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Thiago Santos explains why the UFC’s ‘fake rankings’ are a ‘lie’

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Thiago Santos (Alexandre Loureiro, Inovafoto)
Thiago Santos looks for his fourth straight KO at UFC Belem.
Alexandre Loureiro, Inovafoto

BELEM, Brazil — Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith might be two of the best unranked fighters right now in the middleweight division, but one of them no longer cares about rankings.

“Marreta” and “Lionheart” are both coming off three knockout victories in the Octagon and will look for a fourth straight win when they collide at UFC Belem on Feb. 3. Smith isn’t the big name Santos was hoping for — Santos called out Derek Brunson following his most recent win in October — but regardless, he’s happy with the matchup.

”I don’t choose opponents, but I always want to fight someone in a good position in the UFC, since I’m coming off three knockouts,” Santos told MMA Fighting. “Anthony Smith is not among the top in the rankings, but he’s a really tough guy who’s also coming off knockouts. He beat Hector Lombard, who’s a big name, so I’m fighting tough opponents even though they are not in the rankings. I have to respect him.”

Conversation about the UFC’s official, media-generated rankings prompted Santos to dive into a long rant about how the top-15 list is unfair. “Marreta” was added onto the ranking just days before UFC Belem, when Georges St-Pierre was removed, and now Santos sits at No. 15.

”This ranking doesn’t exist,” the Brazilian said. “This ranking is a lie, it doesn’t show the reality of the sport. I’ve been fighting guys that are not in the ranking, but they are tough. I don’t turn down fights. I’ll fight anyone. Meanwhile, these guys in the top 15 of these fake rankings won’t fight anyone outside of the top 15.

”I’ve been fighting guys that are way tougher than the ones that are in there. I don’t care about being in those rankings, I want to beat the guys that are in there because they think they are too good. Being in the rankings or not, that makes no difference to me. I want to fight people that will put me in a position to fight for the belt. I want to steamroll these guys in the rankings to show that this is not a real ranking.

”Some of them deserve to be there, but others don’t,” Santos added. “I don’t speak only about myself, there are other guys that deserved to be there as well. I don’t want to be part of this lie. I want to be in the rankings when it’s full of fighters that really deserve to be there.”

Santos may not like the UFC rankings and have no desire to be part of it right now, be he knows that being in or outside of them affects his career in many different ways.

”That’s how the company works, unfortunately, and I can’t change that, but I’m happy with my performances and what I’ve been doing in the biggest promotion in the world,” Santos said. “Having that number by my name, that hashtag… I don’t want to be in these rankings, I want to become champion. Being a top-15 (fighter) can be temporary, it’s relative.

”That changes the way you’re seen and paid, the numbers, but it’s not real,” he continued. “I cared about it in the past, but I don’t care anymore. Those who really know MMA, who care about it, like you, know who should be there and who should not. That’s not real, so I don’t get too excited about something that is not real.”

Fighting a dangerous veteran like Smith inside the Octagon will change the way some people still view him, Santos hopes. “Lionheart” is coming off big knockouts over Hector Lombard, Andrew Sanchez and Elvis Mutapcic, and Santos doesn’t expect Smith to change the way he fights.

”I think that he will try to stand and fight me,” Santos said. “He fought well in the later rounds in his most recent fights, and that’s why he won. His opponents got tired, some of them got tired of beating him, and then he finished the fight. I believe he’s confident enough to stand and trade with me, but we’re prepared for everything. Maybe he goes for takedowns, to work on top. He has a good ground-and-pound, so we have to be smart in case he tries to surprise me. I’m ready for everything.

”I’m an opportunist, I know when it’s time to go for the finish,” he added. “I’ve fought guys that had never been knocked out before and ended up knocked out by me, so that doesn’t surprise me. If I see that he has felt something, I will go for the finish. His [durability] doesn’t worry me because he has never fought me. He can be [durable] against others, but that doesn’t mean he will be against me.”

Following a “perfect” year in 2017 — which saw Santos go 3-0 against Jack Marshman, Gerald Meetschaert, and Jack Hermansson — “Marreta” hopes UFC Belem is the start of another three-fight year in 2018.

”With this win, it will be four in a row for me, so there’s nowhere to run: They will have to give me someone from the top,” Santos said.

“A win over [Smith] is another step in the company. I have big plans for 2018. If everything goes right, maybe I’ll fight someone at the top next with a full camp, and not on short notice like when I fought (Gegard) Mousasi. Give me time to prepare for one of the top (middleweights) and I will prove that I deserve to be there.”