Thiago Santos headlines his first Ultimate Fighting Championship event this Saturday in Sao Paulo when he takes on Eryk Anders, who accepted the fight on just six days’ notice. Santos has long been one of the most exciting and aggressive fighters in the UFC and he is finally getting his due by headlining a card in his home country against someone equally as aggressive and exciting at UFC Fight Night 137.
‘Marreta’Santos might not be the most technical fighter, but like his opponent, he gets by on his athleticism and willingness to take a punch to deliver one of his own. Although this style isn’t the smartest way to fight, he has amassed a 10-5 record in the UFC, with seven of those wins coming by knockout.
Santos loves to blitz forward with wild hooks and his opponents generally have no answers for his aggressiveness and back themselves to the cage, where Santos can force them to exchange in the pocket. Once there, Santos will mix up his wild hooks to the head and body and will occasionally shoot for a takedown against the fencing.
Since Santos knows this fast-paced style will dwindle his cardio, once the opponent is against the cage, he’s looking for the finish and nothing else, especially since it might be his only opportunity to bait them into a firefight in the pocket. Notice how he starts these exchanges with a kick to the body. Instead of finishing his combos with kicks like the norm, Santos likes to start his combos with kicks and finish them with punches. These kicks also allow him to hit the opponent while being out of range for returning strikes and generally have the opponent back themselves to the fence in fear of another.
Santos comes from a capoeira background and it shows in his kick-heavy game. He favors the rear kick to the body, but he also likes to mix them up to the head and legs. He will also throw the occasional spinning heel kick and does so with no setup. As stated earlier, Santos likes to begin combos with kicks, which means there are no setups for them. It has worked for him thus far, but generally, it’s better to set up your kicks with punches rather than setting up your punches with kicks. Santos also drops his hands below his waist while kicking, which leaves him wide open for counters.
Santos doesn't take the fight to the ground often, but when he does he’s just as aggressive with ground-and-pound as he is with combos on the feet. Santos is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but oddly only has one submission victory and rarely wants to stay on the ground. With his athleticism and intense ground striking, I would love to see him take fights to the ground more often, especially against striking-heavy fighters like Anders.
Since Santos is almost always the aggressor, we don’t get to see his countering skills often, but he landed a beautiful counter right elbow against Anthony Smith. Santos is also making the move to light heavyweight for the first time on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how his size and power translates to the larger weight class. He knocked out Smith, who has since moved up to light heavyweight, so I don’t think the size difference will be a deterrent. Something interesting to note about this fight is that Anders is actually a middleweight and is moving up to light heavyweight only for this fight, so we won’t be able to see if his skills translate to 205 just yet.