For two years and two months, Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-4, 9-3 UFC) waited to return to the UFC’s Octagon and continue his march to the top of the welterweight division. But when it finally came, he was faced with the worst possible outcome.
One-shot by Li Jingliang found a place where the same acts like a switch and "Gente Boa" ended up literally turned off, ie. he was knocked out. This confirmed what the UFC had done about half a year earlier when they removed him from the welterweight rankings due to inactivity.
Santiago will again have to look for his place step by step. He has now agreed on the first step on that path, but so that he has been put to perhaps the most difficult exam outside the official ranking at the moment. A fight against Miguel Baeza awaits him.
The 28-year-old Baeza (10-0, 3-0 UFC) is currently in a great form, but his performances look even more impressive than his resume. Hector Heldor, Matt Brown, and Takashi Sato were defeated with different techniques. The last two times he also picked up a bonus for the best performance.
It was expected that he could be paired with some Top 15 fighter for the next fight, which is actually not incorrect. Ponzinibbio was ninth at the time of the knockout, and not even a defeat by Jingliang would have eliminated him from the rankings if it hadn't been for the UFC.
Ponzinibbio was within a seven-win streak and on his way to the top before the break and illness, he battled for over a year. After the last defeat, it is not an unexpected fight against someone who is not ranked, but he probably did not believe that his opponent could be the leading potential of the category at the moment.
A new defeat could permanently take him away from championship ambitions and opportunities, but a victory should bring him back to where he wants to be. As for Baeza, he will enter this fight with much less pressure. He gains a lot by winning, while at his age and career stage defeat cannot hurt as close as it would to his opponent.
The fight will take place at UFC Fight Night 189 and the 12th fight has already been announced for that event to be held on June 8th. But it is interesting that there is still no main fight. At the same event, Duško Todorović will perform in the fight against Makija Pitol, and there are also two very interesting heavyweight clashes. Marcin Tybura will fight Walt Harris and Ilir Latifi will fight Tanner Boser.