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Thiago Santos: Key to beat Jon Jones is to be ‘unpredictable’

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Thiago Santos is unbeaten in three fights since moving up to light heavyweight in the UFC
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Thiago Santos has looked incredible at light heavyweight after finishing Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and most recently Jan Blachowicz, and aspires to be the next in line for the UFC championship.

Days after his third-round TKO win over Blachowicz in the main event of UFC Prague, “Marreta” landed in Las Vegas to watch his TFT teammate Polyana Viana compete at UFC 235, but also to be in attendance when Jon Jones puts his title on the line against Anthony Smith.

The last man to beat Smith inside the Octagon, finishing him by TKO in a middleweight clash a year ago, Santos celebrates living “a unique moment in my career” and the possibility of challenging the winner of Jones vs. Smith next.

The Brazilian wasn’t officially promised a title shot after his win in Prague, but expects the company to make a decision when the UFC 235 main event is over.

“I think it depends on the fight Saturday,” Santos told MMA Fighting, “who will be the champion and what are his plans for the future, if he plans on defending the belt right after, if he doesn’t get hurt, so I think this conversation will happen after Saturday’s fight.”

Jones is a huge favorite in the bout, but Santos can see scenarios where “Lionheart” shocks the world even though he picks “Bones” to win.

“Jon Jones is the favorite, he has more weapons, but Smith can surprise him,” Santos said. “If I had to bet, I’d bet on Jon Jones by TKO.”

If Jones comes out victorious at the T-Mobile Arena, “Marreta” hopes the light heavyweight king “keeps his word and comes back quickly to defend it against me” next.

“It would be a great fight,” said Santos, who recently tied with Anderson Silva and Anthony Johnson with 11 knockout wins in UFC history, only one behind Vitor Belfort. “Jon Jones is a hell of a fighter, has many weapons like I do, so it would be a very interesting fight. Don’t blink because we both can surprise at any moment with unorthodox strikes. Fans definitely want to watch this fight because it’s going to be a great one.”

Jones has fought and beat the who’s who of light heavyweights in the UFC since 2008, including Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Lyoto Machida, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Belfort and Ryan Bader.

For “Marreta”, none of them were unpredictable enough to defeat Jones.

“Being unpredictable, something he also does,” Santos said when asked how he’d beat Jones. “Every guy he fought was predictable. He fought with wrestlers, strikers, fighters that are too orthodox. You have to be as unpredictable as he is to fight someone like him. My fighting style, this unpredictability, will be the differential and the key to beat him.”

Speaking of something hard to predict, it’s safe to say no one would have imagined “Marreta” challenging Jones for the 205-pound championship when he made his Octagon debut.

On season two of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil in 2013, a 170-pound Santos lost a decision to William Macario in the first fight. He still had a chance to fight in the UFC months later, replacing Clint Hester on short notice at UFC 163, but was submitted by Cezar Ferreira in 47 seconds at middleweight. Since then, the TFT fighter has won 13 of 17 fights with 11 finishes, going 3-0 as a light heavyweight.

“Who would have thought that? That’s cool,” Santos said. “It’s not about wanting to shut people up, but leaving a legacy. My kid looks at me as an example, a lot of kids and grown-ups look up to me, and this is the legacy that matters.

“Becoming champion or not, a kid that left the City of God and picked up cardboards in the streets (to make money) and got where he is now… My story is already written. I’m already very happy of achieving everything I have achieved, but I’m sure there’s a lot more to come.”