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Thiago Santos discusses UFC light heavyweight title picture: ‘I won’t take a step back’ in return

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Thiago Santos lost a split decision against UFC light heavyweight king Jon Jones in July 2019.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Thiago Santos had fans clamoring for a rematch with Jon Jones after beating him on the scorecard of one judge at UFC 239. But a lot of things have changed since his double knee surgery.

Nine months after Santos’ impressive showing this past July, Jan Blachowicz has inserted himself in the light heavyweight title picture with a first-round knockout against Corey Anderson at UFC Rio Rancho. And Dominick Reyes is also in the running after going the distance with Jones in a close, hotly disputed decision loss to Jones at UFC 247.

Santos is “almost 100 percent certain” he’ll be able to fight in July; he expects to be cleared in March for training with no restrictions. But “Marreta,” who hoped for a Jones rematch upon his return, no longer expects he’ll get the next shot.

“That’s what I want, but it’s not up to me,” Santos said. “The scenario has changed. It’s not up to me.”

The Brazilian light heavyweight, who holds a knockout win over Blachowicz, said the UFC recently offered an opponent, but he wasn’t a fan of the name presented.

“They want to give me fights I don’t want,” Santos said. “I never turn fights down, no matter who they are. But I’ve earned something, and I won’t accept anything less. I won’t take a step back. They want to give me something that represents a step back, and I won’t take a step back.”

Based on the UFC’s offer, Santos doesn’t expect he’ll be rewarded with a golden opportunity. But the promotion’s history of changing plans on a moment’s notice gives him hope, because “the fighter they offered me makes no sense and doesn’t interest me.”

“I can’t say his name because it could get me in trouble, but they offered someone who’s not in the top-10,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to fight someone outside the top five or six, or someone who’s on a rise. I was very upset when they offered someone who’s coming off a loss, you know? I refuse to take a step back. It’s not fair. If that’s how it goes, we’re gonna have problems getting our next fight.”

Reyes lost a close decision at UFC 247; Santos scored it 48-47 with the champion after winning rounds 3, 4 and 5. If a close decision is the argument, Santos believes he should be ahead of Reyes for a rematch. But he understands if the promotion goes with Jones vs. Blachowicz next, even though he doesn’t see the Polish light heavyweight as the one to dethrone “Bones” in the Octagon.

“It’s tough,” Santos said of Blachowicz’s chances against Jones. “He’s someone who can surprise with a punch and win, just like he did against Corey Anderson. But it’s a complicated matchup.

“You have to move a lot to beat Jones, and that’s not the case with Blachowicz. You can’t stand in front of him. Reyes did that very well. It’s hard for Jan, but I don’t doubt him landing a punch and changing the story.”