The 53-second destruction of Bakhtiyar Abbasov earned Luis Santos a shot at ONE Championship welterweight titleholder Ben Askren, and the Brazilian veteran is ready to make history in Manila.
Santos and Askren will headline Friday’s ONE Championship 26 at the SM MOA Arena in Philippines, and "Sapo" feels that he had the best training camp of his life after moving to Florida and training at American Top Team.
"I had four months to prepare and I couldn’t ask for a better training camp," Santos told MMAFighting.com. "I’m more than ready to do a great fight and come out with the win."
Besides training with several top welterweights from the UFC, Santos worked out with the fighters that will be on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.
"I trained the whole time here at ATT. I moved to the United States and I’m training hard since December," he said. "I believe this is the best welterweight camp in the world. No doubt about it. And I also had the help from a few friends who came from Brazil, and the fighters from the next TUF season, so it was perfect."
Askren is undefeated with a 14-0 record in MMA. and is one of the best wrestlers in the sport, but "Sapo" believes in his experience and skill set to stop everything he tries on Friday. He believes that ONE Championship rules favors his style, too.
"I trained wrestling to be at the same level in an area in which he’s a specialist, and trained harder where I’m better than him, in the striking area," he said. "I’m really well prepared for this fight. On April 24, I will go there, put on a show and get the win."
"I feel comfortable under those rules because my game is adapted to fight wrestlers and grapplers that will try to take me down," he continued. "I feel really comfortable. These rules aren’t good for them."
In fact, fighting under rules similar to ONE Championship’s was how Santos entered the sport 15 years ago. On March 10, 2000, "Sapo" finished three opponents to win a one-night tournament in Rio de Janeiro, and he still considers that night the most important of his career.
"You’re never too sure that you want something in your life until you do it," Santos said of his first experience in the sport. "A fighter faces challenges, and I also wasn’t sure that vale tudo would become so big around the world. I really decided that night that I wanted this to my life, and that’s why I see that event as the most important fights."
"I will fight under the same rules I fought that night against Askren, actually," he continued. "It was a bit harder that time because there was no weight limit. I was a 165-pound fighter facing guys with up to 240 pounds. It was a crazy night, but we had some warriors competing."
A former Bellator champion and current ONE Championship kingpin, Askren is considered by many the best welterweight outside the UFC. Santos, who won 61 of 71 MMA fights, disagrees.
"He is a great fighter. But if I had to put on a ranking of who’s the best fighter outside the UFC, I would put myself ahead of him because of my record," "Sapo" said. "That won’t mean much on fight night, though. I believe he’s a great fighter, yes, and that I’m ready to do a great fight with him.
"He fought a few times and beat some good names, two or three American Top Team guys, so I don’t underestimate him for that reason. You have to focus on what you are doing and know that you’re facing a champion. Let him think he’s superior."
After a long list of decisions in Bellator, Askren finished his last four opponents. Santos says he has a few "surprises" planned for the champion, though.
"I know he’s a good grappler, but my judo is really strong. I counter takedowns pretty well. He won’t have that much of advantage over me in that area," he said. "My jiu-jitsu is great, so I’m confident. I trained a few surprises for him. My game plan doesn’t involve being on my back. But if that happens, I will be ready to shut him down. I don’t see him as a great jiu-jitsu fighter, a guy like ‘Toquinho’ (Palhares). He takes you down and that’s it. He’s a controller, not a finisher, and I’m ready for him."