Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debuted in Croatia yesterday (Sun., April 10, 2016) returning from a two-week break to put on an exciting UFC Fight Night 86: "Rothwell vs. Dos Santos" event at the Arena Zagreb live on FOX Sports 1.
In the main event of the evening, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior Dos Santos put on a masterful performance, outclassing the streaking Ben Rothwell on the feet for 25 minutes en route to a unanimous decision victory (highlights here).
The co-main event featured the most violent finish of the night, as Derrick Lewis nearly decapitated Gabriel Gonzaga with a vicious right hand haymaker in the first round. The victory was Lewis' 14th career knockout, and third straight UFC victory via finish.
Check out the highlights here.
With that quick overview of the night's marquee bouts, here are your biggest winners, as well as the runners-up from Zagreb.
Biggest Winner: Junior Dos Santos
"Cigano" is back!
Junior Dos Santos had lost some of his luster heading into UFC Zagreb following his knockout loss to Alistair Overeem. The loss was the Brazilian's third in his five bouts, and he looked far removed from his championship prime.
With his back against the wall, "JDS" turned back the clock and put together a vintage performance on FOX Sports 1.
The Brazilian showed off the elite level boxing that helped him accrue UFC gold, and Rothwell simply had no answer for Dos Santos' incredible speed, precision, and ferocious power.
Keep in mind, Rothwell was among the hottest fighters on the roster prior to UFC Fight Night 86, as he had finished four straight opponents in increasingly impressive fashion.
Dos Santos' clinical domination over Rothwell is nothing to scoff at, and proved the former champ has a lot left in the tank.
Now that Dos Santos is once again training with his original head coach, it will be interesting to see if the 32-year old can put together one more title run in the Heavyweight division.
Could a Mark Hunt rematch be on the horizon?
"The Black Beast" did it again.
At this point, it is safe to say that every Derrick Lewis fight will wind up with someone getting knocked out cold, and it is very often the Texan's opponent.
Earning his fifth knockout victory in the UFC, Lewis blasted Gabriel Gonzaga's head into orbit late in the first round, delivering what was by far the most impressive highlight of the evening.
UFC brass agreed, as Lewis was granted a $50,000 bonus check for "Performance of the Night."
What made the knockout even more impressive was Lewis showing off his grappling chops, as he escaped Gonzaga's back mount early on in the first round and avoided a rear-naked choke attempt.
In a division that desperately needs fresh contenders, Lewis has quickly broken into the top 15, and could find himself fighting a contender such as Roy Nelson next.
Just imagine the chaos!
Can someone please explain why Mairbek Taisumov is continually stashed away on undercards, seemingly given absolutely no push, and consistently fed mediocre fighters when he continues to produce electric performances and impressive finishes?
Maybe the 27-year old isn't the most marketable fighter, but his talent can only go unrecognized for so long before it becomes obnoxious.
Earning his fourth straight knockout -- three of which have come against a UFC newcomer -- Taisumov has earned his shot against a top 15 Lightweight.
The finish earned the Russian his second straight "Performance of the Night" bonus, and improved his UFC record to 5-1 in just over two years.
Biggest Loser: Ben Rothwell
Ben Rothwell's title aspirations were dashed at UFC Fight Night 86 at the hands of Junior Dos Santos.
Rothwell was all but assured he would earn a title shot had he beaten the former champ in Zagreb, but wound up on the wrong side of 50-45 judges' scorecards.
The Heavyweight behemoth usually shows great fight IQ, but not attempting a single takedown in a 25-minute battle against the elite level boxing of Dos Santos is highly questionable.
Not to mention Rothwell had to realize by the fourth round the Brazilian was twice as fast and would likely continue to pick him apart from the outside.
For a fighter with 13 submission victories, Rothwell sure seemed eager to trade bombs with the heavy-handed Dos Santos.
Needless to say, Rothwell's resurgence took a major hit last night, and he will need to put together yet another impressive run if he ever wants the opportunity to fight for UFC gold.
Curtis Blaydes likely won't have fond memories of UFC Fight Night 86.
Taking on a very tough opponent in Francis Ngannou on short notice, the formerly undefeated RFA product was absolutely punished for 10 minutes, leading to a gruesome eye injury that forced the doctor to stop the fight prior to the third round.
In the waning moments of the second round, Blaydes' eye was so swollen that he was unable to see anything Ngannou was throwing at him, which led to some vicious punches and kicks from the Frenchman.
Regardless of the tough outing, don't allow this performance to fool you, as Blaydes is a legitimate Heavyweight prospect.
Ultimately, the silver lining for Blaydes is the fact he has made it to the UFC, and now he must earn his roster spot in his next outing.
The UFC Debutants
Eight fighters made their UFC debuts in Croatia, and seven of them lost.
The lone victor? Bojan Veličković, who defeated fellow newcomer Alessio Di Chirico.
Cyril Asker and Damir Hadžović were both brutally knocked out, Filip Pejić was choked in under three minutes, Curtis Blaydes' eye was mangled, and both Marcin Tybura and Cristina Stanciu lost unanimous decisions.
The collective defeats for the debutants has to be some sort of record.
Although it was a tough outing for most of the newcomers, Octagon jitters are absolutely legitimate, so it will be interesting to see what they can produce in their encores.
If the pressure got to them at UFC Fight Night 86 though, that doesn't bode well for the future, as the UFC has a way of weeding out those who don't belong in swift order.
For complete UFC Fight Night 86: "Rothwell vs. Dos Santos" results and play-by-play,click here!