Israel Adesanya was victorious in his first defense of the UFC middleweight championship, but not in Thiago Santos’ eyes.
“The Last Stylebender” claimed the undisputed title with a knockout win over Robert Whittaker last October and defended it versus Yoel Romero in March, winning a close decision at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. Speaking with MMA Fighting, “Marreta” said the Cuban middleweight deserved to take the belt home.
“Yes, Romero won that fight,” said Santos, taking shots at Adesanya’s performance in the eight-sided cage. “Horrible… horrible. Horrible fight. There’s not much to say. Especially his part. Romero did his part. Romero moved forward, tried to bring more of a fight, but the champion was very conservative, so it was a boring fight to watch.”
For Santos, who used to compete as a middleweight in the UFC before moving up to 205 pounds and eventually challenging Jon Jones for the title in 2019, Adesanya was benefited by the “you have to really beat the champion to become the champion” culture in the sport.
“It bothers me. That’s totally wrong, man,” he said. “Does the champion enter the Octagon with the belt around his waist? So tell him to enter the Octagon with the belt. They both enter without the belt and whoever wins will have the belt. People have to stop seeing the champion as he already has the belt. ‘Oh, if it’s a split [decision] it’s for him, the challenger has to do twice more to win.’ Why does the challenger have to do twice more? So make it a rule. It that’s not a rule, it shouldn’t happen.
“The challenger doesn’t have to fight twice as better. It doesn’t start 1-0 for the champion. It feels that the champion starts with a 1-0 lead. No, the fight starts 0-0. That’s the right thing. I’m completely against that (culture) that the challenger must do twice more. It’s a fight like any other. Whoever won, won. There’s no, ‘Oh, but he’s the champion.’
“There’s no champion when you enter a fight. The champion has to win the fight. It’s absurd when I hear people say that. The champion has to fight hard, just like the challenger.”
That said, Santos doesn’t think that was the case in his split decision loss to “Bones” Jones last July.
“I can’t say that, man, because my fight wasn’t blatant,” Santos said. “You can’t say I was robbed in my fight. It was very close, there’s no other way, but the Romero fight, I think Romero clearly won.”
The TFT product, who voiced his interested in fighting Adesanya in the past, still considers light heavyweight to be his ideal home, but wouldn’t shy away from cutting back down to 185 pounds for a chance to share the Octagon with Adesanya — or even up to heavyweight for a superfight.
“It can definitely happen, yes,” Santos said. “To save an event or for a super fight. I don’t have any problem moving down or up. But the division where I’ll stay, which I feel better and healthier, is light heavyweight.
“I would fight (Adesanya), no doubt, at middleweight or light heavyweight. He already said he wanted to move up one day, so it doesn’t matter. I’d fight him, for sure.”