Saturday night in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santiago Ponzinibbio’s mixed martial arts journey comes full circle.
Born in La Plata, the first seven fights of the 32-year-old welterweight’s career took place in his home country, with Ponzinibbio earning seven victories before moving to Brazil to further his career. A run of success on the Brazilian regional circuit led to an opportunity to compete on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, where he emerged as the favorite to win the welterweight competition before a broken hand forced him out of his matchup with William Macario in the finals.
His performance on the reality television competition nonetheless resulted in an opportunity to compete in the Octagon and, just as he had done during the initial stages of his career, Ponzinibbio used his graduation to the biggest stage in the sport as the catalyst for another change, moving to South Florida to train at American Top Team.
Now 10 fights into this UFC career and riding a six-fight winning streak, “Gente Boa” is back in Buenos Aires, set to take on Neil Magny in the main event of this weekend’s inaugural UFC show in his home country.
“For me, this is a dream,” said Ponzinibbio regarding the opportunity to compete inside the Octagon at home in Argentina. “I am really excited about this Saturday — this is my city, this is my home, these are my people.
“I fought for a long time here and faced some really difficult, difficult moments in my life. I moved to Brazil with no money and no people and after I felt good in Brazil, I moved to America even though I didn’t speak English. I was always looking for evolution and to get better and, today, I take the opportunity to come back to my home, my city with the best (organization) in the world where I am the main event — the principal fight — with one of the best welterweight fighters in the world.
“This is amazing. It is beautiful.”
In addition to being Ponzinibbio’s first fight at home in Argentina in over eight years, Saturday’s main event showdown with Magny is also the surging welterweight’s first appearance of the 2018 campaign.
After building on a strong 2016 with a trio of victories last year to break into the Top 15, the Argentine was originally scheduled to headline another South American debut earlier this year. Paired with Kamaru Usman in the main event of the UFC’s first foray to Chile in May, Ponzinibbio was once again sidelined by a broken hand, which scuttled the bout with Usman and sent him into surgery, forcing him to watch as the divisional chase carried on without him.
But while missing out on the chance to face the similarly streaking Usman this spring was a disappointment in the moment, the positive and enthusiastic emerging contender now views it as a blessing in disguise that made this weekend’s homecoming a reality.
“It was a sad moment for me, the fight in Chile; I was really excited about that, but injuries are part of the game,” said Ponzinibbio, who was replaced by former title challenger Demian Maia. “S*** happens, but it’s okay. I think everything is a lesson. I missed the opportunity to fight in Chile, but I fight now in Argentina — in my country, with my people, which is a dream for me.
“I feel a really good energy with the people and everyone in my country, which is really good for me,” he added. “It only pushes me to perform. This Saturday, November 17, people will see the best Santiago Ponzinibbio of all time, for sure.
“This is the best moment in my career. I come in with six victories in a row. I feel good physically, mentally, and I feel hungry because I have had no fights this year. I want victory. I want to make history in my country. This is a perfect moment for me to come back. This is a big event for me to come back and fight and a great opportunity.”
Not only is the timing of his return great on a personal level for Ponzinibbio, but it’s also coming at the right time professionally as well.
After being stuck in a holding pattern for most of the last 18 months, things are starting to get moving again in the welterweight division.
There are a handful of pivotal matchups on the schedule over the final six weeks of the year and even more marquee names rumored to be competing in the first quarter of 2019 as well.
Already sporting a six-fight winning streak and coming off back-to-back impressive performances to close out last year, a victory over the underrated Magny this weekend would send Ponzinibbio into the new year as the hottest fighter in the division and land him on the short list of fighters with the potential to challenge for the title in the second half of the year.
“Magny is a tough fighter — one of the best fighters in the welterweight division — and I think a good victory over him would prove to the UFC, prove to the people that I am ready to fight for the belt,” offered Ponzinibbio. “Last year, I had an 82-second knockout of the No. 8 fighter in the world — a beautiful knockout — and after that, I got a good victory over Mike Perry.
“I’ve beat good guys — good knockouts, good performances — and have six victories in a row. I think a good victory over Neil Magny, make history in my country, I feel ready to fight for the belt, but my focus is Neil Magny. After this fight, I’ll look at the division and figure out my next step.”
As for how he sees this weekend’s main event clash playing out, there is only one thing that Ponzinibbio has in mind.
“My plan is punches — hard punches in the face — and a TKO,” he said. “My approach is always the same; I don’t change my approach for anybody. I will take a TKO with me.”