One of the top TUF: Brazil 2 prospects will finally make his UFC debut on Nov. 9 in Goiania, Brazil.
Santiago Ponzinibbio, the only non-Brazilian to over compete in the TUF seasons in Brazil, advanced to the final of the reality show with back-to-back TKO wins over Thiago Silva and Marcio Santos, followed by decision victories over Cleiton Duarte and Leonardo Santos.
But, like in his whole life, things weren’t that easy for the Argentine welterweight, and a broken arm forced him out of the final. Santos, who replaced him at UFC on Fuel TV 10, submitted William Macario to be crowned the TUF: Brazil 2 winner.
Completely healed and ready to get inside the Octagon for the first time, facing Ryan LaFlare at UFC Fight Night 32, Ponzinibbio celebrates his opportunity to shine.
"I feel blessed to be the first Argentine fighter in the UFC," Ponzinibbio told MMAFighting.com, "really happy to represent my country inside the Octagon."
"I wish I could make to the final, I believe I have what it takes to be the champion. I fought in the semifinal with a broken arm and won, but I couldn’t recover to fight the final. I’ve won all my fights at TUF: Brazil 2, and I believe I would have beat (Macario)."
Alex Schoenauer, a member of Team Liddell at TUF 1 back in 2005, was the first Argentina-native fighter to sign with the UFC, but Ponzinibbio says he wasn’t that important for his native country as he is.
"(Schoenauer) was born in Argentina, but moved to the U.S. when he was really young," he said. "I’ve started my MMA career in Argentina and I’m fighting in Brazil now. The Argentine people see me as an Argentine, but they don’t see him as an Argentine. Even the UFC promotes me as the first Argentine in the Octagon."
Ponzinibbio, an 18-1 welterweight with 16 stoppage wins, decided to move to Brazil when he was 7-0 in MMA. He has worked in several different jobs in Brazil while training for his MMA bouts, including giving massages at the beach in Florianopolis, and UFC lightweight Thiago Tavares helped making him one of the best 170-pounders in the national circuit.
After taping TUF: Brazil 2, Ponzinibbio, under the tutelage of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Ponzinibbio left Team Tavares for Team Nogueira and moved to Rio de Janeiro for his first UFC appearance.
"I’m looking forward this fight," he said. "I’ve been training at Team Nogueira, the best MMA gym in the world, with a lot of top fighters around me. I’m training hard, doing exactly what I need to have a party on Nov. 9."
LaFlare holds a perfect record of eight wins and no losses, with seven stoppage victories, but the Argentine believes in his hands to finish the fight.
"He’s a wrestler with a good cardio," Ponzinibbio said. "He tried to hold his opponent and go for the takedowns. I’m ready to defend the takedowns and stand against him. I’m not afraid of him. I’ve been working all aspects of the fight and I’m sure I’ll do great."
Despite the big Brazil vs. Argentina rivalry from the soccer fields, Ponzinibbio will likely get the support of the Brazilian fans at UFN 32.
"It feels great to have the Brazilian rooting for me," he said. "It’s beautiful. I feel at home in Brazil, I love this country. When I came to Brazil the UFC seemed to be really far away from me, but now I’m here. It’s unbelievable. I’ll stay focused and work hard."