This past Saturday at UFC 259, former title challenger and top light heavyweight, Thiago Santos (21-9), returned to action. He took on fellow top light heavyweight contender, Aleksandar Rakic (14-2), to kick off the PPV main card.
For Santos, this was his second fight back since recovering from knee surgery. Santos had the opportunity of a lifetime when he earned a title shot against Jon Jones at UFC 239. However, the fight went very wrong very early on.
Early in the fight, Santos completely tore his knee apart. With the injury, Santos wasn’t able to explode and do the damage that he’s normally capable of doing. Somehow, Santos still fought the all time great to a split decision back in 2019.
After the fight, Santos had to have major reconstructive surgery to repair the damage in he knee. After about 17 months away, Santos returned last November to take on Glover Teixeira. At first, it looked like Santos was going to get back to normal.
Santos dropped Teixeira and looked like he was going to return to be the force in the UFC‘s light heavyweight division that he was before the knee injury. He ended up dropping Teixeira twice in their matchup, but ultimately gassed out and was submitted.
He turned right around to face Rakic at UFC 259. One thing I did notice in the Teixeira fight is that Santos didn’t quite have the same explosion that he did prior to the injury. This is something I also noticed a lot in the Rakic fight.
What’s Santos’ UFC future?
There was just no explosion from Santos on Saturday night. To me, it was clear that he had the power and the speed advantage at UFC 259. In the past, we’ve seen Santos explode forward to overcome range disadvantages. However, he couldn’t do that on Saturday.
He was always too far away and couldn’t get anything going. As a result, he was outpointed and he lost his third consecutive fight. Santos is still ranked fourth in the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings, but where does he go from here?
To me, Santos needs a reset. He needs to fight someone in the top ten that’s in a similar position, but it needs to be a winnable fight. Personally, I love the idea of Santos taken on another former title challenger in Volkan Oezdemir (17-5) next.
We haven’t seen Oezdemir compete inside the octagon since his knockout loss at UFC 251 back in July. Both men are former title challengers, but they’re also top ten light heavyweights needing to bounce back. Seems like a great time for the UFC to pair these two up.