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Breaking Anderson Silva’s KO record is ‘cool,’ but Thiago Santos aims for UFC belt

Brazilian middleweight Thiago Santos has eight knockouts in the UFC.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Anderson Silva is the greatest middleweight of all-time, arguably the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter ever, but Thiago Santos is close to breaking one of his UFC records.

“The Spider” shocked the world for years with his striking, knocking out the likes of Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Chael Sonnen, Rich Franklin and many others. But now, more than five years after Silva’s eight knockout win at middleweight, Santos aims for his nine knockout finish against David Branch at UFC Atlantic City.

“Marreta” enters Saturday’s event riding a four-fight winning streak, all by knockout, but he isn’t wasting much time thinking about records and numbers.

”That’s not my main goal, I don’t keep thinking about it,” Santos told MMA Fighting. “People remind me of that, it’s cool, you put your name in history, but I try not to think about it. My biggest goal is to become UFC champion. I’m not that far, I’m getting there. That’s my main goal, win every fight and get closer to the title.”

Santos doesn’t care about dates and facts, but one date didn’t pass by unnoticed. “Marreta” posted on his social media in March a picture of his win over Ronny Markes, the fourth anniversary of his first UFC win — also his first knockout. For Santos, looking back at that night in Natal, Brazil, brought him good memories.

”It’s like I’m watching a movie in my head, remembering everything I went through,” Santos said. “I didn’t have a good debut [against Cezar Ferreira], many people criticized me, saying I’d be another one of those fighters that get in the UFC but get cut right away, that I would get cut after the Ronny Markes fight.

”That was my first camp outside of Brazil. I spent three months at ATT. I didn’t do any interviews before that fight because I was upset with everything people said, and being where I am now shows we can get anywhere we want. Even if we’re not pure talent, with hard work and dedication you can get there.”

Santos, who turned 34 in January, is 8-2 over his past 10 UFC fights, having knocked out seven of those opponents, but he still doesn’t consider himself pure talent.

”I don’t think I was born with gifts and talents like Anderson Silva,” Santos said, “but I was always dedicated and worked hard, and I think hard work trumps talent eventually. I’m proof of that. That’s exactly how I picture myself.”

Santos was upset with UFC ranking panelists prior to his last fight, a second-round knockout win over Anthony Smith in February. Ranked at No. 11 now and matched up against a top-10 opponent, the Brazilian striker still won’t pay too much attention to the UFC’s lists, but sees this fight as a chance to move one step closer to a shot at the gold.

Branch re-signed with the UFC after winning and defending the WSOF middleweight and light heavyweight belts, and defeated Krzystof Jotko via decision in his return. Branch faced former champion Lue Rockhold next, but lost in the second round.

”I watched his fight against Rockhold and he did well and won the first round, and I think he will try to fight against me exactly what he did in that first round,” Santos said. “Rockhold throws good kicks, so (Branch) will try to close the distance and put some pressure against the cage against me, but I’m ready for that. I don’t think he wants to stand and trade with me, but I’m also ready or that.”

Standing and trading with “Marreta” in the UFC is not something most middleweights want to do, so the Rio de Janeiro native always expects to showcase his takedown defense when he enters the Octagon.

”I actually thought that my last opponent (Smith) would trade with me,” Santos said. “He showed that in his previous fights, but when the opportunity came and I connected my first strike, people change their minds and try to grapple with me. I trained hard to be able to stop takedowns and, if necessary, use my jiu-jitsu.”