Demian Maia outpointed Jorge Santiago to headline the UFC 136 prelims. | File Photo:

Former middleweight title contender Demian Maia leaned on takedowns and positional control, as he took a pedestrian but no less significant unanimous decision from Jorge Santiago at UFC 136 “Edgar vs. Maynard 3” on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Maia (15-3, 8-3 UFC) swept the scorecards by identical 30-27 counts.

Maia abandoned his standup game early in the first round, as the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist scored with the first of his numerous takedowns and attacked with effective but non-threatening ground-and-pound. The scene repeated itself throughout the 15-minute encounter, as Santiago (23-10, 1-4 UFC) could not get his offense going and had trouble staying upright. The 30-year-old former Sengoku Raiden Championship titleholder has now lost back-to-back bouts for the first time since 2006.

Former WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis recorded his first Octagon victory and showed a different side of his game in doing so, as he controlled Jeremy Stephens with takedowns en route to a split verdict on the scorecards. All three judges scored it 29-28, two of them in favor of Pettis (14-2, 1-1 UFC).

Pettis secured six takedowns in the fight, four of them in the second round alone, perhaps catching the standup-minded Stephens off guard. He bloodied the 25-year-old’s nose and mouth with punches from the top, seizing back control with a body triangle in the second round. Pettis hunted for the rear-naked choke but never had Stephens in legitimate danger.

Stephens (20-7, 7-6 UFC) struck for a takedown of his own half a minute into round three, only to be threatened by a Pettis triangle choke from the bottom. “Showtime” used the maneuver to return to his feet and later struck for two more takedowns on Stephens, who had surprising difficulty staying on his feet.

Undefeated North American Allied Fight Series heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic utilized single-leg takedowns and follow-up ground-and-pound in earning a unanimous decision over Joey Beltran in his promotional debut. All three judges scored it for Miocic (7-0, 1-0 UFC): 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28.

Neither man pursued victory with much fervor. Beltran (13-6, 3-3 UFC), however, showed the wear and tear of Miocic’s heavy top game, as he bled heavily from the nose and from a cut below his eye. After softening Beltran with a series of knees to the body, Miocic moved to full mount in the third round and put the exclamation point on the victory.

Darren Elkins File Photo

Elkins took every round from Zhang.

Darren Elkins survived three encounters with the potent Tiequan Zhang guillotine choke and never flinched, as he outwrestled, outhustled and out-grappled the Chinese import on his way to a unanimous decision in their preliminary featherweight duel. The judges ruled unanimously in Elkins’ favor: 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.

Elkins (13-2, 3-1 UFC) moved for takedowns in all three rounds, found himself locked to varying degrees inside the Zhang guillotine and freed himself each time. Once loose, he dropped punches, passed guard and twice mounted the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt. Elkins threatened to finish it with rear-naked chokes in the first and third rounds, and though he was unsuccessful, he racked up considerable damage on Zhang (15-2, 1-1 UFC) and on the scorecards.

Aaron Simpson spent the better part of 15 minutes putting his powerful hands on an overmatched Eric Schafer, as the two-time NCAA All-American wrestler captured a one-sided unanimous decision in a preliminary middleweight showdown. All three judges gave Simpson (11-2, 6-2 UFC) the nod by matching 30-27 counts.

Simpson landed liberally with both hands and sent Schafer to the floor in each of the first two rounds, opening a cut under the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s left eye. Each time, he welcomed him back to his feet for more punishment, wisely unwilling to meet Schafer (12-6-2, 3-5 UFC) on his terms. From there, the beating persisted, as Simpson cruised to his third win in as many outings.

Mike Massenzio overwhelmed former WEC light heavyweight champion Steve Cantwell with offensive pressure, occasional takedowns and a steady stream of strikes en route to a unanimous decision in a preliminary matchup at 185 pounds. All three judges scored it for Massenzio (13-5, 2-3 UFC): 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.

Round one went well for Cantwell (7-5, 1-4 UFC), as he fired off combinations, buckled his opponent with a right hook and stuffed Massenzio’s advances to put the fight on the ground. However, his conditioning failed him as the fight deepened. In the second round, Massenzio delivered a takedown, unleashed his ground-and-pound and bloodied Cantwell with crisp combinations on the feet. His left hook landed with shocking regularity.

Massenzio was the aggressor in round three, as well, as he bullied Cantwell into the cage, scored with another takedown and sapped what strength his foe had left. Again, his left hook tagged Cantwell repeatedly, his frustration growing with each second. By the time it was done, Cantwell knew he had fallen short yet again. The 24-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native has lost four consecutive fights, all by decision.

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