Chute Boxe’s Diego Lima has a busy schedule in the coming months in the UFC with the return of lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and his teammates Allan Nascimento, Polyana Viana and Daniel Santos. The latter, a sparring partner of “Do Bronx” on a daily basis, gets extra motivation seeing the UFC belt hanging on the gym’s wall.
Santos makes his first walk to the octagon in the preliminary portion of Saturday’s UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Fla., battling Julio Arce in a bantamweight bout. Being around Oliveira and feeling that “champion vibe” during the camp has gotten him pumped for the biggest opportunity of his MMA career.
“[The UFC belt] is the item we all dream about – every fighter, every athlete,” Santos said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “To have the belt [in the gym] and be able to touch it, put it on your shoulders and know that your friend and teammate made it, it motivates you even more. Like, you know it’s possible. With determination, focus and discipline, you can get there, too. It gives me strength to continue believing.
“I’ll show my work in the UFC now. With time and believing in God, I’ll be champion too. I have faith that it will happen.”
Santos prepared for UFC 273 by trading hands and rolling with “do Bronx” in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and he predicts a devastating finish for Oliveira on May 7, when the lightweight belt is on the line against former interim titleholder Justin Gaethje at UFC 274.
“Charles will knock Gaethje out, man,” Santos said. “Charles is on a roll, very confident, training hard and fixing the holes in his game. Rest assured that Charles is coming to do what he doest best, march forward the entire time for the victory. I have faith that the knockout will come. He’s at his best.”
First, “Willycat” has to do his part and secure his first octagon victory in Jacksonville. Fully recovered from a hand break that cancelled his UFC debut this past October, Santos said styles have changed “100 percent” from Timur Valiev and Marcelo Rojo, his original opponents, to Arce.
“Julio is a southpaw and has good boxing, keeps good distance, but I have great training and sparring here,” Santos said. “It was going to be a tough fight with Valiev and it will be a tough fight with Arce, too. He’s very experienced inside the UFC, but I’m ready. I’m 100 percent. He doesn’t surprise me much.”
Arce is 4-3 under the UFC banner with wins over the likes of Dan Ige, Daniel Teymur and Andre Ewell, but dropped his most recent one to Yadong Song in November 2021. Santos said Arce has shown “big heart” in his split decision loss to Sheymon Moraes in 2018, but doubts Arce would have gotten back to his feet after eating shots from him.
“I’ll be honest with you, that would be hard,” Santos said. “He’s a tough guy, I’ve watched that fight and he was knocked down twice and came back, but I’m also very tough. It’s going to be a war, but I’ll knock him out. I hit hard, too. My hand is really hard. If it lands, I think it would be hard for him to get back to his feet.”