Sunday's battle between top heavyweight contenders Junior Dos Santos and Ben Rothwell at the UFC's debut in Zagreb, Croatia, was the perfect example of overvaluing recent performances to determine a winner.
Dos Santos (18-4), a former heavyweight champion, was coming off his worst career performance, a second-round stoppage loss to Alistair Overeem on Dec. 19 in Orlando, Fla. Rothwell (36-10) was coming off his most impressive career win. One could argue whether Josh Barnett was his biggest name win since he's got a win over Alistair Overeem, but the nature of it was, forcing Barnett to tap out. That was considered almost unfathomable before the Jan. 30 fight in Newark, N.J.
The last time Dos Santos had what one could call a dominant win was his Mark Hunt knockout three years ago. The last time Rothwell had lost at all was to Gabriel Gonzaga, also three years ago.
Rothwell was on the short list of people who could have been very reasonably considered for a title shot at the winner of the May 14 fight between champion Fabricio Werdum and challenger Stipe Miocic. For Dos Santos, the Rothwell fight would have been step one in a rebuilding process to get a title shot against a champion he once knocked out in 2008, and a challenger that he beat via close decision.
The loss takes Rothwell off that short list. So the Werdum vs. Miocic winner is now likely to face either Cain Velasquez (13-2), provided he gets past Travis Browne (18-3-1) at UFC 200, or Overeem (40-14, 1 no contest), who faces Andrei Arlovski (25-11) on May 8 in Rotterdam, Holland. If both win, it'll be a choice based on how impressive the win looks, timing, injuries and of course, marketability. If one wins and the other loses, the choice for a title shot becomes easy with Rothwell falling by the wayside.
If both lose, the door is wide open.
It was a new Dos Santos in many ways, laying back and focusing on boxing, particularly the jab to the body. While Rothwell landed punches at times, Dos Santos' footwork and accuracy allowed him to control every round, winning on straight 50-45 scores. Dos Santos outlanded Rothwell 157-77. In doing so, he set a UFC record for most strikes landed in a heavyweight fight, and a record for any weight class with 92 body strikes landed in one fight.
And with Velasquez and Overeem already booked elsewhere, if there was an injury to either Werdum or Miocic, particularly Miocic, Overeem would make the most sense to call.
Dos Santos was asked about the potential in the event one of the UFC 198 headliners gets hurt, since he's already a Brazilian favorite and the show is at a soccer stadium in Curitiba.
"You never know, normally after a fight I take 10 or 15 days to rest and then I get back to my training," he said. "Maybe. You never know."
A Dos Santos who can use his boxing skill like this is actually the youngest top 10 heavyweight on the heavyweight roster. So while his performance against Overeem looked like a fighter beaten down by some hard wars, particularly his matches with Velasquez, and no longer at his peak, now, his future looks bright again.
Let's look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Sunday's show:
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS - Provided he's not called up for a late replacement for the UFC 198 title fight, who Dos Santos fights next probably is a waiting game. If Werdum loses to Miocic, a Dos Santos vs. Werdum rematch from 2008 could make sense. A title fight would just as easily make sense. Dos Santos vs. Miocic was a close, exciting battle in their first meeting.
If Arlovski beats Overeem on May 8, Dos Santos vs. Arlovski would make sense for a top contenders fight. If Werdum and Overeem both win, a rematch with Miocic would make sense.
BEN ROTHWELL - The loss was costly to Rothwell after four wins in a row. If Miocic loses to Werdum, he could face him. He could also be rematched with Mark Hunt, coming off Hunt's knockout win over Frank Mir. But for him it's also best to wait a month and see the results of upcoming heavyweight fights to determine where he's best slotted.
DERRICK LEWIS - Lewis (15-4) came into Croatia as an unranked heavyweight noted mostly for great power. He lived up to the rep against Gabriel Gonzaga (17-11) , as he connected with a right to the jaw late in the first round that ended the fight.
Lewis now has 14 of his 15 wins by knockout, the other via submission early in his career. He's got three knockout wins in a row, but any hype is tempered by his having been knockout out by both Shawn Jordan and Matt Mitrione over the past two years.
After the fight, there was a lot of talk of matching Lewis with Roy Nelson (21-12), which on paper would be by far the toughest challenge of his career.
FRANCIS NGANNOU - In the heavyweight dominated show, the 29-year-old Cameroon native, who now lives in France, moved to 7-1, with all seven wins coming via stoppage in the first two rounds.
Ngannou has good size, at 6-foot-4 and in the 250-pound range. He wasn't quite as muscular as in the past, but is still one of the impressive looking heavyweights on the roster. Skill and experience wise, he doesn't yet look ready for the top 10. A good next opponent would be Tim Johnson (10-2), who defeated Marcin Tybura in the bout preceding Ngannou's win over Curtis Blaydes.
MAIRBEK TAISUMOV - After Taisumov (25-5) finished Damir Hadzovic (10-3), dropping him with a right uppercut in the first round, he brought up the name of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, and asked how many knockouts does he need to get a top 10 opponent.
This was Taisumov's fourth straight knockout win, all of which ended either in the first or early second rounds. If he's looking for a ranked opponent in the lightweight division, Michael Johnson (18-10) would be a strong test. Perhaps Rustam Khabilov (18-3) would be a better test for right now since going with Johnson would be a significant increase in caliber of opponents to the people Taisumov has experience with.