Thiago Santos is definitely looking like the next contender at 205 pounds.
A longtime middleweight, Santos (21-6) entered Saturday’s main event encounter with Jan Blachowicz (23-8) at UFC Prague having finished his last two opponents at 205 pounds, and though it took him a couple of rounds to get locked in, when he did it was lights out for Blachowicz.
The first two rounds were a display of the fighters’ technical expertise, with both men making good use of low kicks and feints. Santos was active looking for counters and Blachowicz found success in round two going to the body, but the action was fairly even through 10 minutes.
Santos then connected with a powerful counter left-right early in round three that had Blachowicz badly hurt. On his back, Blachowicz could only turtle up as Santos landed unanswered hammer fists for almost 10 seconds before the referee stepped in for the save. The official time of the stoppage was :39 into the third round.
This was the 11th UFC KO victory for Santos, who moved into a tie for second on the all-time list with Anderson Silva and Anthony Johnson, behind Vitor Belfort (13).
Post-fight, Santos was asked what was next for him and he didn’t mince words, calling for the winner of next Saturday’s light heavyweight title fight between champion Jon Jones and challenger Anthony Smith.
“The fans will tell who has to be the next challenger,” Santos said via a Portuguese translator. “I’m going to Las Vegas to watch Anthony Smith against Jon Jones. If it’s Anthony Smith, I’ll beat him again, and if it’s Jon Jones, I’ll beat him too.”
Santos previously fought Smith in a middleweight bout at UFC Belem, winning by second-round TKO.
In the co-main event, Stefan Struve (29-11) picked up a second-round submission win over Marcos Rogerio de Lima (16-6-1) in what could be the final fight for “Skyscraper”.
The bout started off as poorly as possible for the gigantic heavyweight, as de Lima clipped Struve with an overhand right that dropped him onto his back. De Lima dove into his guard and spent the remainder of the period there, winning a clear-cut round one.
Round two started with de Lima again closing the distance, but he was out-grappled and tripped to the mat by Struve who immediately stepped over into half guard. Staying heavy, Struve patiently worked his way into position for an arm-triangle that forced de Lima to tap out in the second round at 2:21.
Struve, who snapped a three-fight losing streak with the win, proceeded to announce that he was contemplating retirement, and though his decision was “not 100 percent,” the 40-fight veteran left his gloves in the Octagon following his post-fight interview.
Michal Oleksiejczuk (13-2, 1 NC) had possibly the best finish of the main card, needing just 1:34 to land a crippling body shot against the always game Gian Villante (17-11). Villante took his time approaching the springy Oleksiejczuk and landed a solid right hand, only to absorb a hard punch to his midsection that had him wincing in pain after a brief delay. A few punches on the ground later and the bout was stopped.
This is both Oleksiejczuk’s first UFC knockout and official win after a unanimous decision nod over Khalil Rountree at UFC 219 was overturned to a no contest when Oleksiejczuk later tested positive for a banned substance.
In a call that did not sit well with the crowd at O2 Arena in Prague, the Czech Republic’s Lucie Pudilova (8-4) lost a unanimous decision to Liz Carmouche (13-6) after the one-time UFC bantamweight challenger used her wrestling to stifle the gutsy Pudilova. It was a difficult fight to score, with Pudilova being the more active fighter on the feet, but also being unable to stop Carmouche from scoring takedowns in each round.
Pudilova did her best to fight from her back and reverse positions, but in the end the judges leaned in favor of Carmouche’s grinding game plan (30-27, 29-28, 29-28). A final frame in which Carmouche aggressively pursued both a kimura and a heel hook played a part in the decision.
With her fourth win in five fights (and two straight at 125 pounds), Carmouche keeps herself on the short list for a future title shot against flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. The two fought back in September 2010 and Carmouche defeated Shevchenko by second-round TKO, the only stoppage loss of Shevchenko’s career.
A highly-anticipated bantamweight bout between two-time flyweight title contender John Dodson (20-11) and fast-rising Russian bantamweight Petr Yan (12-1) lived up to its billing as the two speedsters scrapped for three rounds, with Yan eventually going on to win a unanimous decision via 30-27 scores across the board.
Yan appeared to be just a step ahead of “The Magician,” landing cleanly with a straight right hand over-and-over again while denying Dodsons’ attempts to rack up points with his stick-and-move style. Dodson did have the lone knockdown in the match, putting Yan on his back with a clean left hand, but that was overshadowed by Yan’s consistent output. By round three, it was clear that Yan was landing the harder punches and even managed to do something few fighters have ever accomplished: make Dodson slow down.
This was Yan’s seventh straight win and he is unbeaten in four UFC appearances. He is tied for the longest active win streak in the UFC bantamweight division with champion T.J. Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes, Alejandro Perez, and Jose Quinonez, per Michael Carroll.
In the main card opener, Magomed Ankalaev (11-1) showed off his all-around game for 15 minutes to win a convincing unanimous decision over short-notice replacement opponent Klidson Abreu (14-2). The bout became a 209-pound catchweight affair after Abreu missed weight on Friday, but the extra poundage didn’t appear to help Abreu who struggled to close the distance against Ankalaev. In round one, he ducked into a hard counter-uppercut that rearranged his nose and set the tone for the rest of the bout.
When Ankalaev wasn’t picking Abreu apart with his sharp striking, he was controlling him against the fence and neutralizing Abreu’s jiu-jitsu with smart top control. The judges ended up scoring the bout 30-27, 30-27, and 29-28 in Ankalaev’s favor, giving the Dagestani fighter his second straight win.
See the full results for UFC Prague here.