UFC Wichita: What do impressive stoppage wins mean for Elizeu and Junior dos Santos?

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Junior dos Santos (Getty)

For the first time in the UFC’s history, the Octagon touched down in Kansas on Saturday night with a 12-fight event at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, headlined by heavyweight bangers Derrick Lewis and Junior dos Santos.

Though the card was short on marquee names and fights that could be immediately identified as carrying divisional significance, UFC Fight Night 146 was one of those cards with the potential to serve as a catalyst for advancement for a couple different competitors beyond the main event participants.

A perfect example was the preliminary card scrap between Grant Dawson and Julian Erosa, which Dawson won handily.

The 25-year-old, who earned a contract with a win on Season 1 of the Contender Series, was sidelined for an extended period after getting flagged for a potential anti-doping violation. After months of investigation, he was cleared of any intentional wrongdoing and cleared to return, collecting a unanimous decision win on Saturday night.

Beating Erosa isn’t going to vault the newcomer into the featherweight title picture, but it’s a quality first step down that road for “The Prophet,” who trains with James Krause and the crew in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. It was a strong building block effort and the kind of fight you can look back to later as the point where Dawson started gathering momentum.

And sexy or not, those fights are always important in the long run.

Here’s a look at what transpired on the main card and the impact it will have for the athletes going forward.

Junior dos Santos def. Derrick Lewis by TKO (strikes) at 1:58 of Round 2

The big boys got after it right out of the chute and both landed massive shots early, with dos Santos rocking Lewis first before “The Black Beast” countered with a clobbering right hand of his own that made the former champion retreat and reset. Late in the first, dos Santos hurt Lewis with a spinning back kick to the midsection, though he opted against rushing forward in search of the finish, knowing Lewis only needs one shot to turn things around.

Early in the second, “Cigano” got after it, connecting with big shots that stung Lewis and had him backing up. Once it was clear that the recent title challenger was in peril, the affable Brazilian opened up, eventually forcing the stoppage just before the two-minute mark of the second frame.

What does it mean: Because the division has no clear direction at the moment, it’s difficult to say with any certainty what comes next for dos Santos, but there are a few obvious, important takeaways from this performance that rate regardless of the state of the division.

First and foremost, that’s three straight wins for the former title holder, all of which have come in the last nine months. He’s lobbied to be as active as possible and is making the most of it by piling up wins, which has to put him in the title conversation.

Secondly, the fact that he took a couple good shots from Lewis and still went forward and got the finish not only quiets any lingering questions about dos Santos’ chin after some stoppage losses a couple years back, but also shows he’s still a dangerous threat on the feet as well. There may have been a desire to chalk up his stoppage win over Tai Tuivasa as youthful recklessness on the part of the unbeaten, inexperienced Aussie, but hurting Lewis and putting him away leaves no room for debate about dos Santos’ endure power and crisp offensive attack.

Lastly, this performance should put more pressure on the UFC to get things organized within the division as the veteran Brazilian is on a nice roll and he has limited options going forward. A bout with Francis Ngannou works as an obvious title eliminator and they were scheduled to fight in the past, so there is some history there. But without knowing what Daniel Cormier’s future holds and an idea about what things may look like two and three fights down the road, it might be difficult to coax the resurgent former champion into such a high-risk fight.

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def. Curtis Millender by submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:35 of Round 1

Make it seven straight for “Capoeira” inside the Octagon.

Almost immediately, dos Santos put Millender on the canvas and went to work, controlling the Californian while advancing to half guard and connecting with short elbows and punches. As soon as Millender started to get uncomfortable and roll, dos Santos slipped around to his back and laced up the choke, quickly squeezing out a tap.

This was a clinical performance for the Brazilian, who is a split decision loss in his promotional debut away from being 8-0 in the Octagon and riding a 12-fight winning streak overall.

What does it mean: If this performance and the totality of his efforts thus far don’t earn dos Santos a shot at someone in the Top 10 and another main card assignment on a marquee card, nothing will. He took full advantage of his first main card assignment and made quick work of Millender before getting a little help from his translator when calling for a big opportunity next time out.

The 32-year-old Brazilian had been buried on the prelims and suffers from being too humble on the microphone after victory, but at a certain point, you have to reward performance and dos Santos is deserving of a marquee name next time out. There have been a bunch of crucial welterweight fights in recent weeks with a couple more on the schedule before the month is out and “Capoeira” should absolutely land in the cage against one of the more established names in the group.

Perhaps the winner of the fight between Leon Edwards and Gunnar Nelson? What about the winner of the main event in “Smashville, USA” between Stephen Thompson and Anthony Pettis?

No matter who it is, it’s time to give dos Santos the high quality matchup he’s earned.

Niko Price def. Tim Means by KO (right hand) at 4:50 of Round 1

This one was forecasted to be violent and man did it ever deliver.

Right from the jump, these two savages started firing, with Price hurting Means early before “The Dirty Bird” rallied to take the fight to “The Hybrid.” Standing in the center of the Octagon, the duo traded big shots and Stockton slaps, with Means starting to pull away as the end of the round drew nearer.

He seemingly had Price dead to rights, backing him to the fence on shaky legs and looking to land one more clean shot, when Price uncorked a right hand that landed flush and brought the fight to a sudden halt.

What does it mean: Performances like this have a way of standing out, even though neither man entered with a number beside their name and Price isn’t due one with the win. When you connect on a walk-off finish against a tough cuss like Means, who had never been stopped prior to this, you can be sure that people will be looking forward to seeing the entertaining Floridian Price back in the cage again soon.

The 29-year-old is a “kill or be killed” fighter of the first order, as he’s only been to the cards once in his career and through eight UFC starts, he’s yet to see the second round.

This isn’t the first highlight reel finish for Price in the Octagon and now that he’s established a reputation as a wildly entertaining all-action fighter, he could get a quicker push towards the Top 15 than others with a similar record, but fewer exciting efforts. What he does with it if that opportunity does come remains to be seen, but Price is an explosive athlete with the potential to spark anyone he faces and should get a long look after this.

Blagoy Ivanov def. Ben Rothwell by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

The big fellas spent 15 minutes slinging leather, upping the output over the final 10 minutes to produce an entertaining scrap that resulted in Ivanov collecting his first UFC victory and the fans in Wichita voicing their displeasure with the decision.

Throughout the contest, Rothwell marched forward, with Ivanov tossing out heavy counters and overhand fastballs that left “Big Ben” painted up at the end of the second and third. That said, Rothwell landed numerous clean, punishing blows of his own and while the numbers were close in the first two rounds, it felt like Rothwell’s pressure would be the deciding factor. But it wasn’t meant to be for the returning cult favorite.

What does it mean: Every win is a big deal in the heavyweight division, where it only takes a couple strong performances to vault into the title picture. Ivanov started his UFC career with a loss to JDS, so picking up a win here against a stalwart like Rothwell helps set a baseline for where he fits in the weight class.

This was a much more active performance from the Bulgarian, who didn’t have much to offer against “Cigano” last summer, though his willingness to move backwards and look to counter could present challenges against some of the big power hitters in the division. That being said, he took the best Rothwell had to offer and while there were a couple spots where he was stiffened up, he never stumbled.

Clouds cover the heavyweight landscape for the moment, so it is unclear whom Ivanov could line up with next after this one. But this was a good win over one of the most experienced guys in the division that should carry him into the Top 10 and result in another marquee assignment later this year.

Beneil Dariush def. Drew Dober by submission (armbar) at 4:41 of Round 2

This was a gutsy effort from Dariush, who got pieced up and hurt a couple times during the opening five minutes, but was able to close the distance, secure the takedown and eventually get into his jiu jitsu game, work through a series of positions and attacks and find the finish.

There were points in the first where things looked dicey, as he’s been stung and stopped in the past, but Dariush did well to clinch at the right times to clear his head and wisely turned to his grappler much quicker in the second. From there, he showed his elite talent on the mat, working through to mount and take Dober’s back before eventually moving from a kimura trap to an inverted triangle before finishing with the armbar late in the middle stanza.

What does it mean: It’s a huge win in terms of confidence for Dariush, who quickly worked his way into the rankings early in his UFC career before a three-fight skid prompted many to question his place in the division. After getting back into the win column in November, this was the kind of win he needed in order to really re-establish his footing and solidify his standing as a fixture in the division.

There are never any easy nights in the lightweight ranks, so the next one is going to be a stern test for Dariush no matter who he draws, but with back-to-back wins and some net positives to build upon from this one, “Benny” is a contender to potentially climb back into the Top 15 or play spoiler to someone looking to make a quick climb up the divisional ladder themselves.

Omari Akhmedov def. Tim Boetsch by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Akhmedov controlled the action with his clinch work, movement and improved patience, doling out shots in more controlled bursts than the “go hard and fast” strategy he employed throughout the majority of his previous UFC appearances. He broke Boetsch’s nose with a beautiful right hand in the second round and opened him up on both sides of his eyebrow during the bout as well, turning in his most complete, impressive performance in some time.

What does it mean: This could very well end up being one of those fights I talked about off the top — a building block performance that doesn’t really blow you away right now, but turns out to be the starting point for something bigger.

After dealing with inconsistency and a shallow gas tank at welterweight, Akhmedov is now 1-0-1 in two middleweight starts and unbeaten in his last four starts. He looked good in his divisional debut and showed considerable improvements and notable adjustments here, and while Boetsch is clearly on his way out, “The Barbarian” is still tough and savvy enough to ruin your night if you give him a chance.

Middleweight is undergoing show changes at all levels and a quality performance like this could open some doors for Akhmedov down the road.

UFC Wichita Results

Main Card

Junior dos Santos def. Derrick Lewis by TKO (strikes) at 1:58 of Round 2
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def. Curtis Millender by submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:35 of Round 1
Niko Price def. Tim Means by KO (punch) at 4:50 of Round 1
Blagoy Ivanov def. Ben Rothwell by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Beneil Dariush def. Drew Dober by submission (armbar) at 4:41 of Round 2
Omari Akhmedov def. Tim Boetsch by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Prelims

Anthony Rocco Martin def. Sergio Moraes by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27,. 30-27)
Yana Kunitskaya def. Marion Reneau by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Grant Dawson def. Julian Erosa by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-28)
Maurice Greene def. Jeff Hughes by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Matt Schnell def. Louis Smolka by submission (triangle choke) at 3:18 of Round 1
Alex Morono def. Zak Ottow by verbal submission (strikes) at 3:34 of Round 1
Alex White def. Dan Moret by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)