Santiago Ponzinibbio won’t let his most recent UFC bout get stuck inside his head, but it’s undeniable that he’s still bothered by it.
Ponzinibbio was finally back in action after 26 months away from the game, courtesy of a series of health scares that almost ended his career, when he shared the cage with Li Jingliang in Abu Dhabi in January.
Ponzinibbio’s seven-fight winning streak was shattered in the opening round.
Back to the eight-sided cage this Saturday in Las Vegas, taking on undefeated welterweight prospect Miguel Baeza at UFC Vegas 28, Ponzinibbio weighs in on what went down earlier this year and how he hopes to rebound.
“Let me tell you this, I had a lot of expectations for my return, but it was a lot of mixed feelings,” Ponzinibbio said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “The result wasn’t what I expected, and I was shaken because I was on a seven-fight winning streak, fighting for the top of the division, and all that time wasted because of the infection, but that’s how the sports is. A punch landed, it sucks.”
“This fight doesn’t define me,” he continued. “I got in too slow due to my time away. I was starting to connect my jab and my calf kicks in the end of the first round, I was starting to show my game, and one hand connected on the right spot. It wouldn’t have knocked me out if it landed anywhere else but that’s how the sport goes, the best athlete does not alway wins. I believe I’m better then him but that’s in the past, I’ve turned that page.”
It wasn’t Ponzinibbio’s first loss in the sport nor his first stoppage defeat. That said, the American Top Team product admits it was hard to get over a loss that occurred in under five minutes.
“If we had fought 15 minutes and I had given my all in there, showed the world [what I got] and he still beat me, OK,” he said. “But that way, man…there wasn’t much of a fight. I started too slow, he was throwing and I was dodging everything, seeing everything. I would have gotten much stronger in the second round, but that punch landed on the right spot, and it’s over. It’s frustrating. I think I’m better [than him], I hope someday we can do a rematch, but it’s a sport.”
Five months have passed, and Ponzinibbio guarantees he’s “in great shape, stronger and recovered, and highly motivated for Saturday.” If Li gets in his way again in the future, perfect.
“I want to win this fight and get back to my path to the belt,” Ponzinibbio said. “If we can meet again in this path, great. I’ll be happy to prove it was just a punch, that he’s not a better athlete. But if it doesn’t, no problem, everybody [loses] one day.
“My goal is the world title. I’m 100 percent focused on this fight and I believe a good win will put me back in the ranking to start climbing again. I’m very talented, I train with great guys and great coaches, and I know my potential. This loss doesn’t define who I am and I’ll show that Saturday.”
Baeza is unbeaten as a professional with 10 wins and eight finishes, including UFC stoppages over Hector Aldana, Matt Brown and Takashi Sato. Ponzinibbio agrees he’s talented, but won’t go further in his praise.
“He’s a good kid, he’s a prospect who’s winning his fights and is undefeated, but I’ve beaten undefeated guys before,” Ponzinibbio said. “Sean Strickland was 15-0 and I won. I’ve knocked out guys that had never been knocked out before. I’ve been through a lot. He’s good, but he’s not on my level and I’ll show the world that.
“There’s levels to this sport and I’m a level above him. The UFC has their eyes on him, he’s doing well, and a win over him will show I’m ready to go back to the top. I’ll put pressure and do my thing. I don’t care what he’s going to do. I’m not focused on him, I’m focused on myself and being my best version as a fighter.”