First there was more than a two-year layoff due to a staph infection. Then, came a first-round knockout loss to Jingliang Li in his Octagon return this past January.
So, after a difficult opening round against surging prospect Miguel Baeza at UFC Fight Night 189, it would have been easy to dismiss Santiago Ponzinibbio as a fighter whose best days were behind him. Instead, the 34-year-old Argentina native completely changed the narrative over the second half of the bout, earning a unanimous decision triumph in what will go down as a “Fight of the Year” contender.
“I feel so good. After 26 months I came back and took the worst loss of my career. I could have beaten [Li]. The guy didn’t beat me in 15 minutes. It was just a lucky punch. That was very tough,” Ponzinibbio said. “Today, I had to work with all these feelings. My first round was to figure out who I am. It was a little slow. The second and third round I came on strong. That was the real Santiago Ponzinibbio.”
Ponzinibbio, who won seven straight fights from 2015 to 2018, became the first man to beat Baeza in 11 MMA bouts.
“Miguel is so tough. Maybe he isn’t a big name, but this is the challenge the UFC gave me,” Ponzinibbio said. “I know I can beat the best fighters in the world. I’m a fighter and I said I wanted to fight. They said they have this kid no one wants to fight. I said give me this fight. I’m going to beat this guy. Now I’ll take somebody in the top 10.”
Ponzinibbio is confident that his latest victory puts him back on track to be one of the top contenders in the UFC’s welterweight division. He already has a few opponents in mind for his next bout.
“I showed the world that I'm here and that I'm back. I am ready to take this belt. I need a couple more victories and to get back into the rankings,” he said. :I’ve beaten ranked guys and put them to sleep. Everybody knows I had things in my life. Now I am back. I have the power to beat everyone.
“I’m looking for another fight soon. Hopefully I can to do two more this year. I think Vicente Luque is a great fight, or maybe the loser of Stephen Thompson and Gilbert Burns [at UFC 264].”