After two title fight losses, it’s a tall task to climb back to the top of the mountain.
Things change quickly in this sport, and just like that, even on the heels of a disappointing loss, Dos Santos seems to have placed himself right back in the title picture.
More from Fight Night Zagreb: Full results | Postfight bonuses | Dos Santos dominant in main event victory | Backstage interviews: Maribek Taisumov | Octagon interviews: Junior Dos Santos, Derrick Lewis
“Cigano” dominated Ben Rothwell in virtually every moment of their Zagreb main event. Dos Santos made Rothwell, who brought a four-fight finish streak into the bout, look slow. The cumulative damage inflicted by JDS earned him shutout scores on all three judges’ scorecards.
The key to staying relevant in MMA is learning to evolve, and Dos Santos proved Sunday afternoon that he is still learning.
“I think I’m doing good now because it’s hard,” Dos Santos said. “I know I have to improve my skills, not just my boxing but my wrestling and jiu-jitsu. But I’m a boxing guy and I have to keep it there. I’m feeling good and I think this time now we’re putting everything in the right place and that’s why I think I’ll be champion again. And it’s not going to take too long.”
Here are the Fight Night Zagreb talking points:
Tough Rothwell can learn in defeat
Ben Rothwell was on a historically amazing finish streak before running into the buzz saw that was JDS.
The cryptic promo-giving, dancing, and dangerous heavyweight thought he had everything figured out. And he did, for a while, but MMA is a humbling sport.
Dos Santos lost twice to the man that took his title (Cain Velasquez) and he’s had to regroup several times on his way back to contention. Now that road begins for Rothwell, who had to be transported to the hospital for further observation after the fight.
Heavyweight division gets power injection
Derrick Lewis has been telling anyone that would listen that he was the next big thing at heavyweight for months.
Two straight knockouts didn’t do the trick, but the third against Gabriel Gonzaga in the co-main event may have finally got Lewis’ message across.
Right before Lewis had his big finish; Francis Ngannou had his second straight UFC win in as many outings. Ngannou is a terrifying heavyweight with power and, as we learned against Curtis Blaydes, top level takedown defense.
In his debut Ngannou finished with an emphatic punch. Against Blaydes he simply beat him up until the doctor was forced to stop the fight because he couldn’t open his right eye.
“What I did tonight made me dream bigger,” Ngannou said. “I’m feeling things very easier than last time and I think it will go better each time.”
Taisumov ready for top 10 opponent
Taisumov got on the mic after the fight and pleaded his case to Joe Silva for a top 10 opponent in his next fight.
“A long time I am asking about top 10 guys,” Taisumov said. “I want to fight these guys. I want to fight the best. I have four knockouts in a streak and I hope to have four more. I am going to keep winning and then one day they will give me a title shot.”
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC