Following health issues including a nasty bacterial infection that kept him sidelined for the better part of two years, the Argentine welterweight came up short in his first fight back earlier this year so he had a lot riding on his return to action on Saturday night.
Not only did Ponzinibbio get the job done with a unanimous decision victory but he engaged in a memorable back-and-forth slugfest that will likely go down as one of the best fights in all 2021.
“I needed that,” Ponzinibbio said about his win at the post-fight press conference. “I needed 15 minutes to show what I can do. I’m still here to fight with the best fighters in the world. This is like to prove tonight.
“This guy Miguel Baeza gives me more value in my victory, he’s a tough kid. Maybe he’s not very popular, he’s new but he’s very good guy. He’s a prospect. He’s a very tough and he gives me more value in my victory.”
The win didn’t come easy by any means.
The first round saw Ponzinibbio absorb a lot of punishment to his lead leg as Baeza blasted him with numerous calf kicks that did considerable damage. It appeared his movement was compromised but Ponzinibbio added that the canvas in the octagon was rather slippery, which also kept him from really finding his footing in the early going.
Despite Baeza’s best attempts to slow him down, Ponzinibbio wasn’t going to allow the kicks to stop him from surging back later in the fight.
“I feel [the kicks] of course but I told you nothing can stop me,” Ponzinibbio said. “Just only this happened, they can get me [with] one punch in the right spot, OK, but I feel pain. I feel my leg a little swollen but I don’t care, I continued my strategy.
“I continued with the punches. I said I’m going to win this fight, I can’t lose to this kid. I continued to do my job and put my hands on him.”
According to Ponzinibbio, the turning point came at the start of the second round after he settled down and began listening to the advice from his coaches in the corner.
“The first round, this situation [with the kicks], I started to feel [the pain], I started to listen to my corner, I’m a little slippery, I don’t feel very comfortable,” Ponzinibbio explained. “Maybe I lost the first round.
“At the start of the second round, he hit me with one punch and I said no stop, I’m going to beat this guy. I can move OK and after one minute in the second round, it started to change.”
From that point on, Ponzinibbio backed up his words by going after Baeza with aggression and a relentless output that helped change the momentum in the fight. While Baeza definitely stuck around until the end, Ponzinibbio had clearly done enough to earn the victory with both fighters being rewarded with a $50,000 bonus afterwards.
On paper, Ponzinibbio didn’t have as much to gain from this fight considering Baeza wasn’t a ranked opponent or a well-known entity in the UFC’s welterweight division. None of that mattered much to Ponzinibbio as he was ready for whatever challenge the UFC threw at him after coming up short in his last outing.
“I know who I am. I know I can be champion of the world,” Ponzinibbio said. “I need to come here and show what I can do. For this reason, I don’t care. [I told the UFC] I’d like to be back as soon as possible, they said ‘we have this kid in June, nobody like to fight this kid,’ I said give me. I’m going to beat this guy.
“Hopefully, I’m back to the rankings. I won eight of my last nine fights, I have 17 fights for the company, 14 victories. I’m No. 8 in the world, I do a lot of things hopefully I get back to the rankings and get a bigger fight.”
When it comes to future opponents, Ponzinibbio has a few names in mind as he targets his next fight later this summer, possibly in August or September.
“I’d really like to get back to the rankings,” Ponzinibbio said. “They give me a tough guy. Maybe Vicente Luque, he’s [doing] very well, we can do an exciting fight. I respect him a lot. I think we can do a great fight. Maybe the guy that loses between Stephen Thompson and Gilbert Burns. For the guy that’s going to win, [they’re] probably going to go to the belt. The guy that loses between them is a really good fight for me.
“Show the world I am back. I can be champion of the world. I can stay with the best fighters in the world. For sure, I’m going to do an exciting fight again.”