A great lightweight showdown will take place in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Nearly three years ago, Thiago Santos was the first man to win a scorecard against then light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Then came surgeries and a losing streak that saw Santos fall from the ranks of contenders in the UFC’s light heavyweight division after Jones. Santos comes into Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event against Magomed Ankalaev looking to get back into contention.
After beginning his octagon career as a middleweight, Santos jumped up to the light heavyweight division in 2018. He was immediately a force at 205 pounds, scoring three consecutive knockout victories, culminating with a February 2019 win over Jan Błachowicz.
That run of success landed Santos in the octagon against Jones that July, where he would go on to give the champion nearly all he could handle before coming up short on two of the three official scorecards. Unfortunately, Santos suffered a series of serious injuries in the bout with Jones, including torn ACL, ACL, ACL and meniscus, as well as a fractured right tibia and partially torn meniscus in his right knee.
Santos returned in November 2020, losing by submission to Glover Teixeira and then losing to Aleksandar Rakic by decision in March 2021 before finally getting back in the win column against Johnny Walker last October.
“I’m very critical [of myself],” Santos said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “In my opinion and in the fans’ opinion, the [Walker] fight lacked emotion and aggressiveness. But if you think about the fighter, in the end we got what we wanted, which is the win. These are things that happen. Sometimes things don’t go our way. I wanted him to come out like he always does, throwing spinning punches so we could catch him, but he didn’t.”
In Ankalaev, Santos faces a serious light heavyweight contender and a fighter riding a seven-fight winning streak.
Ankalaev’s only stumble in the UFC came in his octagon debut, when he was caught in a choke by Paul Craig. From that point on, he rebounded to score four knockouts during his current winning streak.
In his last outing, Ankalaev got the better of former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. A win over Santos would make it two straight wins over men who have been contenders for the belt and would put Ankalaev in the mix for the winner of the upcoming title fight between champion Teixeira and challenger Jiri Prochazka in June.
Saturday’s card may offer some of the best action of the year as far as Fight Night events go. Bantamweights Song Yadong and Marlon Moraes will square off in the main event. Featherweight veterans Sodiq Yusuff and Alex Caceres are set to fight in a featured spot. Karl Roberson and Khalil Rountree Jr. will square off at light heavyweight. Lightweights Drew Dober and Terrance McKinney will square off on the main card. And middleweights Alex Pereira and Bruno Silva will square off on the main card.
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: March 12 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: UFC Apex — Las Vegas
Magomed Ankalaev vs Thiago Santos: Both men can throw a lot of heat in the standup game, and both have strong kick-based attacks. Ankalaev has shown a susceptibility to leg kicks in recent fights and Santos can land leg kicks with the best in the division. While Ankalaev has a good level of striking, Santos’ power will likely have him employ his vast wrestling experience to take the fight to the ground and minimize the danger. But will Ankalaev be able to close the distance to get those takedowns without eating Santos’ explosive power?
It’s important to note that Santos is by far the best fighter Ankalaev has faced in his octagon career. We’ve seen many men stumble in big time fights and Santos realizes how important it is for him to get a win and not have a 1-4 record in his five most recent outings. It’s a tough fight to predict, much tougher than the odds suggest, which would say Ankalaev is a safe force at the top end of the division. But this step up may be too much against a dangerous fighter who needs the win.
Pick: Thiago Santos by TKO2