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Santiago Ponzinibbio confident he can ‘catch' Gunnar Nelson on the ground

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UFC on FOX 19 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Gunnar Nelson will meet Santiago Ponzinibbio in the main event of UFC’s upcoming trip to Scotland on July 16, and the announcement surprised many people — except the Argentine fighter.

Nelson returns to action after a pair of second-round submissions over Albert Tumenov and Alan Jouban, while Ponzinibbio, a former TUF Brazil contestant, looks for his fifth straight victory in the welterweight division after defeating Andreas Stahl, Court McGee, Zak Cummings and Nordine Taleb.

"I was already expecting a big fight,” Ponzinibbio told MMA Fighting. "I’m coming off four wins with two first-round knockouts and two unanimous decisions in my opponent’s homes, so I knew I’d be fighting for something bigger.

"I expected an important fight now, and I’m happy to be in a main event against a good athlete like Gunnar Nelson. He has a good history in the UFC."

With three of his six UFC wins coming by way of first-round knockout, Ponzinibbio knows he will have a different challenge against a talented grappler like Nelson.

"He has a good footwork, a good right hand, but his best weapon is his jiu-jitsu,” Ponzinibbio said. "I know what he will try to do with me. He won’t try to surprise me and trade with me. When he feels the pressure, he will go for takedowns. I know that. But I’m well trained, and I still have nine weeks to work, so I’ll be at my best. This is the best moment in my career and I’m not worried about what he’s good at. I believe in myself and in my coaches."

Showing an incredible evolution since joining American Top Team in Florida, the welterweight, who went 4-0 on TUF Brazil 2 but was pulled for the tournament final due to an injury, ruled out adding more training partners to this camp to prepare specifically for Nelson’s grappling.

"I have Rodolfo Vieira here, I have (Antonio Carlos Junior) 'Cara de Sapato’. Why would I need to bring more grapplers?” said Ponzinibbio, citing two jiu-jitsu world champions. "I have great training partners here in the gym, and I’ll be ready for the fight. I have everything I need here in the gym, so I’m cool."

One of the two losses in Nelson’s record, a unanimous decision to Rick Story in 2014, happened in his only 25-minute fight, but Ponzinibbio says "I’m an athletic guy and I’ll be ready for five rounds.”

"I know I have knockout power,” he said. "I’ll be ready for five rounds if I need to, but a knockout or a submission is the consequence. If the win comes earlier, great. I’ll have the perfect strategy.”

And even if Nelson was never finished throughout his MMA career, Ponzinibbio believes he can become the first to stop him — even on the ground.

"This is MMA, not jiu-jitsu. It’s a different sport,” Ponzinibbio said. "I have great jiu-jitsu coaches and training partners, and I train jiu-jitsu for years. My jiu-jitsu is tight, it's on point. I don’t worry what he’s good at. If he gives me an opening, I’ll catch him."

The Argentinian talent is currently ranked at No. 13 in the official UFC welterweight rankings, and sees his match-up with “Gunni” as the perfect chance to break into the top 10 of the division.

"It’s one more step closer to the belt,” Ponzinibbio said. "My focus is on this fight with Gunnar Nelson, but, undoubtedly, a win over him puts me closer to the top. I’d get a top 5 opponent later this year, something like that, to get even closer to the title. Right now my focus is winning this fight against Gunnar Nelson. The belt is my ultimate goal, but now I’m focusing on Nelson."