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Project Renewal


Santiago Ponzinibbio has grown tired of waiting.

The longtime American Top Team standout will get back to business inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight division when he faces Muslim Salikhov in the UFC on ESPN 59 co-main event this Saturday at Ball Arena in Denver. Absent from the stage for more than a year, it marks Ponzinibbio’s first appearance since he was upended by Kevin Holland in a third-round knockout at UFC 287 on April 8, 2023. The La Plata, Argentina, native promises significant change.

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“Everyone will see the 2.0 version of Santiago Ponzinibbio in this fight,” he told Sherdog.com. “I’m renewed—physically, mentally and technically. I feel very well. I’ll put on a great show. I’m very thankful to the organization, for my opponent and with my place on the card. I’ll win this fight, and I’ll get back to being a top 170-pound fighter. I know I have it in me to be fighting and beating the best.”

Various factors contributed to Ponzinibbio’s extended layoff, which will reach 462 days by the time he steps into the Octagon.

“I experienced some setbacks that didn’t allow me to return to fighting as soon as I’d wanted, but I’m now in amazing physical shape,” he said. “I’ll show that I can beat the best in the division. It’s an excellent opportunity to show my potential. I know I’ll have a great fight. I had a great training camp.”

No one expects Salikhov to be a willing victim. The 40-year-old Fighting Eagle product enters the cage on the heels of back-to-back losses to former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder Nicolas Dalby and onetime Ring of Combat champion Randy Brown. Nevertheless, Salikhov has proven to a be a potent offensive force throughout his career, with 13 of his 19 victories having come by knockout.

“I think he’s a spectacular athlete,” Ponzinibbio said. “He has a ton of fight experience [in] boxing, sanda and MMA. He has knockout power with a great right hand, but I truly believe in my victory. We did a spectacular job of getting ready. Everything was good, technically and physically. I’m very ready for this fight. In no way would I disparage him. I know he’s a great fighter. It’s not a matter of arrogance. I’m simply very confident with the work I did with my team, and I know I’ll win in amazing fashion.”

Ahead of his showdown with Salikhov, Ponzinibbio and those around him took the necessary steps—they went above and beyond, in fact—to prepare for the external factors associated with competing in the thin air of the Mile High City.

“I brought my team—my coach and training partners—to be active at altitude,” Ponzinibbio said. “We trained at 10,000 feet. That’s twice the altitude of where we’ll be fighting. We did it so altitude wouldn’t be a problem. I’ll be very ready. I’ll put on a great show and a great fight.”
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