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Top-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight Thiago Santos knows his back is up against the wall in a few months.
Placed at number four at 205 pounds on the UFC rankings and #10 on Sherdog’s official rankings, Santos (21-9) is passing through the most difficult moment of his UFC career. With a record of 13-8 in eight years with the UFC, the man known as “Marreta” is reeling from three consecutive losses to Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. Santos spoke to Sherdog about his upcoming October matchup and his future with the company, and despite his losing streak, he does not appear to be tense or unhappy.
“Anyone who passed through the surgeries I did, after five rounds with Jon Jones, and returned doing good fights with top contenders wouldn't have any reason to be sad,” Santos explained.
Scheduled to face Johnny Walker on Oct. 2, “Marreta” already started his camp aware that the result of that fight will be extremely important for his career.
“I have no doubt that it's going to be an entertaining fight,” Santos gushed about his prospective battle with Walker. “Both me and Walker fight to knock out and this time will be no different. Actually, I love when my opponents are aggressive and come to knock me out.”
Even knowing that a loss may mean his UFC career is in jeopardy, Santos guarantees that this position will not change his game plan.
“I don't hold [back when fighting], my focus is always to give pain to my opponents,” Santos freely admitted. “If you see all my three losses to Jones, Glover and Rakic, I always moved forward. I lost to Jones via split decision and I really don’t think I loss to Rakic.”
The burly Brazilian also noted that five months before his close battle with Jones, he knocked out the current champion Jan Blachowicz. That, he feels, should be taken into consideration by the organization should he get his hand raised.
“If I win more one or two fights, maybe [it] would be interesting [for the] UFC to make the [rematch with Blachowicz], even Blachowicz asked [for] that once,” the American Top Team product stated. “I’m the only TKO loss on his 16 UFC fights. But, of course I know how this game is played. But even in the case I lose my next fight and UFC [doesn’t] want me anymore, I’m sure I will not be unemployed.”
Having faced both Teixeira – Santos was submitted in the third round – and Blachowicz, he considers Blachowicz the rightful favorite for the UFC 267 championship headliner.
“Glover is really tough,” Santos mentioned, “[so] of course he [has a] great chance to win in case he takes Jan down, and as [a] Brazilian of course I’m cheering [for] him. But if you ask me to analyze in an impartial way, I think Blachowicz will be able to keep the fight standing, where he has more tools to win.”
Asked about the chances that rising star and possible next contender Jiri Prochazka would have against Teixeira or Blachowicz, “Marreta” noted that “Denisa” would need to evolve his defense before facing either man.
“No doubt he is a dangerous fighter, but he fights like his chin is made by titanium and that’s really dangerous at the top of the light heavyweight division,” Santos said. “If he gives his chin to a heavy puncher like Glover, Blachowicz or myself, he will [take a] seat. No doubt about that.”
Fighting was not the only thing on the former title challenger’s mind, as he is looking for ways to give back to his community. With fame and fortune coming as a top-ranked UFC light heavyweight, Santos started a social project in the “Cidade de Deus” slum in Rio de Janeiro. There, he provides opportunities to poor children to find their way through sport.
Above all, Santos is happy. Beyond his social project, he lives with his girlfriend, UFC bantamweight Yana Kunitskaya, and his son, Hiago. “Marreta” has recovered from surgery and is still able to fight against the top contenders in the company. His girlfriend is top-five bantamweight with the UFC with a major fight coming up in July. His son plays soccer on one of the larger teams in Brazil for those under the age of 17, realizing a dream that Santos himself had as a child. Despite the UFC losing streak, everything else is going well for Santos, and he feels these are the best days of his life.
“When I was young, I always dreamed to be a soccer player,” Santos told Sherdog. “I realized my dream in another sport, then my son came and made my dream come through him. Sometimes I think I don’t deserve so many blessings. I’ve never been so happy in my life, and when I’m accomplished that way, I train better and fight even better. My plan is knock out Walker in the second round, but if I’m not able to, I’m sure the fans will see the best ‘Marreta’ in action on Oct. 2. That I can promise.”
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