UFC on Fox 13 on Saturday night was touted by the organization as "the biggest fight card in broadcast television history."
Judging by the amount of impressive performances packed into the short main card, it nearly lived up to the bit of hyperbole by the UFC hype machine.
The night was anchored by an instant classic between Junior dos Santos and Stipe Miocic. The underdog Miocic did his best to pull off the upset but came up short in a five round slugfest that fight fans won't soon forget.
Rafael dos Anjos made his claim as a truly elite lightweight contender. His one-sided dismantling of Nate Diaz stood out against the backdrop of heavyweight bouts.
Outside of the main event and dos Anjos emergence on national television was a pair of short finishes from both Alistair Overeem and Matt Mitrione.
Here’s a look at the memorable fight card as it transpired.
Junior Dos Santos Defeats Stipe Miocic
The night ended with an instant classic. Junior dos Santos had his hand raised but both were winners as the former champion beat Stipe Miocic via unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)
Miocic made his gameplan apparent from the outset. While feeling out dos Santos’ striking range early he attempted multiple takedowns to keep the former champion on his toes. The takedowns themselves weren’t very effective, but offered him opportunities to land some strikes in the clinch as he opened up a cut on dos Santos.
Cigano responded by landing some significant strikes of his own, setting the stage for a competitive main event.
A confident Miocic came out in the second round and looked much more comfortable trusting his own boxing. The Croation consistently used his jab to set up notable strikes in the early going and continued to land throughout the round. A takedown for the underdog concluded the round.
After two rounds where Miocic was the story, dos Santos finally caught a break. A failed takedown attempt in the third round quickly gave JDS top position before the fight worked its way to the standup. It was there that dos Santos reminded everyone why he’s among the most dangerous fighters in the sport. A thunderous right hand nearly ended the fight and swung the momentum.
Heading into the championship rounds it was apparent that cardio was going to be the deciding factor as both fighters were exhausted.
That exhaustion led to a fourth-round which slowed to a crawling pace, but featured sporadic heavy shots from both fighters. JDS answered a flurry from Miocic with an uncharacteristic takedown that most likely gave him the round.
The fifth and final round served as a fitting conclusion to the slugfest. Both fighters laid everything on the line with dos Santos controlling the pace and Miocic landing some more bombs and giving the judges a difficult decision on their hands.
Cigano proved this fact once again by dispatching of Stipe Miocic via (METHOD OF VICTORY) in the main event.
With the win dos Santos still hasn’t lost to anyone in the UFC other than Velasquez. But therein lies the problem for the former champion.
Even though he has proven that few can handle his mix of power and technique in the stand up game, it’s tough to justify a title shot. The nature of his lopsided losses to the champion makes it difficult to sell a fourth bout.
Miocic missed out on a huge opportunity in the loss. He came within a few more strikes in each round of pulling off a major upset. He proved he can stick with anyone in the division outside of the champion, but will still need to prove he can come out victorious in big spots his next time out.
Rafael Dos Anjos Defeats Nate Diaz
It’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore Rafael dos Anjos as a viable lightweight contender. He made Nate Diaz his most recent victim with an emphatic unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27) win over the controversial lightweight.
Not to be outdone by their heavier counterparts, dos Anjos and Diaz immediately came to the center of the Octagon swinging. The Brazilian immediately started chopping at Diaz’ lead leg while the Stockton, Calif. native opted for his traditional boxing.
The latter half of the round was played out on the ground where dos Anjos proved to have the advantage again. RDA maintained top control, fended off a leg lock attempt from Diaz and landed some ground-and-pound to end the round.
Round 2 had Diaz experiencing deja vu as dos Anjos utilized leg kicks to break down his opponent before taking it to the ground once again.
To conclude the one-sided beatdown, dos Anjos took to the ground in the third and final frame. Elbows to the head were his weapon of choice as he put the exclamation mark on a dominant performance.
Dos Anjos scored an emphatic win last time out over Benson Henderson, knocking the former champion out in the first round. Now, he’s garnered even more attention with a co-main event win on national television.
As big as the win was for dos Anjos, it creates an even more interesting situation for Diaz. The lightweight missed weight on Friday and doesn’t seem to be at peace with the UFC.
"I have a job to get done this week but at the same time, I don't know what I'm doing here," Diaz said via ESPN. "I just feel like a company and a fighter should treat each other mutually. Instead, I feel like I put in a hell of a lot more than I get back and when I ask for more, I get trashed.”
Given the Diaz brothers’ general penchant for complaining it’s difficult to forecast what’s next for Diaz. On one hand, that sounds like a fighter on his way out. On the other, it’s also the kind of talk that sells fights.
This loss might officially make Diaz more trouble than he’s worth for the organization moving forward.
Alistair Overeem Defeats Stefan Struve
Don’t count out Alistair Overeem as a threat in the heavyweight division quite yet. The Demolition Man picked up a crucial first-round TKO victory (4:13) over Stefan Struve on Saturday night.
Though Overeem is mostly known for his kickboxing prowess, it appeared he would go to his grappling in the early going. After locking up a clinch early in the first, Overeem exploded into a takedown that earned him top position and the opportunity to land some ground-and-pound.
Though Struve attempted to utilize his long legs to keep Overeem at bay, the fight ended shortly after the former Strikeforce star started raining down strikes on a downed Struve.
The Reem entered the bout in desperate need of a win. After running roughshod over Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut, he went just 1-3 under Zuffa. This win should keep the former Strikeforce star off the chopping block and set up another high-profile fight.
For Struve, this is another disappointing break in a career that’s been filled with them. The 26-year-old has been battling a heart ailment and was forced to withdraw from UFC 175, which has contributed to a layoff of more than a year.
Now he’ll need to take a step down in competition to get things back on track.
Matt Mitrione Defeats Gabriel Gonzaga
The momentum keeps mounting up for the one they call "Meathead." Matt Mitrione opened the night up with a first-round TKO (1:59) over Gabriel Gonzaga.
The bout was a true testament to the explosive power that Mitrione possesses. The two heavyweights spent most of the time gauging distance and throwing one punch at a time.
All it took was one quick right-left combination from Mitrione as Gonzaga came in to turn out the Brazilian's lights and score the TKO victory.
This is the third consecutive win for the former NFL journeyman and puts his stock higher than ever before. Whether he can ever rise above the rank of gatekeeper is still in question, but his win here combined with first-round finishes of Shawn Jordan and Derrick Lewis show he’s a cut above the lower tier of the division.
For Gonzaga, this puts a disappointing end on 2014 to go with a sour start. He also lost to Stipe Miocic in January.