Thiago Santos moved one step closer to a possible title shot by knocking out Jan Blachowicz at UFC Fight Night 145 in Prague.
The two men fought out two close rounds before Santos got the stoppage in the third after a long series of hammerfists.
Earlier in the night, Stefan Struve ended his three-fight losing streak, bouncing back from a rough opening round to beat Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Michal Oleksiejczuk also notched a win with a brutal body-shot knockout of Gian Villante.
Main Card Results
Thiago Santos defeated Jan Blachowicz via knockout (strikes), R3 0:39
Stefan Struve defeated Marcos Rogerio de Lima via submission (arm-triangle choke), R2 2:21
Michal Oleksiejczuk defeated Gian Villante via KO (strikes), R1 1:34
Liz Carmouche defeated Lucie Pudilova via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Petr Yan defeated John Dodson via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Magomed Ankalaev defeated Klidson Abreu via unanimous decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Undercard results via MMA Fighting.
Four Straight for Santos
Saturday's main event was a bout between two men in the light heavyweight division who both carried solid win streaks and were likely hoping to work their way into title contention this year.
Santos got the win over Blachowicz after getting the better of the exchanges in the first round and finding the stoppage in the third. His opponent landed the harder strikes in the second but had no answers for his pure aggression in the last round.
Per sportswriter Luke Thomas, the 35-year-old has developed into a well-rounded fighter:
Luke Thomas @lthomasnews
Thiago Santos is one of those bruisers whose career makes real progress when they slowly add skills to their game. A check hook started the beginning of the end for his opponent. People who argue it's just a better weight cut situation that explains his success are dead wrong.
Santos has found his ideal weight in the light heavyweight division, which is in need of some fresh blood. Jon Jones reigns supreme, but there doesn't appear to be a top contender at this time, with Alexander Gustafsson losing to him twice.
Chamatkar Sandhu thinks that's the fight to make for Santos:
Jones is scheduled to face Anthony Smith at UFC 235, and if he successfully defends his title, his next opponent is a serious question mark. Corey Anderson is on a three-fight win streak and could earn a shot if he adds a big win to his resume, but none of his recent victories look as good as Santos' on Saturday.
Struve Ends Losing Streak in Epic Comeback, Talks Retirement
Dutch giant Struve entered Saturday's bout against Lima having lost his last three fights and in desperate need of a win.
The man who beat former heavyweight king Stipe Miocic in 2012 has been struggling on the fringes of the division for some time, and he seemed to be in for another rough outing on Saturday. Lima knocked him down almost immediately and assumed full control of the opening round, dealing out some vicious ground-and-pound.
The Brazilian lost control of the fight early in Round 2, however, with a hip-toss handing Struve control from the top. The Dutchman then used his long limbs to work in a triangle choke for the win.
Fellow heavyweight Curtis Blaydes gave the 31-year-old plenty of praise:
Struve announced he's contemplating retirement after the bout:
It's hard to see the longtime UFC regular work his way into title contention, and while he's still relatively young, he started his career back in 2005 and has taken part in his fair share of wars over the years. With his first win since 2016 under his belt, it wouldn't be a surprise if Struve decided to go out on a high note.
Spectacular Return for Oleksiejczuk
Polish prospect Oleksiejczuk returned to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 145 after a one-year suspension and needed little time to dispatch of Villante, rocking the 33-year-old with a body shot that floored him almost instantly.
Sportswriter Phil Murphy looked at the slightly delayed reaction from Villante and assumed he was hit in the liver:
Dan Tom was impressed:
MMA Fighting's Shaun Al-Shatti reported how Oleksiejczuk's win in his UFC debut at UFC 219 was overturned to a no-contest after he failed a drug test, leading to a one-year suspension at a crucial time in his career.
The young fighter had been on a tear, winning nine straight fights to earn a contract with the UFC. Many of those wins came courtesy of devastating knockouts, and Lord appeared to be in a great position to make a swift rise up the light heavyweight rankings thanks to his power and willingness to engage.
Saturday's impressive win should put him back on the map, and it shouldn't be long before we see Oleksiejczuk back in action.