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Thiago Santos wants to face Dominick Reyes for UFC interim title belt: ‘I don’t think the division needs to wait’

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Thiago Santos and Jon Jones Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones pleaded guilty to his second DWI offense incident, Thiago Santos called to book two other fighters for an interim belt.

Hours after news broke of Jones’ arrest late this past month, Santos took to social media to suggest a fight with Dominick Reyes, the last man to challenge “Bones” for the UFC gold. In an interview with MMA Fighting, he explained the logic behind an interim title fight.

“I suggested this fight with Reyes in case (Jones) steps away to get treatment, like he said,” Santos said. “I don’t think the division needs to wait. The division can go on, even if it’s for an interim belt between Reyes and I, since we both are next in line. Fans were already talking about this fight even before this Jones situation happened, and I said I was willing to fight Reyes, and then Jones fights the winner when he returns.”

In a statement released after agreeing to plea bargain, Jones said he has an “unhealthy relationship” with alcohol. His deal includes the completion of a 90-day drug treatment outpatient program.

“It’s unfortunate – it’s sad,” Santos said of Jones’ latest run-in with the law. “I never hid that I’m a fan of the guy even before we fought, and that hasn’t changed. Unfortunately he has those problems with alcohol, he posted a statement about it, and those are problems he has to fix. You can’t overlook that, but also can’t throw rocks at him. It’s only up to him. We hope he solves that problem with alcohol and recovers.”

Jones was stripped of his title in 2015 after being arrested, but the UFC hasn’t made any decision regarding his future yet. Santos doesn’t have an opinion on that.

“It’s UFC’s decision,” Santos said. “I’m here to fight if they need and call me.”

Many MMA observers thought Jones got off with a relatively light punishment. The champ’s primary punishment was four days of house arrest and one year of probation. He also received 48 hours of community service, was ordered to install an ignition interlock device in his car, and pay a $500 fine. He is allowed to use marijuana with a medical card.

“Not that he deserves (more), or that I wanted him to be punished,” Santos said. “That’s his life, but laws usually are more severe in the U.S. than in Brazil, so that’s why it surprised me. But I don’t care about that. I just raised my hand and volunteered to fight. If there’s a fight to be made, I think I deserve it. And I’m ready.”

Santos hasn’t entered the Octagon since he challenged Jones for the undisputed belt at UFC 239, where he lost a close split decision and suffered serious knee injuries that required surgery. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing all gyms to close in Rio de Janeiro, Santos continues training in the gym he built for underprivileged kids at the Cidade de Deus favela alongside his girlfriend Yana Kunitskaya.

Reyes, meanwhile, earned a shot at the 205-pound throne after racking up a perfect 12-0 record that included knockout wins over Chris Weidman and Jared Cannonier. But Jones also edged a close decision victory in February at UFC 247.

“I think it would be a great fight, belt or not,” Santos said. “(Reyes is) a great fighter. He surprised me last time against Jones, he was aggressive and went for it. He showed the great fighter he is, and I love facing challenges. He’s a young, fearless guy that comes forward, and that would be a great fight.”