Over the past couple years, Thiago Santos has endured double knee surgeries and a three-bout losing streak, but the former light heavyweight title challenger believes he can be a contender once again.
“Marreta” took a step toward achieving that goal with a five-round unanimous decision victory against Johnny Walker in the UFC Fight Night 193 headliner at the UFC Apex on Saturday night. It was the 37-year-old Brazilian’s first triumph after falling to Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic in succession. Even in defeat, Santos argued that he’s always been competitive.
“I went through hard times since when I did my surgery – it’s hard to recover. I stopped [fighting] for a year and a half,” Santos said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I fought against Glover, lost. I took another fight against Rakic, lost. But no one run me over. It’s a tough fight. I fought against them against tough guys. Every single fight I feel better. It’s important to me. I go down and go up. … I was 100 percent going to fight better against Johnny Walker and this happened.
Santos arguably reached his peak when he pushed Jones for five rounds at UFC 239, ultimately losing a split decision in a 205-pound title bout in July 2019. While the win against Walker wasn’t especially memorable – it was a low output fight on both sides – the American Top Team representative is confident he remains near the top of the division.
“I think I deserve something more. I want the champion. I think I deserve Top 5, one more fight and I think if I win the fight I can go to the title shot again,” Santos said. “I think I deserve that. I had a fight against the No. 10 [in the UFC rankings]. I want a Top 5 who can bring me to the title shot again.”
The light heavyweight belt will be on the line at UFC 267, when Jan Blachowicz defends the crown against Teixeira in the card’s main event in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 30. Meanwhile, former Rizin champion Jiri Prochazka will serve as an alternate for the title bout should either of the original participants suffer an injury or other type of mishap. That would seem to tab Prochazka as the No. 1 contender in waiting, but Santos thinks the Czech star should take a fight in the meantime against a certain Brazilian light heavyweight.
“Jiri Prochazka, if he don’t want to wait for (title) fight – I’m here,” Santos said. “I can fight against him. He’s a good fighter, all respect to him, but I watch his fights. He thinks his chin is strong, but it’s because he didn’t fight against ‘The Hammer.’ If he want to try to test his chin, I’m here. I’m here.”
Santos has established a reputation for finishing, both as a middleweight and during his run to the top contender status at 205 pounds. UFC Fight Night 193 won’t rank among his peak performances, but “Marreta” claims it was a clear-cut victory, nonetheless.
“In my eyes, I dominated him,” he said. “I kicked him so strong, and sometimes, I connected with my hand, so I felt I dominated him all the rounds, but we never know. I was a little bit sharper, because he was unpredictable, and it was hard to find sparring to train for him.”
Walker, who is normally known for his reckless style, spent much of the bout on the outside and appeared hesitant to pull the trigger. That made a stoppage all the more difficult to achieve.
“It’s not always we can finish the fight, but I tried,” Santos said. “He is a tough guy. He is big, but he is fast. I tried to do my best, but anyway, I won that fight. No question about that.”