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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Argentina

Santiago Ponzinibbio made the most of his historic home country headliner spot.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Buenos Aires-Ponzinibbio vs Magny
Santiago Ponzinibbio defeated Neil Magny at UFC Argentina.
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Santiago Ponzinibbio was put in a position to break through at UFC Argentina, at least as much as one can on a relatively weak Saturday night show.

As the company’s top star from Argentina, it was natural for him to headline the company’s first event in that country. He was given solid opposition in Neil Magny, a fighter ranked higher in the welterweight division and one who has wins over name talent like Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, and Kelvin Gastelum, all past or future title contenders.

Ponzinibbio passed his test with flying colors. He dominated the first three rounds of the fight, taking out Magny’s legs to the point where Magny got almost no offense in and post-match debate centered around whether his corner should have just stopped the fight. Ponzinibbio then immediately took aim at the welterweight division’s big dog, Tyron Woodley.

Somewhat quietly, Ponzinibbio has won nine out of his last ten fights, including wins over Mike Perry and Gunnar Nelson. He handed Nelson his first knockout loss of his career. But until Saturday, he was also a guy lost in the mix. The Nelson win was strong, but an injury kept Ponzinibbio from a Kamaru Usman fight, which would have been a test that would have gotten the winner into serious championship competition.

He issued a title challenge, but realistically he needs one more win. Woodley vs. Colby Covington has been built up for months and needs to be put together next. After that, Woodley has beaten most of the top contenders. The winner of the Nov. 30 fight with Usman and Rafael dos Anjos is likely ahead of Ponzinibbio, and there’s always the business reality that if Nick Diaz beats Jorge Masvidal and wants a title fight, he has the advantage of a box office history that allows him to jump the line.

But let’s look at Ponzinibbio and other fighters from Saturday and where they could or should go next with Fortunes Changed for Five.

SANTIAGO PONZINIBBIO — At 27-3, Ponzinibbio has built up an impressive record, but he really needs a signature win to get people to see him as top contender rather than another guy in the top 10.

This means Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (14-3-1), who fought the champ close twice. Thompson is difficult because his karate-based style is different than any of the division’s top contenders. If not Thompson, Darren Till (17-1-1), who most recently lost a title fight, is another matchup where a win could shoot Ponzinibbio to the level where his name would be among the first talked about for a title shot.

His seven fight winning streak is the ninth longest of any fighter on the roster.

RICARDO LAMAS — The veteran featherweight (19-7) stopped Darren Elkins (25-7) in a battle of ranked fighters on Saturday. Lamas has always fallen short against the division’s top fighters so the perfect opponent from his standpoint would be Frankie Edgar (23-6-1). But Lamas might not be the perfect opponent for Edgar, who is probably still the division’s most popular fighter due to his long career of holding his own and beating much larger opponents.

A fight that makes sense for UFC would be against Renato Moicano (13-1-1), since that would be a high quality win for whoever would take it. Jeremy Stephens (28-15) is someone else who Lamas has yet to cross paths with who is also a ranked contender.

JOHNNY WALKER — Walker (15-3) made his UFC debut after getting a spot on the card off a win on the Brazilian version of Dana White’s Contender’s series. He couldn’t have made a better first impression.

The 6-foot-6 light heavyweight knocked out Khalil Rountree (8-3, 1 NC) with a short elbow in 1:57 of the first round, stamped his win with a crowd-pleasing backflip, then showed some personality in his post-match interview.

The win looks good because Rountree was coming off a win over kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki in a standup fight. A next fight for Walker should be a test to see what level he is at, and Ovince Saint Preux (23-12) would provide that.

CYNTHIA CALVILLO — Calvillo (7-1) was the subject of a lot of talk the day before the fight when it appeared she was struggling just to get onto the scale at weigh-ins. In that state, Calvillo missed weight by two pounds.

It was questioned, after the video went everywhere, how she could even fight the next day. But she could and did, beating Poliana Botelho (7-2) with a late first-round choke.

Good next opponents for Calvillo would be Tecia Torres (10-3) or Michelle Waterson (16-6).

MICHEL PRAZERES — Prazeres (26-2) won his eighth in a row, a winning streak among active fighters that is only topped by many of the biggest stars in the sport: Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Max Holloway, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Robert Whittaker.

But he was still fighting in prelims on Saturday. Part of that is he had been fighting at lightweight, but missed weight in three of his last four fights in the division. He was a short powerhouse at lightweight, but at welterweight, he’s shorter than almost everyone. He also wants to move back down.

If he stays at welterweight, good next opponents for him would be Magny (21-8) or Leon Edwards (16-3).

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