With a nickname like “The Arm Collector,” there is no secret to the success of Bellator Fighting Championships middleweight Giva Santana. He almost always leaves his mixed martial arts bouts with an appendage as a souvenir.
Among his 17 professional wins, 13 have been snatched via armbar.
“Everyone says that there’s no way they’re going to get caught in an armbar before they fight me -- every time, and every time I say the same thing. Submitting people is my God-given gift,” Santana told Sherdog.com. “It’s what I love to do.”
Santana serves as the head Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach with Team Oyama, instructing fighters like world-ranked flyweight Ian McCall and undefeated heavyweight Shane del Rosario. He will take his passion for hyperextending arms into the quarterfinals of the Bellator Season 6 middleweight tournament, where he will meet fellow Brazilian Bruno Santos in the quarterfinals at Bellator 61 on Friday at The Riverdome at Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, Bossier City, La.
The once-beaten Santana (17-1) has won six consecutive bouts since suffering the lone defeat of his career -- a split decision loss to Jaime Jara in 2008. He knows he faces a difficult task in the Bellator quarters.
“Santos is undefeated,” Santana said, “so I definitely expect for him to be a very tough opponent. He looks pretty strong. He seems like he has solid punches, and he has really good ground control.”
The approaches of the two middleweights could not be more different. Where Santana collects arms, Santos stifles his opponents, controlling the cage and often working to decisions. In 12 career appearances, Santos (12-0) has only two finishes. His last nine fights have gone to the scorecards.
“He’s good at scoring takedowns and staying on top,” Santana said. “We’re preparing for all of these things so I’m 100 percent ready on the day of the fight.”
Even though Santos has grown accustomed to dragging fights into the latter rounds, Santana feels his training will trump what his foe has to offer.
“Bruno is short and really stocky, but I’ve fought guys like him before,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard on our strategy on the ground for this fight. I’m going to be ready for any situation in this fight, whether it’s on the ground or on the feet.”
Santana has not been able to scout his countryman as diligently as he would have liked, but he believes his skills -- especially from his back -- are superior to those of anyone Santos has fought previously.
“I haven’t been able to watch all of [his] fights yet, but from the ones that I have seen, his opponents weren’t that sharp on the ground,” Santana said. “A lot of people can’t focus when they’re on their back but not me. It comes natural. I’m not worried at all, regardless of who’s on top.”
The confidence seems warranted, as Santana’s abilities on the mat are well-documented. Fourteen of his 15 submissions have come inside the first round.
“I prefer to fight on the ground,” Santana said. “That’s where I feel the most comfortable. It doesn’t matter whether I’m on the top or bottom. I feel comfortable in any situation on the ground, so if this fight goes to the ground, that’s my world.”
The 40-year-old Santana expects Santos to play into the most polished facet of his game.
“I think Bruno is going to try to hold me down because that’s usually his game plan,” he said, “but that’s not going to work with me. Every time I go to the ground, I’m looking for the finish. Whether it’s your arm or your leg or your neck, I’m trying to finish the fight the entire time.”
Santana made his promotional debut at Bellator 53 in October, when he needed just two minutes to submit Darryl Cobb by first-round armbar. Now, he returns to compete in the promotion’s latest middleweight tournament, the winner of which will receive a crack at the title currently held by American Top Team’s Hector Lombard.
“I approach every single fight I have like it could be the last fight of my career,” Santana said. “This Bellator tournament is a huge opportunity for me. This fight with Bruno is just the first step, and if I want to take another step, I have to win this fight. That’s what I plan to do.”
Whether Santana can win the bout and whether or not he can secure his signature move remains to be seen. He welcomes the test.
“Getting the armbar is a game for me,” Santana said. “I know that my opponent has trained his hardest to defend against it, so I make it a personal challenge to show that my offense is better than his defense. Trust me, If Bruno leaves his arm out there, I’m going to take it.”