavyweight boxer in MMA. Ben Rothwell called out Miocic at Breitbart Sports in September. That fight makes sense. Mark Hunt, who, like Miocic, comes off a loss, also appears attractive, as does a bout with former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, who has lost just one of his last ten fights and who, like tonight’s loser, trades without fear. Given the promotion’s propensity to match losers, look for a possible Miocic-Hunt fight sometime in the New Year.