Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC
Entering his fifth main event over his past seven UFC bouts, “Marreta” admitted he felt something was missing in October 2021 when he went the distance against Brazilian slugger Johnny Walker and won a lackluster decision. Santos said he expected Walker to come out “with that crazy style of his,” which didn’t exactly happen.
Ankalaev, however, presents a much different challenge after winning seven straight fights in the UFC, a run that includes four knockouts. And Santos is ready to make a statement.
“I’m very critical [of myself],” Santos told MMA Fighting. “In my opinion and the fan’s opinion, the [Walker] fight lacked emotion and aggressiveness. But when you think about the fighter, we got what we wanted in the end, which is the victory. It happens. Sometimes thing don’t go the way we wanted. I wanted him to come out like he always does, throwing spinning punches so I could catch him, but he didn’t do it.
“I’m sure [the Ankalaev fight will be different], because he’s young, he’s on a tear in the division, he’s confident, and he tends to grow in the fight, so that will push me as well. If I start slow, he’ll come at me and dominate the fight — and I don’t want that. This fight will be dynamic and exciting.”
Santos said Ankalaev “doesn’t look like a heavyweight fighting at light heavyweight,” unlike some fighters in the division, and “moves a lot, just like me,” so he expects a more dynamic contest. In the end, all Santos wants is to score his first knockout since February 2019, when he stopped future champion Jan Blachowicz to earn a shot at Jon Jones’ UFC title.
“I miss putting someone to sleep, man,” Santos said. “I miss putting someone to sleep or the referee having to stand in the middle to separate us. I miss it. It’s like that [soccer] striker that goes through several games without scoring a goal. Even if the team wins, the striker is hungry if he doesn’t score. I feel like that, and I’m coming for it in this fight.”
The American Top Team light heavyweight was stuck on a three-fight losing skid against Jones, Glover Teixeira, and Aleksandar Rakic before his decision win over Walker, but Santos believes he could be close to another championship bout with a victory on Saturday.
“Ankalaev is a prospect in the division with many wins in a row, [and] a good victory over him definitely puts me on the doorstep for another title fight,” Santos said. “Maybe one more fight, or even a title shot straight away. We never know. But it’s a very important fight that will put me in a position where I’ll visualize the belt again.”