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Thiago Santos expects No. 1 contender bout with UFC 231 win over Jimi Manuwa

Thiago Santos believes he could be two wins away from a shot at the UFC belt.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 231 could be a big night for Thiago Santos.

Entering the Octagon for the fifth time in 2018, “Marreta” faces his first “true” test as a light heavyweight on Saturday night, taking on seventh-ranked Jimi Manuwa on the main card portion of the pay-per-view show in Toronto, Canada.

Fresh off a win over fellow middleweight Eryk Anders in a 205-pound bout in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September, Santos told MMA Fighting that the outcome of Saturday’s bout will determine whether or not he continues at light heavyweight in 2019, but he’s more likely to stay at 205 pounds for good.

One of the factors that convinced Santos he can have success in this division is Anthony Smith’s fast rise at 205 pounds, he says. “Lionheart” lost to “Marreta” by second-round knockout in February, and went on an incredible run at light heavyweight right after, stopping Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua and Volkan Oezdemir in 2018.

“We’re not so small, we can fight in this weight class,” Santos said. “I worked hard to gain muscle mass and adapt to this division, and seeing how well (Smith) adapted definitely encouraged me to continue at light heavyweight.”

“Marreta” has won three of four bouts so far in 2018, defeating Anders, Smith and Kevin Holland, and envisions an even busier year in 2019.

“I’m happy that I’m more active, that I’m fighting all the time,” Santos said. “If I decide to stay at light heavyweight, I can fight six times next year because I don’t cut much weight [laughs]. It’s not a big sacrifice, so I can take more fights on short notice.”

The title picture at light heavyweight is still a bit confusing right now. Former champion Jon Jones will return in a championship bout against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on Dec. 29, and it’s unclear if Daniel Cormier will ever go back to 205 do defend one of his titles.

”Things will get interesting,” Santos said. “We have Jones and Gustafsson fighting for the belt, and they are talking about Smith being next in line. (Smith) even said he wants to fight me after he challenges for the belt, so we’re also thinking about it. Who knows, maybe there’s a rematch for the belt.

“I think that a win over Manuwa puts me one step away from the belt,” he continued. “I don’t think I’d go straight for the title, but I believe that, with a good win over Manuwa, they will give me a fight that guarantees me a title shot, for sure.”

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