Thiago Santos is looking to remind the world just how talented he is.
After moving up to light heavyweight in 2018, the 37-year-old Santos made waves by scoring three-straight stoppage victories over Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa, and current 205-pound titleholder Jan Blachowicz. That win streak earned “Marreta” a shot at then-champion Jon Jones in July 2019. Santos ended up dropping a split-decision loss to Jones, arguably the best fighter of all time, but his stock rose given that some felt as if he had done enough to win.
Despite his strong performance, Santos left his fight with Jones a battered fighter, as he suffered substantial damage to his left knee. He tore his ACL, PCL, MCL, and meniscus and suffered a cracked tibia. Since returning from that injury, the Brazilian has suffered back-to-back losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic, and he hasn’t looked like the same fighter.
However, Santos isn’t looking to be defined by this losing streak, and when he meets fellow Brazilian Johnny Walker in an upcoming UFC Fight Night main event, he’ll be looking to make a statement.
“I will show Sept. 25 that I deserve to be UFC fighter, that I deserve to be No. 4 in the light heavyweight rankings,” Santos told MMA Junkie. “I need to show to everyone who I am. I think my last fight, I didn’t show who I am. This fight, I want to show to everyone that I’m better than before my surgery. I will try to finish the fight. … Show everyone that I deserve to get back to the title shot.”
The 29-year-old Walker burst onto the UFC scene after beating Henrique da Silva on an edition of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. He then scored three-straight T/KO victories over Khalil Rountree, Justin Ledet, and Misha Cirkunov before suffering back-to-back losses to Corey Anderson and Nikita Krylov.
Most recently, Walker returned to his winning ways with a knockout of Ryan Spann last September.
This matchup between Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker will certainly be a pivotal one for both men, and it will undoubtedly have implications in the 205-pound division. So while Santos respects his opponent, he will enter the cage in September with one focus.
“I respect him as a fighter, as a person, but on fight day (there will be) no respect, no mercy,” Santos said. “I will do my job. I will try to knock him out. … I will kick him hard, I will hit him hard, I will bring pain to him, and I will try to knock him out. I will do my job. I feel much better than my last fight. I feel more confident, more comfortable, and I will use my experience, and I will show to everyone.”
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.