Evangelista Santos returned to the United States on Tuesday, three days after suffering a horrific injury in his welterweight clash with Michael Page at Bellator 158. Yet, despite all the commotion around his situation for the past few days, the Brazilian fighter guarantees he’s just fine.
"Cyborg" was on the receiving end of a brutal flying knee that fractured his skull Saturday, but chose not to spend more than a few hours in the hospital in London. Back to his hotel room before flying back home, Santos spoke with MMA Fighting about his current situation.
"It’s only a fracture, it didn’t hit my brain. I’m fine," Santos said. "Actually, I didn’t even stay in the hospital. I was there for five or six hours, and then I came back to the hotel. I couldn’t fly back to the United States on Sunday, but I'll have surgery in the United States. I’ll be back soon. Thank God I had no brain damage. I didn’t feel dizzy or anything like that. I wasn’t knocked out. I felt the pain due to the fracture. It was superficial, so it’s fine."
Santos immediately went down when Page landed the flying knee, but he wasn’t unconscious. He was dropped because of the pain, but had no idea how badly hurt he was.
"I only realized I had this dent when I asked the nurse when I would be able to fight again, and she said ‘touch your face first,’ so I asked a friend to take a picture," he said with a laugh. "I had no idea it was like that. I refused to be removed with a stretcher. I said ‘I’m fine, I only have a broken nose.’ I refused the oxygen mask, too. But when I saw the x-ray, I was like ‘f--k, God helped me.’ If it lands an inch below, it would have sunk my eye, my mouth. I hit where it should hit, my forehead, one of the hardest bones in the human body. The forehead protects you like a bumper.
"After that, I didn’t ask anything else about when I can fight again. But I know my body, I know how I feel. No one is better then you to know how you’re feeling. I know it’s only a fracture. I have to get it fixed, and I’m sure I’ll be back pretty quickly."
Prior to Bellator 158, Santos told MMA Fighting that Page wasn’t a real fighter yet. After the fight, the Brazilian compliments the welterweight prospect for his win and skills, but isn’t happy with his antics.
"Page proved he’s a great athlete, a skillful striker. He doesn’t have a good ground game, and that’s what I was planning on working on in the fight," Santos said, "but he’s showing to be a douchebag because he doesn’t respect his opponents before or after the fight. He’s using bad people as influences.
"He could become a celebrity with his talent and look up to other athletes, instead of acting like this. This generation looks up to (Conor) McGregor as an influence, and it’s not what being a competitor is about. Throwing things after the fight… Honestly, he’s a clown. The way he behaves is not how a champion should behave. He’s talented, yes. He’s skillful. And he fought a great fight."
The last time Santos had a bad injury in a fight was in 2008, when he fought Siyar Bahadurzada at Sengoku. "Cyborg" was coming off a first-round submission win in the promotion, but fractured his arm 22 seconds into the bout while being taken down.
"It was the same kind of pain I felt when I broke my arm in Japan," he said. "You can’t hide the pain. If was f---ing painful. I wasn’t knocked out or anything like that, that’s why I’m not worried. The damage was big, and it scares you when you look at it, but never happened internally. God protected me. You’re at risk in every fight. You see people dying playing soccer, imagine what can happen in a fight. Everything is a risk.
"(MMA) is a risky sport. We know that our safety is on the line every time you fight," he continued. "You never know what will happen in a fight. It doesn’t matter how weak your opponent is, he’s there to use every resource he has to take you out, to knock you out or submit you. It’s always a risk, right? It’s part of the job. But I’m fine."
Many fighters reached out to Santos to wish him a speedy recovery, and the Brazilian fighter believes that his situation showed fellow athletes how dangerous mixed martial arts is.
"I think people woke up and realized a few things about this sport," Santos said. "It can happen in your first fight, in the fifth fight, the 10th fight. It happened in my 50th fight. It will catch you one day. How many knockouts like that I’ve landed myself [laughs]? I had some amazing knockouts. I received one this time. And it wasn’t a knockout, it was the fracture. But it’s part of the job. It’s tough to see that image. A fracture is always tough to see, but the important is that I’m fine."
Hours after the fight, Cris Cyborg created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her ex-husband. Bellator is paying for the costs of the surgery, but the Invicta FC champion said that the money raised will help the Bellator fighter in the future, since he won’t be able to "work for some time, and we are hoping to offer some assistance to him and his family during this difficult time."
Santos didn’t seem comfortable with the campaign, though.
"Cris is crazy, man. I don’t need anything, thank God. I’m fine," he said. "(Bellator) is helping with everything. I don’t need to question anything. Seeing a fractured skull is kind of scary and frightening, I know, but I’m fine. Tell everyone I’m fine. I’ll be back soon.
"It’s flattering to see everyone worried and caring about you and your job. I think this feeling, this desire to help each other should exist every day. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fighter or a police officer, it should happen every day. From one human being to the other. Contribute in someone else’s life in a way. One thing that I always tried to follow in my life is to treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s what I teach my students."
Santos is confident that he will be back in action soon, and said that many times during the interview. However, it’s still unclear how long it will take for him to return. After going through a terrifying situation like this, he hopes the MMA community gets together.
"Fighters should be united," "Cyborg" said. "We know it’s a risky sport and everybody goes in there to literally rip someone’s head off. You have to do everything you can to hurt your opponent. We should be an organized class to be safer. It’s an ungrateful sport sometimes. You see athletes fighting for decades, and still have needs when they retire. We have hundreds of examples. Everybody is making money with it, except the fighters. A minority really makes a lot of money and has enough for when they retire. It’s only the minority. People should look at it more and think about it, so you can provide to your family later. The sport has grown a lot in the past 10 years, but it can be better organized, split the money in a better way. Everybody can benefit.
"We have to get united," he continued. "We have to think about the future. There are a lot of people making money, except the fighter. That’s why I encourage my students to read. They have to think for themselves. You will think things better. The majority of fighters are puppets of this system. Unfortunately, that’s what they are. Do ‘this, this and that.’ ‘Bark, sit and roll.’ That’s not how it should work. If you look at other sports, you don’t need to be the biggest star to have a nice salary. Any soccer player in Brazil makes millions. To have a salary like this in MMA, you have to be the champion. And you get pay monthly in other sports, unlike in MMA. We need this safety in MMA."
Santos is close to the 20th anniversary of his mixed martial arts debut, but admits that he never thought about saving money for his retirement when he stepped into a ring for the first time on Sept. 7, 1996.
"When I started fighting, my goal was to have fun, not to make money," he said. "I just wanted to brawl. You’re covering this sport for a long time and you know that. We fought one-night tournaments, beat three guys in one night, and got paid like 1000 reais. How are you going to save money getting paid that? You could barely buy medicine. You’re not worried about it. You’re proud of winning, and wants to get back in there as soon as possible. And it’s still like this today. Only the top 10 fighters make good money .And only in the big promotions. We know that.
"I never came to this sport for money. I came for knowledge and competition. I’m a black belt in jiu-jitsu, muay thai, kickboxing and luta livre. My last fight was my 50th fight. I always try to apply 20 years of knowledge in my fights instead of having only the theory of everything. I want to fight 10 more fights and then pass this knowledge to my students."
Fighting is not Santos’ only passion. For the past three years, "Cyborg" has been working on a project he created, called "Cycle of the Book," that combined fighting classes with reading. Even though he never made millions to save for his post-fighting life, the Bellator fighter sometimes feels like a millionaire.
"I’ve read 300 biographies of philosophers and psychologists," Santos said. "This project will increase your knowledge. Knowledge is the best investment you can make, because you can take it wherever you go. If you invest on money, you can lose it one day. If you have knowledge, you can be a better person, and make someone else a better person or a better athlete."
Santos will have a better idea about his future later this week after he undergoes surgery in the United States. With everything still up in the air, he plans to retire after 10 more fights. With a 1-2 record under the Bellator banner, "Cyborg" aims to avenge a recent loss to Saad Awad next.
"I took this fight on short notice. Before accepting this fight, I was considering to cut down to 155 pounds," he said. "It was the first weight class I fought in 1996, and I believe that’s the best weight for me. Saad Awad was a lightweight and we have pretty much the same height. I want to rematch him at 155 pounds. That was my original plan before fighting Page. I took this fight because I wanted to fight anyway, but my plan is to go to 155. I believe I’ll be able to focus on adapting now, maybe fight once at 160, and then go to 155 for my next fights."