There aren’t many welterweights hotter than Santiago Ponzinibbio and he’s fully aware of his value right now.
Following an 11-month absence from competition due to injury, Ponzinibbio returned with a vengeance at UFC Argentina, thrilling his hometown crowd at Parque Roca in Buenos Aires with a fourth-round knockout of Neil Magny in the evening’s main event. It was the exclamation point on a complete performance for the 32-year-old, who later fielded questions at the post-fight press conference in both Spanish and Portuguese.
Immediately after the fight, Ponzinibbio vowed to become UFC welterweight champion in 2019 and he expressed interest in taking on current titleholder Tyron Woodley, who just so happened to be working the FOX Sports desk on Saturday. Asked about the challenge, Woodley simply said that Ponzinibbio needs to “keep winning” if he wants a shot.
Ponzinibbio was informed of the response and offered his own take on the situation.
“In regards to Woodley, I understand fully why he says that, he wants to hold on to his title as long as possible,” Ponzinibbio said, via a translator. “He knows that if he does fight me, I’m going to knock him out, I’m going to take it. So he wants to keep extending his reign for as long as he can and that’s why he keeps saying that I still have a long way to go.”
Ponzinibbio (27-3) has now won seven consecutive bouts dating back to December 2015, the second best streak in the division behind Kamaru Usman (eight). The two could potentially meet in the future, with someone’s run of good fortune coming to an end, but Usman is currently scheduled to fight former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale on Nov. 30.
Whoever gets the win there could face Ponzinibbio in a No. 1 contender’s bout next.
“It would be a great fight to fight one of those victors, between the Dos Anjos-Usman fight,” Ponzinibbio said. “It’s not math, it’s not just the numbers, the division shifts a lot, but it would be a great fight and I’m really looking forward to one of those.”
Earlier this year, Ponzinibbio proposed that dos Anjos be his opponent for UFC Argentina, but dos Anjos supposedly wanted to fight closer to his home in California so that he could be with his pregnant wife. It’s an excuse that Ponzinibbio didn’t find particularly convincing, though he’s not holding a grudge. He only targeted dos Anjos because he was looking to knock off a top fighter and get one step closer to a title shot.
“I fought in Canada with Canadians, I fought in Europe with Europeans, so I don’t know why he refused to fight in Argentina,” Ponzinibbio said. “He’s gone to Brazil a million times, so I don’t know why he would refuse this fight.
“I think I deserve a top-five fight and I think after tonight’s victory I might climb to that position. As for a title shot, I’m looking for that all the way, maybe it will be one more fight before that, but that’s my objective going forward.”
Another name that was floated Ponzinibbio’s way on Saturday was recent welterweight title challenger Darren Till. However, Ponzinibbio was quick to dismiss the Englishman due to his past issues with making the 170-pound weight limit.
“I don’t see him as a very professional athlete,” Ponzinibbio said. “I think he missed weight a few times, so there are other fights that I’m more interested in than him.”
With his eyes set on a championship opportunity next year, Ponzinibbio still had time to reflect on what it meant to headline and win at the first-ever UFC show in Argentina, a prospect that seemed like a pipe dream when he first began his journey into MMA.
As his own career has progressed, he’s watched the sport’s presence develop in his home country and he believes MMA is “the sport of the future” for Argentina. Not only does he see UFC gold in his own future, he plans to lay a path for other Argentinians to find their own success through MMA someday.
“I’m thrilled to see how the sport has grown so much and how the recognition has grown so much in this country,” Ponzinibbio said. “I’m going to keep helping to develop that to expand it further in this country. I’m going to give seminars and classes. I really think a sport expands and really helps people in their lives, so I’m thrilled to see that in our country.”