Time and space no longer appear to be Santiago Ponzinibbio allies, as he attempts to navigate the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s cutthroat welterweight division—a weight class chockfull of both youth and depth.
Ponzinibbio will attempt to get back on track when he toes the line against the unbeaten Miguel Baeza in a featured UFC Fight Night 189 pairing on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The 34-year-old La Plata, Argentina, native has rattled off seven victories across his last eight appearances. However, Ponzinibbio finds himself on the rebound following a knockout loss to Jingliang Li at UFC on ABC 1 in January. The setback was his first in nearly six years.
As Ponzinibbio prepares for his three-round battle with Baeza, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Slow Start
Repeated takedowns, ground-and-pound and a multi-pronged standup attack carried unbeaten former Ring of Combat champion Ryan LaFlare to a unanimous decision over Ponzinibbio in a UFC Fight Night 32 welterweight showcase on Nov. 9, 2013 at Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-27 for LaFlare. He pushed a relentless pace, mounted the debuting Ponzinibbio twice inside the first five minutes and struck for takedowns in all three rounds. The Argentine mounted a brief comeback in Round 2 but had no answer for the variety being thrown his way. LaFlare punctuated his victory in the third round, where he nearly finished “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” Season 2 graduate with a knee strike and follow-up punches. Ponzinibbio survived, forcing the American to settle for the decision.
2. Person of Interest
Head and leg kicks intermingled with heavy power punches carried American Top Team’s Ponzinibbio to a unanimous decision over former King of the Cage champion Sean Strickland in a featured UFC Fight Night 61 welterweight pairing on Feb. 22, 2015 at Gigantinho Gymnasium in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Ponzinibbio wept the scorecards with 30-27 marks across the board. Strickland worked behind a stinging left jab that left the Argentine with a bloody nose and sat him down twice. Still, it was not enough. Ponzinibbio attacked the American’s lead leg with repeated kicks and delivered punishing blows to the head. Strickland executed takedowns in the first and third rounds but failed to bottle up his counterpart on the ground. On the feet, the previously unbeaten Californian spent far too much time fighting with his back to the fence.
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3. Back to the Drawing Board
Millennia MMA rep Lorenz Larkin put away Ponzinibbio with punches in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 70 co-main event on June 27, 2015 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Ponzinibbio succumbed to blows 3:07 into Round 2, as he lost for just the second time in 11 outings. Combinations flowed from Larkin from the start, the Californian pairing multi-punch blitzes with stinging leg kicks. Ponzinibbio never stopped moving forward, even with his mobility compromised. However, he marched himself right into danger. Larkin cut down the American Top Team standout with a left hook-right cross-left hook combination in the second round and swarmed with vicious ground-and-pound. He continued his assault while Ponzinibbio tried valiantly to return to his feet, one final left hook to the face forcing referee Herb Dean to intervene.
4. Marquee Attraction
Ponzinibbio left no room for debate, as the American Top Team-trained welterweight obliterated Gunnar Nelson with first-round punches in the UFC Fight Night 113 headliner on July 16, 2017 at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland. Ponzinibbio closed the deal 1:22 into Round 1 and continued his steady ascent in one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s deepest divisions. As has always been his custom, Nelson carried his hands low while probing for openings on the feet. Ponzinibbio clipped him with an overhand right, pushed him to the fence and floored the dazed Renzo Gracie black belt with a clean left to the face. A few follow-up punches on the ground forced Leon Roberts’ hand, the highly respected referee diving on top of the defenseless Nelson to prevent further damage.
5. Homeland Security
Aggression was Ponzinibbio’s best friend, as he sawed through Neil Magny with leg kicks before he drew the curtain with a scintillating one-punch knockout in the fourth round of their UFC Fight Night 140 main event on Nov. 17, 2018 at Parque Roca Arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Magny faceplanted 2:36 into Round 4, closing the book on his two-fight winning streak. Ponzinibbio barely gave the Elevation Fight Team export room to breathe, much less return fire. He scored with a probing jab and crisp one-two combinations, but leg kicks were the weapons to which he hitched his wagon. Ponzinibbio essentially turned Magny into a one-legged fighter, as he knocked him down with sweeping kicks to the lower leg on multiple occasions. In distress midway through the fourth round, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16 semifinalist retreated to the fence and was met with a jarring right hand from Ponzinibbio that left him prone on the canvas.