Thiago Santos had one of the most destructive fights against Jon Jones at UFC 239 that an MMA fan could ever see.
The bout left Santos’s knee shredded from a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus, as reported by ESPN, courtesy of Jones’s pointed striking. Although Jones escaped with a split-decision victory to retain the light heavyweight title, the then-champion was battered pretty good himself. Jones limped and needed help exiting the Octagon on that July 6, 2019 night in Las Vegas due to the savagery of “Marreta.”
Yet, three years removed from that sheer violence and Santos has gone on to compete in four more fights, coming up short in three of those bouts. So, at 38-years-old, what keeps Santos (22-10) motivated at this juncture of his career?
The thrill of the fight game. Everything from training to testing out his skills against the very best in the Octagon during the actual fight. Santos relishes in it all.
“I love what I do,” Santos tells DAZN over a Zoom conference Tuesday evening.
“This sport of MMA brings me everything that I have and I still have fight in my heart.
“My family, my friends … if I keep fighting, I could do a lot of things in this sport,” he continues, “and use it to help everyone around me.”
Santos will test his skills against a surging Jamahal Hill as they headline UFC on ESPN live from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Santos enters the bout as the No. 6-ranked light heavyweight to Hill’s 10th, though the American has won three of his last four fights including back-to-back knockouts of Jimmy Crute and Johnny Walker just over two months apart.
“It’s a big challenge,” Santos says of trying to stop Hill.
“He’s very tough, a young guy, respected guy. He’s a very, very tough opponent but I’m here waiting for him.”
With that hammer-like power in tow. Prevailing thought throughout combat sports is that power is the last to leave an aging fighter and Santos still has his intact. The former light heavyweight title challenger flashed that power in a unanimous decision win over Johnny Walker in October and even in a unanimous decision loss to Magomed Ankalaev this past March. The latter bout had Santos blast and drop Ankalaev with a big left hook in the second round.
Producing such a highlight that could finish Hill on Saturday night could propel Santos a considerable step forward in the division.
“I think keeping me in the Top 5 light heavyweights,” he says about what a victory could garner.
“If I take a good win, I think one more fight can put me for the title shot again.”
Even then, there’s something that outweighs another world championship opportunity.
“I love to do,” Santos says, “what I do.”
If "Marreta" can hammer Hill and use his "Sweet Dreams" moniker against him in this urgent spot, then MMA fans and critics alike would revert to loving what this knockout artist can do, too.