Leonardo Santos was eager for a chance against the elite of the lightweight division after racking up an eight-fight unbeaten run in the UFC, but it never came.
Now coming off the first octagon loss of his career, Santos won’t get his hopes up anymore.
The winner of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil in 2013, Santos notched wins over Kevin Lee and Anthony Rocco Martin under his belt but kept getting matched against unranked opposition until he lost to 16-1 prospect Grant Dawson this past March. His chance to rebound was originally planned for October against Alexander Hernandez, but a calf injury forced him off the card. The Nova União fighter will now return on Saturday night at UFC Vegas 44, battling longtime veteran Clay Guida at the UFC APEX.
“I’m happy to be fighting someone like Clay Guida,” Santos told MMA Fighting. “Not because he’s not in his prime, but for the name he has, the history he has in the UFC. I’ve been asking for a ranked fighter in the UFC for such a long time. I was always the gatekeeper welcoming everyone. Whenever they thought they had someone tough that could shine, they threw them at me and I took them out. I was doing that for a long time, always asking for a ranked opponent, a big-name opponent, and I’m happy and honoured to be sharing the octagon with Clay Guida, someone who has made history in the UFC and everybody knows.
“Every time people asked me who I was going to fight and I said like, ‘I’m fighting Hernandez,’ they didn’t know. When I said Clay Guida, everybody knew who he was. ‘That crazy guy! It’s going to be a war.’ I’m not expecting an easy fight and it’s cool to be sharing the octagon with someone like that.”
UFC Vegas 44 will mark the 58th fight of Guida’s professional career and the 32nd time he enters the octagon. “The Carpenter” has defeated the likes of Nate Diaz, B.J. Penn, Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, Michael Johnson, and Takanori Gomi throughout his 14-year journey in the UFC, but Santos doesn’t expect a win to change much in terms of his gatekeeper status.
“I was undefeated for eight fights and it didn’t make a difference,” Santos said. “I don’t think it will change anything. I’m here to have fun, to test myself, to learn. I’m full of energy, I love what I do. I’m still happy to be enjoying the whole process of training and dieting, that still makes me happy.
“I’ve always dreamed about this, so why would I be sad because of one loss? Losses will always walk side by side. My entire life was about learning, losing and winning, and I’m fighting in the UFC, the world’s biggest organization, at age 41. Look how many generations have gone by, how many people I’ve fought, how many people watched me fight. That’s so cool. That’s also an example for these kids that are coming up, that nothing is impossible. Just love and be a professional, just go for it.”
Santos doesn’t think his night at UFC Vegas 44 will be any easier with Guida across the octagon instead of Hernandez, because, he said, “the lightweight division is the toughest weight class in the UFC, and there are no easy fights here.” Still, Santos admitted Guida’s Achilles’ heel is grappling, which also happens to be Santos’ best weapon in MMA.
“I know that’s his weakness and my strongest area, but I’m ready for whatever happens until we go to the ground,” said Santos, who finished half of his 18 MMA wins with submissions, while Guida has been forced to tap out in 10 of his 21 defeats.
“I’ll try to go to the ground if he gives me the opportunity, of course, but if we have to stand and trade and make this a bar fight, we’re ready. We have some experience. But I know jiu-jitsu is his weakness. If I have an opening to take him to my territory, I will.”