Thiago Santos had 24 octagon appearances before he parted ways with the UFC, but his final one taught him an important lesson.
Santos met future UFC light heavyweight champion Jamahal Hill in a headlining bout this past August and lost via fourth-round stoppage. Despite being known as a ferocious striker, Santos changed his game plan that night, attempting 20 takedowns in just over 17 minutes, almost as much as his prior UFC career combined (22 attempts in previous 23 bouts).
Now scheduled to face 2022 PFL light heavyweight champion Rob Wilkinson in his PFL debut Saturday in Las Vegas, Santos promised on this week’s episode of Trocação Franca podcast that he’s going back to to his roots.
“I’ve trained more martial arts that aren’t my background, like jiu-jitsu and wrestling, but we know you can’t change your origins from water to wine,” Santos said. “I’m a born striker, I like to trade. I tried [to change] that in my last fight and went too much. I got tired. It’s hard to take away someone’s characteristics.
“I’m a striker and of course I’ll go for the knockout, I’ll stand and trade, but I’m well-prepared for everything. I’ve trained plenty of jiu-jitsu, evolving in jiu-jitsu and wrestling. If the opportunity comes on the ground, I won’t run away from it. I have no problem with that, but striking is what I do.”
Wilkinson is 17-2 as a professional MMA fighter, with seven of those wins coming by way of submission. “Marreta” expects him to shoot for takedowns Saturday night.
“MMA has evolved a lot, and there’s no such thing [anymore] as going out there to brawl and see who’s the toughest,” Santos said. “Some still do it, but it’s clear that everybody searches for the best path to victory, strategy-wise. He’s a good striker as well and has good boxing, he has heavy hands, but he knows my potential on the feet, so we believe he will go for the easier path, which is wrestling.
“We saw in his UFC losses [to Siyar Bahadurzada and Israel Adesanya] that he uses his wrestling when he’s fighting tough and dangerous strikers. We’ve prepared for that same type of wrestling game.”
Santos, 39, said his goal is to make a statement and show that he’s arrived in PFL in impressive fashion. What better way to do that than by finishing the current champ?
Santos knows he’ll need to fight at least three times in 2023 to win the PFL title and its million-dollar prize, so he changed a few things in the gym to stay fit for the task.
“I’m no kid anymore, I have my injuries, so I have taken care in training to avoid them,” Santos said. “There’s no way to avoid it during the fight, you can’t slow down because that’s the moment, so things will happen if they have to, but I’m being careful in training. I’m training less, but more focused.”