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Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Li Jingliang targeted for Jan. 16 UFC card in Abu Dhabi

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Buenos Aires-Ponzinibbio vs Magny
Santiago Ponzinibbio will make his return to the octagon when he battles Li Jingliang in January
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Santiago Ponzinibbio has a new opponent for the first UFC card of 2021 as “Gente Boa” and Li Jingliang have agree to face off on Jan. 16 in Abu Dhabi, multiple people with knowledge of the situation told MMA Fighting.

Ponzinibbio was originally paired up with Muslim Salikhov, but the “King of Kung Fu” withdrew after dealing with COVID-19 symptoms. Li was hoping to compete against Dwight Grant on Dec. 12, but also found himself without an opponent after Grant’s positive test for the infection

Ponzinibbio (27-3) hasn’t fought since November 2018, when he stopped Neil Magny in the main event of UFC’s first-ever show in Argentina. After that, Ponzinibbio was briefly linked to a fight with Robbie Lawler in December 2019 but had to undergo emergency surgery and was hospitalized twice in one month.

It took a while for the Argentinian to be cleared by a doctor to resume training in 2020, and he ended up catching COVID-19 earlier this year. Winner of seven in a row in the welterweight class against the likes of Mike Perry and Gunnar Nelson, Ponzinibbio hopes to enter the title picture when he finally returns in January.

Li (17-6) was in a successful stretch too, capping off a 7-1 run with a vicious third-round knockout over Elizeu Zaleski in August 2019, but ended up losing a unanimous decision to Magny in March.

The UFC Fight Night card marks the return of the company to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in 2021, featuring former champion Max Holloway versus Calvin Kattar in a featherweight headliner.