Many fighters believe that their biggest moment is getting the opportunity to fight in front of Dana White or the first time they get to fight for Dana White, but not for Mike Santiago. First given the call to fight in front of the UFC President on the Tuesday Night Contender Series, Santiago impressed White with a first-round knockout of Mark Cherico. While he didn’t win the contract on fight night, Santiago would get the call just a week later to take on one of the division’s top prospects, Zabit Magomedsharipov. While the fight didn’t go Santiago’s way, he would show the same toughness against Zabit that led him to the initial call to fight on the Contender Series.
Although his record sits at 1-2, Santiago recognizes that he wasn’t himself in his last couple contests. “No excuses, the last couple fights I had I wasn’t on top of my game too much, like how I know I can be.” With the past behind him and not accepting any excuses, Santiago will step back into the Octagon at UFC 225 when he takes on Dan Ige in his hometown of Chicago.
While everyone in his hometown knows him as “Lil Bully”, Santiago says that nickname is gone.
“It’s a new age for me. I don’t even have them announce me as that anymore. Another nickname will come, if not, it’s all good. I’ll have my bully tendencies [against Ige] but I’m in the big leagues now and I don’t need to be walking around with that anymore.”
With the biggest opportunity in front of him to fight in the UFC in front of his hometown, Santiago will get to share the night with his teammate and mentor, another Chicago bred fighter, Ricardo Lamas. Sharing the night with Lamas, under the UFC promotion, in front of his hometown, Santiago says this is the biggest opportunity of his life. “It’s not all the time that UFC guys get to fight where they’re from. I don’t care how cheesy it sounds, it really is a dream come true and to do it with Lamas, it’s just so surreal.”
When it comes to his opponent Dan Ige, Santiago says he’s going to show how Chicago gets down at UFC 225, “I’ve watched my film, I’ve done my homework. I’m coming out on top in this one”. While staying respectful of his opponent, Santiago says this fight has everything on the line.
“I think this fight is a make-or-break for both of us. I need to show the UFC and everyone else, what’s really good. The future is on the line for this one.”
Knowing what’s at stake at UFC 225, Santiago doesn’t see pressure, but rather, opportunity that lies ahead of him. The feelings that sit inside of him sometimes call for self-control, but the reason for his excitement is clear. At home, on a UFC pay-per-view card, it’s up to Mike Santiago himself, to create the next big step in his career with this fight.
“I don’t feel extra pressure fighting at home. I’ve fought high-level title fights at home, yeah this is the UFC but my feet are already wet. I need to go out there and do my thing, that’s all it comes down to. I just have to be me.”
UFC 225 will not only feature Santiago and Lamas but will also welcome back former WWE superstar turned UFC fighter, CM Punk. When asked why the hometown crowd should be behind him and Lamas over Punk, Santiago responded with a smile “have people watched his fights? No offense but I’m not going in there and flopping around. I’m sorry, I respect him for getting in there but that Chicago spotlight is mine. Sorry to everyone else, but they’ll know, it’s my spotlight that night.”
The co-main event at UFC 225 will feature an interim welterweight title fight between Rafael dos Anjos and the outspoken Colby Covington. When asked about Covington, Santiago didn’t hold back on his thoughts on Covington’s antics.
“He’s a clown. People want to see him win or want to see him lose, he’s a blabber mouth. Some of the stuff he says definitely crosses the line like the racist comments he had to say about the people in Brazil, it’s just too much.”
When asked what would happen if he mentioned Chicago, Santiago was quick to put his foot down and defend his hometown.
“He’s not going to say s-t. I’ll Diaz his ass. Out there they call it the Stockton slap, out here in Chicago they call it the Santi slap. I’ll Santi smash that mother f***er, I don’t care how big he is.”
Knowing what is on the line for him when he takes on Dan Ige, knowing who he’ll share the night with in his hometown, Mike Santiago knows one thing more than anything, at UFC 225 in Chicago, the spotlight will shine the brightest on him come June 9.