Working steadily behind the jab and utilizing the entire Octagon, dos Santos (18-4) chewed up Rothwell on the feet en route to a shutout unanimous decision on the scorecards. The five-round heavyweight fight headlined UFC Fight Night in Zagreb, Croatia.
Just four months removed from a knockout loss to Alistair Overeem, dos Santos was brilliant against Rothwell, who had been one of the division's hottest fighters. He maintained good distance and quickly circled out any time the 265-pound Rothwell managed to walk him to the fence.
"I think we did the right strategy," dos Santos said. "You can't go against a guy like that, you know. He's so big. So, I used my footwork to move a lot and throw my hard punches.
"Guys, forget about jiu-jitsu and wrestling -- I'm a boxing guy."
Rothwell (36-10), who saw a four-fight win streak snapped, never really attempted to get the fight to the floor. He tried to bully the former champion with pressure and negate his speed advantage, but struggled to effectively cut off the cage.
That task grew increasingly difficult due to dos Santos' work to the body. The Brazilian frequently targeted Rothwell's midsection with the jab and straight right. At the end of the second round, he hit Rothwell with a front kick to the chest that shot him completely across the Octagon and even scored a knockdown.
By the third round, Rothwell's right eye was badly swollen. He started to have some success with outside leg kicks, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to dos Santos' offense. According to Fightmetric, dos Santos out-landed Rothwell 138 to 46 in total strikes.
Dos Santos, 31, trained at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, for the second consecutive camp, but brought in former boxing coach Luiz Dorea. At least in this fight, that blend worked beautifully, as dos Santos showcased some of the best ringsmanship he has in his career.
Rothwell falls to 6-3 inside the Octagon. During his four-fight streak, he had posted finishes over Brandon Vera, Overeem, Matt Mitrione and Josh Barnett. Dos Santos moves to 3-3 in his past six fights.
Lewis blows away Gonzaga
Heavyweight Derrick Lewis (15-4) flashed his knockout power once again, this time against veteran Gabriel Gonzaga (17-11). Fighting out of Houston, Lewis dropped Gonzaga with a right hook at the end of a combination at 4:48 in the first round. Gonzaga secured a body-lock takedown during the opening minute of the fight, but Lewis showed poise and worked quickly back to his feet. Gonzaga did what he could to slow the powerful Lewis by clinching against the fence, but referee Marc Goddard broke them up twice due to inactivity. Lewis, 31, continues to climb the ranks, as he is now 6-2 in the UFC with all six victories coming via knockout.
Ngannou stops Blaydes in Round 2
Heavyweight Francis Ngannou (7-1) improved to 2-0 in the UFC with two knockouts after finishing Curtis Blaydes (5-1) via second-round TKO. A cageside physician stopped the bout between the second and third rounds, as Blaydes couldn't see out of his right eye due to swelling. The injury might have occurred as early as the opening round, when Ngannou dropped Blaydes with a counter left hand. The swelling became obvious early in the second frame. Ngannou, out of France, scores the fourth knockout of his career.
Johnson proves too much for Tybura
Heavyweight Tim Johnson (10-2) defeated UFC newcomer Marcin Tybura (13-2) via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a mostly stand-up affair. Johnson, from North Dakota, cut Tybura over the left eye with a punch in the second round. Tybura returned the favor during an exchange in the third, causing a massive welt under Johnson's left eye, but Johnson proved to be the more efficient striker overall. He moves to 2-1 in the UFC and bounces back from a decision loss to Jared Rosholt last August.
Blachowicz holds off Pokrajac
Light heavyweight Jan Blachowicz (19-5) scored a few key takedowns and survived several dicey moments, en route to a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Igor Pokrajac (28-13). Although Blachowicz was expected to have an advantage on the feet, Pokrajac held his own and had him hurt badly in the second round, when both fighters were willing to stand in the pocket and trade shots. In the third and deciding round, Blachowicz wisely took Pokrajac down and worked his ground and pound to ensure a victory. Blachowicz snaps a two-fight losing streak.
Moroz takes decision from Stanciu
Ukraine's Maryna Moroz (7-1) outpointed 22-year-old newcomer Cristina Stanciu (5-1) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in their women's strawweight bout. Stanciu, the first Romanian to ever sign with the UFC, showed flashes of potential in the loss. She landed a few hard right hands and front kicks, and set up a potential guillotine early, but Moroz proved to be more polished on the floor. She threatened to finish Stanciu with a rear-naked choke in the opening round and an armbar in the third. Moroz, 24, improves to 2-1 in the Octagon.