Former UFC heavyweight champion dos Santos (17-3) edged one step closer to regaining his title Saturday night, defeating Miocic via unanimous decision at US Airways Center. All three judges scored the five-round contest for dos Santos: 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47. ESPN.com also scored it for dos Santos, 48-47.
Miocic (12-2) gave the Brazilian all he could handle, though, hurting him with right hands and bloodying his nose and right eye. After the result was read, Miocic immediately bolted from the Octagon with his team in tow.
"That was a tough fight," dos Santos said. "It's good to come back and feel how tough it is [in here]. It's the UFC. It's No. 1 in the world."
Dos Santos, who hadn't fought since October 2013 due to injury, scored the biggest punch of the fight with two minutes remaining in the third round, knocking Miocic down with a counter left hook. Miocic managed to get up quickly from the shot, but it represented a major shift in momentum for dos Santos at that point.
Using a blueprint reminiscent of the one Cain Velasquez employed to defeat dos Santos in December 2012 and October 2013, Miocic continually shot double legs on dos Santos, backing him to the fence where he looked to land right hands as dos Santos circled out. He converted just one takedown the entire fight, but the constant shots visibly wore on dos Santos' gas tank and kept his offense out of rhythm.
In the first round, Miocic caught dos Santos with one of many straight right hands. Smelling blood, Miocic pursued him aggressively, but was forced to back off when dos Santos fired back with counters. That was sort of a theme in the fight -- just when it appeared Miocic's pressure became too much for dos Santos, the Brazilian fired back and turned the tide.
Immediate cageside stats, according to Fightmetric, had dos Santos outlanding the Cleveland-based Miocic in total strikes, 163-112. Miocic, however, landed at a higher clip, connecting on 54 percent of his punches thrown compared to 47 percent by dos Santos.
"He was trying to take me down the whole time," dos Santos said. "That surprised me a little bit because normally he doesn't do that. He has really good boxing skills like I told you before. You can see that on my face."
In the third round, before dos Santos dropped Miocic with the left, it appeared the pace was wearing on the former champion. He continued to defend takedowns but his striking deteriorated mostly to telegraphed haymakers, as he looked to take Miocic out with one shot. Miocic took advantage of dos Santos' wildness, landing jabs and right hands but got caught reaching in one exchange, resulting in the knockdown.
Dos Santos scored a surprising takedown with one minute remaining in the fourth round. He dropped into Miocic's closed guard and looked to land punches from top position, but Miocic worked back to his feet quickly. He looked up at the clock at the very tail end of the frame and basically leaned against the fence covering up as dos Santos threw to the body and head.
Both heavyweights seemed energized by the crowd at the start of the fifth. Dos Santos had his way early, landing one overhand right after another, but it was Miocic who came on late and finished the fight on a high note -- backing dos Santos into the fence again with a flurry of punches. The crowd at US Airways stood and cheered during the final minute of the fight.
"I wasn't rooting for Miocic in this fight, but in his next fight, I will be rooting for him," dos Santos said.
Dos Santos moves to 11-2 in the Octagon. It is just the third decision win of his career. He knocked out Velasquez in November 2011 to win the UFC heavyweight title, but then suffered back-to-back losses to the current champion to put the series at 1-2. Now training out of Nova Uniao in Rio de Janeiro, dos Santos was ranked the No. 3 heavyweight in the world by ESPN.com heading into the bout.
Dos Anjos works over Diaz
Dos Anjos (23-7) hobbled Diaz with leg kicks and roughed him up on the floor for his 12th win in the Octagon. The 30-year-old Brazilian finished the fight in top position, raining down shots as Diaz covered up.
All three judges scored the blowout for dos Anjos: 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26.
How much Diaz's mental attitude affected his performance is up for debate. The 20-fight UFC veteran held out for much of 2014 in an effort to renegotiate his contract. During fight week, he made little effort to hide the fact he wasn't thrilled to be back in the Octagon under the current terms of his eight-fight contract and badly missed the 156-pound weight limit during Friday's official weigh-in.
Regardless, dos Anjos put on a terrific performance -- highlighted by the work he put into Diaz's lead right leg. Within minutes, Diaz was limping from leg kicks and switched his stance several times in an effort to avoid taking more damage. The 29-year-old also started to lift his leg in anticipation of the strikes.
Immediate cageside stats had dos Anjos outlanding Diaz in total strikes 129 to 51.
Diaz (17-10), who hadn't fought since a TKO victory over Gray Maynard in November 2013, spread out a handful of straight left hands on the feet. In the opening round, he rocked Dos Anjos with a knee under the chin after tying him up in a clinch.
That was about it for the 29-year-old, however, as it was obvious he was having trouble planting on his punches from the leg kicks and couldn't stop dos Anjos from taking him down. An elbow from dos Anjos opened a cut near Diaz's right eye, which prompted referee Jason Herzog to call in the cageside physician midway through the second round.
Immediately after the fight, dos Anjos leaped up in joy as Diaz gave a brief indecent salute to no one in particular. Diaz embraced dos Anjos moments later and appeared to congratulate him.
Prior to the fight, Diaz told ESPN.com the only other lightweight bout he would have interest in would be against defending champion Anthony Pettis. Diaz hasn't fought at a weight class other than lightweight since 2011.
Dos Anjos, ranked the No. 4 lightweight in the world by ESPN.com heading into the bout, has now won eight of his last nine fights. He knocked out former UFC champion Ben Henderson in the first round in August.
UFC president Dana White said Dos Anjos assumes the role of No. 1 contender with the win. Dos Anjos lost to the highly ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov in April, but Nurmagomedov has not fought since due to a knee injury.
Said White: "For the record, Pettis texted me right after the fight and said, 'Wow, (dos Anjos) murdered him. I'll fight. I'm ready to go. I'll fight whichever. If Khabib is healthy I'll fight him. If not, I'll fight dos Anjos.
"I would say if Khabib were healthy right now (the No. 1 contender) would probably be Khabib -- but he's not, so it's dos Anjos."
Added dos Anjos: "After the fight with me and Khabib, I've fought three times. I've beat Jason High, Ben Henderson and I beat Nate Diaz tonight. (Nurmagomedov's) hurt. I'd love to have a chance at a title. I've been in the UFC for six years -- 17 fights. I moved to California three years ago to chase my dreams."
Overeem pummels Struve
It wasn't your classic Alistair Overeem, but it was a familiar result: a first-round knockout.
Overeem (38-14) scored a TKO over Stefan Struve at 4:13 of the first round. Known for his versatile striking, Overeem chose to take the 7-foot Struve to the floor and work on him there. He dragged Struve to the ground after a bit of a feeling-out process and eventually put him away with right hands from top position.
"I was prepared for everything, but he's such a big guy that I had to work hard for [the win]," Overeem said. "He is the tallest guy I have ever fought, so for me, I just had to be a little more strategic.
"'The 'Reem' might've been gone for a few, but I'm definitely back. It feels great to finish off [a fight] like this. I can tell you, I worked really hard. I am not sure what's next. I'm not going to say, but there's more to come."
It was a blatant change of pace from Overeem's recent fights, during which he's mostly gone after opponents on the feet. The former Strikeforce heavyweight champion has had mixed results in the Octagon with that strategy, however, and entered Saturday's fight with a 1-3 record in his last four appearances.
The Dutch heavyweight executed a very measured approach against Struve (25-7), who hadn't fought since April 2013 due to a rare heart condition. Struve took the center of the cage at the beginning of the fight and began stalking Overeem around the perimeter. He thwarted one takedown attempt early and threw one front kick toward Overeem's head, which was blocked.
Overeem shot hard on Struve's lead leg and took him down in an ensuing scramble. He stood up over Struve's guard several times, but never considered backing up and resetting on the feet. The strategy might have caught Struve, who is known for his dangerous submission game with 16 career finishes, off-guard.
After stacking Struve along the fence, Overeem stood over Struve and landed a flurry of right hands to the chin. Referee John McCarthy stepped in and saved Struve with 47 seconds remaining in the round.
Overeem, 34, is now 3-3 in the Octagon. He managed to fight three times in 2014, compiling a 2-1 record, despite undergoing minor elbow surgery. The 26-year-old Struve suffers his second consecutive knockout loss and the sixth of his career. He is 9-5 since signing with the UFC in 2009.
Mitrione mauls Gonzaga
Mitrione (9-3) fired the counter punch as Gonzaga lunged forward with a right hand to the body. Gonzaga fell backward and then shot on a desperate single leg, where he was met by another punch from Mitrione.
Gonzaga (16-9) turtled from the second shot and Mitrione, after unloading a series of unanswered punches, stepped away from Gonzaga and looked at referee Herb Dean. Dean didn't immediately call the heavyweight bout, though, so Mitrione threw another punch as Gonzaga slowly rose to his feet.
The punch leveled Gonzaga again, which finally prompted Dean to stop the fight at the 1:59 mark.
"I feel so good! I feel like I am finally starting to validate all the hard work and time I have put into this and that everyone else has put in, too," Mitrione said. "That's a great feeling."
Mitrione utilized a lot of movement in the fight, although it wasn't all effective. Gonzaga touched him with an early right hand in an exchange and nearly knocked him down with a step-in straight right moments later. Mitrione was never really hurt, though, and only needed the one opening to put Gonzaga away.
Fighting out the Blackzilians camp in Boca Raton, Florida, Mitrione earns the eighth knockout of his career -- which has taken place entirely in the UFC Octagon.
"It was such a fast fight," Gonzaga said. "When you're a heavyweight, one punch can change everything. When I fell, I thought the ref stopped the fight. But I can't take the credit away from Matt; he was the better fighter tonight."
Gonzaga, 35, falls to 0-2 on the year.