Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos may be a recent resident of the welterweight top 15 in the UFC, but among most hardcore fans, he’s top five when it comes to the “must see” competitors in the sport.
A look at his record should explain everything. Three Fight of the Night awards for his battles with Omari Akhmedov, Lyman Good and Max Griffin. Highlight reel knockouts of Sean Strickland and Luigi Vendramini, and a 7-1 UFC slate that includes four finishes and seven consecutive victories.
It’s quite a resume, and now the rest of the world is catching on.
“It's a natural thing,” he said. “If you have good results you will improve and get more attention. And I am more than happy to do all I can for my fans.”
He’s been delivering for his growing army of fans since his Octagon debut in 2015, and with that top 15 ranking and a co-main event slot against Li Jingliang this weekend in Shenzhen, Zaleski dos Santos has an opportunity to move even further up the 170-pound ladder. And strangely enough, it was the Brazilian banger showing off his jiu-jitsu game that really got the ball rolling, as he turned the tables on fellow striker Curtis Millender in March and ended his opponent’s night via rear naked choke in less than three minutes.
“The fight was a statement of my place in the division,” he said. “I am a well-rounded fighter that can bring problems to anyone in the weight class.”
Few will argue after that performance, and the subtlety of his effort, as opposed to the usual visceral finishes, just added to the puzzle he presents for his peers in the welterweight division.
“I am very versatile, so I know how to explore other people’s weaknesses,” he said. “You can never be certain about what facet of Elizeu you will have in front of you, so I guess preparing for it must be hard.”
That’s an understatement, especially when “Capoeira” is always searching for the finish, and if the finish doesn’t come, he’s more than willing to get in the trenches and slug it out for 15 minutes, even though he knows each fighter’s capacity for such battles isn’t infinite.
“The finish is always the goal,” he explains. “I know that I only have so many wars in me, so as time goes on I have to change some things to get the win the quickest way possible. But if it takes a war to win a fight, you can be certain you will get one.”
Yeah, Zaleski dos Santos isn’t the kind of guy you want to meet in the Octagon or in a dark alley at night. The 32-year-old is all fighter, and that dedication to his craft is finally starting to pay off. In response, the Brazilian only wants big fights from here on out.
“I want to rise in the rankings, so being able to face the higher-ranked opponents is a must,” he said. “No matter who I have in front of me, I will take it with the same seriousness as if I was fighting a champion. All I need now is a ranked opponent.”
Li isn’t currently ranked, but with wins in six of his last seven bouts and four knockouts and four post-fight bonuses during that stretch, he’s on the doorstep of the top 15 and may just be the Chinese version of the man he’s fighting this weekend.
So will there be some extra checks getting written out in Shenzhen?
“If I can’t get a finish we have a very good chance of getting a Fight of the Night bonus out of this fight,” said Zaleski dos Santos. “I am one hundred percent sure that the version you will see on Saturday is the best version of Elizeu yet.”