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Santiago Ponzinibbio predicts he’ll be ‘really close’ to UFC belt after he KOs Gunnar Nelson

UFC on FOX 19 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Santiago Ponzinibbio promises a breakout performance Sunday when he headlines UFC Fight Night 113 opposite Gunnar Nelson in Glasgow — one that will show naysayers he’s in the UFC to be champion.

Born in Argentina, the American Top Team talent enters the first main event of his UFC career riding an impressive four-fight winning streak, and he knows the importance of his clash with a grappling ace like Nelson in Scotland.

"I face every opponent as the most important fight of my life because we have to be successful in order to continue growing,” Ponzinibbio told MMA Fighting. "I’m climbing the ladder, moving up the ranking, and in a main event now. I can’t wait to fight. I’m more than ready to battle.

"The key of this fight is that this is a main event. More people will get to know my work. I do my best every day and fight with my heart. That's how I fight since I started in this sport. I’ll fight better than ever. It’s a main event, so more people will watch me and see what I can do.”

Some fans seemed confused when the UFC announced the match-up, especially since Nelson is a popular name in the welterweight division, while Ponzinibbio isn’t quite as well known yet despite his successful run in the promotion.

For those who think the Argentinian is being brought to the Octagon to lose, he has a message.

"Some people might think I’m being put there to lose to Gunnar Nelson,” he said, "but those who understand about this sport know that I’m coming off four wins with two first-round knockouts and two decision wins in my opponents’ backyards. No one has given me anything, I've earned this. After this fight, they will realize I deserved to be in this main event. Every single one of my UFC fights were exciting."

And even if his nickname “Gente Boa” means he’s a “nice guy," Ponzinibbio will waste no time going for the kill against Nelson. The ATT talent says he’s “very athletic” and has trained for seven rounds in the gym, so will have no problem going 25 minutes on Sunday.

That’s not his ideal plan, though.

"I see myself knocking him out,” Ponzinibbio said. "I see myself finishing him. I’m ready to finish this fight. I believe I have the potential to knock him out, but if I can’t finish him, I’ll win a decision."

A win over Nelson would boost Ponzinibbio’s record to 7-1 over the past three years, and he expects to be recognized as a future contender in the 170-pound division.

"I have all the qualities and the tools to become a world champion,” he said. "I believe in that. God and the UFC will decide when that will happen, but I’m ready. After this win, I will be really close to the belt. Five straight wins, beating the No. 8, I believe that puts me close to the belt."

With the UFC planning its first trip to South America for an event outside of Brazil in December, in Buenos Aires (Argentina) or Santiago (Chile), Ponzinibbio knows that a win over Nelson would make him a no-brainer as a possible headliner.

"That would be a dream,” Ponzinibbio said. "I’m not thinking about that right now because I have to focus on [Nelson], I can’t look at other things, but that would be great. I heard they might do an event there in December, in Argentina or Chile. It would be a great opportunity because I started my career in my country. I fought there seven times. I left Argentina for evolution and recognition, but my first steps in the sport were there. I came from Latin America, and it would be great to fight at home.”

Asked if he can be for Argentina what Conor McGregor represented for Ireland, Ponzinibbio believes he’s already there.

"I have this potential, I can be a reference for them,” he said. "I already am a reference for them because I’m the only Argentinian, one of the few fighters from Latin American to get here."

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