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Thiago Santos had right knee surgery before UFC 239 fight with Jon Jones

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Thiago Santos lost a split decision to Jon Jones at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Thiago Santos suffered a left knee injury in the first round of his championship bout with Jon Jones at UFC 239 in Las Vegas, NV, on July 6. Turns out that his other knee wasn’t 100 percent until weeks before the fight.

Hours after the contest, Santos’ coach ‘Tata’ Duarte spoke with MMA Fighting and revealed that “Marreta” had surgery on his right knee shortly after agreeing to fighting Jones earlier this year, but kept it a secret from everyone. According to Duarte, Santos fought and beat Jan Błachowicz in February with a torn meniscus.

“The camp started with a 45-day delay and Thiago only had two months to prepare for this fight, but still didn’t want to pull out,” Duarte said. “The doctor gave us a timeline but we had a problem later. Heather (Linden), physical therapist of the UFC, was the one who recovered his knee. She was at UFC 237 in Rio and kept working on his knee for six days straight and found out what the problem was and was able to fix it. That’s when he started his camp.

“We told him, ‘Thiago, let’s pull out of the fight,’ and he said, ‘No, I won’t pull out.’ He didn’t want to. We did this camp in two months. It should have been at least three months, but we didn’t have that time.”

Santos has an appointment with a doctor in Las Vegas on Monday to find out the extent of the left knee injury he suffered Saturday night. Duarte says it’s probably a ligament injury, and is “praying” that it’s not serious.

Duarte is proud of Santos for what he was able to do during the 25-minute bout, and wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t suffered the left knee injury in the opening minutes.

“If that knee hadn’t stopped him, Jon Jones would have gone down, no doubt,” Duarte said. “Our game plan was all set, ‘Marreta’ was seeing everything. And after he started hurting Jon Jones’ legs he began to lose mobility, it was too easy to put him out, man, but we counted on switching stances to get it done. He started the combinations but couldn’t continue.”

“(Jones) respected him because he was getting hit. That’s the truth,” he continued. “He started to feel pain and thought, ‘Man, this guy hits really hard. What am I going to do?’ He knows Thiago has knockout power. Deep in there, he knows who ‘Marreta’ was. He knew he would have to kill ‘Marreta’.

“I think (Santos) comes out way bigger than he was before. When I was carrying him out of the Octagon, everybody there, Americans and Brazilians, were cheering on him and booing Jon Jones’ interview. I’m gonna be honest with you, that to me is worth more than the belt. To be applauded and recognised like that, to have people thinking he won.”

Duarte thinks Santos had done enough to take the light heavyweight belt home with him, but only one judge scored it that way.

“It’s hard to take Jon Jones’ belt in Las Vegas,” Duarte said. “Jon Jones came out completely f***ed up. His legs are swollen, his abs, his face, his lips. Can’t give him the win. But we already knew that it would be really hard to win by points.”

And even though he thinks his protégé deserves an immediate rematch after going the distance with arguably the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all time, Duarte won’t hold his breath.

“I think there’s no way that happens,” Duarte said. “I think Thiago will have to fight one more time and then they give him a rematch if the path is clear again. The UFC does what they want.”

“But I’ll say this: our goal was accomplished. He shocked the world,” he added. “This guy’s life story, man, he comes out huge after this fight. He knows he’s a complete fighter, he knows he can do five rounds with anyone. He did five rounds with someone that people say is invincible, the best of all time, and did that on one knee. Imagine if he had both legs.”