With ‘bad luck’ over, Santiago Ponzinibbio ready to return to contender status

After a lengthy layoff, Santiago Ponzinibbio is keen to pick up where he left off.

The UFC welterweight is eyeing a return later this year, and hopes to reclaim his position as a legitimate contender in the 170-pound division.

Ponzinibbio (27-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) hasn’t competed since November 2018 when he knocked out Neil Magny in the main event of the UFC’s first event in his home country of Argentina. That win extended his winning streak to seven, with his last defeat coming back in 2015.

“After my win in Argentina they had told me, ‘One more fight and you’re fighting for the world title,” Ponzinibbio said in Spanish on Monday’s episode of Hablemos MMA. “To think I went from being close to a title shot to being in hospital fighting for my life, and at one moment they told me I would never fight because they thought the infection had reached my bone and destroyed everything.

“So, after all those complications, I’m more hungry than ever to return to work. Thank God, after going through something like that, you give value to things.”

Ponzinibbio had a host of health complications that kept him out of action throughout 2019. However, his bad luck didn’t stop there.

Just when he had returned to full health and was looking to book an early-2020 fight, the coronavirus pandemic struck, halting UFC operations and pushing back existing fight bookings for a number of months.

Then, while helping Dustin Poirier get ready to fight Dan Hooker in the summer, Ponzinibbio broke his toe, which prevented his return to the octagon. Not long after that, he contracted COVID-19 and tested positive for a whole month, leaving him unable to train. Then, to cap things off, Ponzinibbio suffered a knee infection that forced him out of action once again.

Now healthy and with his bad luck behind him, the Argentine is eager to get back in the cage.

“Without a doubt (I’m returning in 2020),” Ponzinibbio said. “I don’t care against who – ranked or not ranked – I don’t care.

“I mean, obviously I’d rather get a top five (fight) or a main event. I think, because of the work I’ve done for the company, I deserve it. I have many fights under the organization, so I feel I deserve that opportunity. Also, the times I’ve been (the) main event, I’ve won via knockout, ‘Performance of the Night,’ against ranked opposition.

“In my last three fights, I defeated ranked opponents … But yeah I’ve been doing a good job in the division. Yeah, I had a pause with all the bad luck I had this year and in 2019, as you guys know I was in the hospital. All that is over and now I’m physically better than ever before and with a hunger to get in the octagon that I can’t put into words.”

Ponzinibbio, who was removed from the UFC official welterweight rankings due to inactivity, mentioned his interest in fighting several names, including Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, Michael Chiesa and Stephen Thompson.

He also said that, once he resumes his career with a win, he’ll recapture his contender status and be just a couple of steps away from fighting for the UFC title.

“With me returning and winning a fight, everything will be redeemed,” Ponzinibbio explained. “I would have an eight-fight winning streak, and I would be right there. I would automatically return to the rankings and my name would return to people’s minds. I would become a contender.

“Maybe it would take another fight or not, depending on the landscape of the division. But that’s the objective, that’s why I want to fight this year and get a win in 2020. Then, in 2021, get two more fights to get to the title.”

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