Santiago “Gente Boa (Nice Guy)” Ponzinibbio
Pro Record: 25 wins & 3 losses
Association: American Top Team
Weight Class: Welterweight
In this week’s addition of Fight of the Week we take a look at Santiago Ponzinibbio, who scored a huge upset KO victory over Gunnar Nelson at UFC Fight Night 113. Early in the fight, Nelson showed why he was roughly a 2-1 favorite landing some nice shots to his opponent. However, it was the underdog Ponzinibbio who would land the significant shot, a short right cross, that shot Nelson across the Octagon and followed it up with a left jab that sent Nelson crashing to the canvas. From there, two more shots on the floor and the referee had to wave it off. The win didn’t come without controversy, however, as Nelson claimed he was poked in the eyes and was seeing double prior to being knocked out and claimed to have not seen the shot that rocked him at all. Ponzinibbio has since responded stating: “I went there to knock him out and thank God it went as expected, I won by knockout. If it happened, of course it wasn’t intentional, but I watched video again and I didn’t see it. Regardless, it was an impressive victory which silences the critics who questioned him being a main card attraction and puts the welterweight division on notice that at 25-3 and riding a five-fight win streak, he isn’t a guy to sleep on.
Ponzinibbio grew up playing sports, but when he was 13 years old he watched a Kickboxing class in a gym in Argentina which peaked his interest in combat sports and change the direction of his attention. Soon after he would start training. Through the years, he would do just about anything he could do to survive. He went to college for Physical Education but didn’t finish. He worked as a teacher, security, doorman, assistant cook, & book salesman… as he puts it, “just about everything you can think of”. In 2008 he decided to make the leap into professional MMA after years of training in Kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He would start his career out in a variety of regional South American promotions, going 18-1 with his lone loss coming by TKO to TUF: Brazil and UFC veteran, Leonardo Mafra. To date, it is still his lone loss outside of the UFC.
Speaking of TUF: Brazil, the show was so popular that they chose to do another installment just one year later called TUF: Brazil 2. Ponzinibbio would become a cast member and would win his elimination fight against Thiago Silva (not that Thiago Silva) by TKO in the 1st round to get ‘into the house’. He would be picked second (third overall) by Team Nogueira. From there, he would cruise through the competition winning his first fight against Marcio Santos by TKO in the 1st round, winning his quarter-final fight against Cleiton Duarte by unanimous decision, and winning his semi-final fight against Leonardo Santos by unanimous decision to make it to the finale against the other bracket winner, William Macario. Unfortunately, it was revealed that Ponzinibbio had broken his hand in the semi-final fight and wouldn’t be able to recover in time to fight at the finale where he would have been the favorite to win the show. Despite losing to Ponzinibbio in the semi-final it was no shock that Santos was picked as his replacement to fight Macario and won the fight, and TUF: Brazil 2, by triangle choke in the 2nd round. Despite not being able to compete at the final, Ponzinibbio still won $50,000 for having Fight of the Season with Santos and Knockout of the Season.
Ponzinibbio clearly showed enough during the TUF season for the UFC to sign him to a contract when he was healthy enough to fight. He would make his debut against Ryan LaFlare at UFC Fight Night 32. LaFlare won by clear-cut unanimous decision thanks to his takedowns and high-volume striking, but Ponzinibbio showed his heart and determination with not being finished and at one point in the fight looked to have LaFlare in trouble until a takedown ended the onslaught. He would go on a two-fight win streak before again falling, this time to the dangerous Lorenz Larkin by TKO in the 2nd round. Not all was lost as they would both win Fight of the Night bonus for their efforts. Since that loss it has been all Ponzinibbio. He went on a four-fight win streak, including a TKO win over TUF 11 winner Court McGee, before facing Nelson. Nelson came into this fight having only two decision losses on his record and never being finished in his MMA career. As they say, all good things must come to an end. Ponzinibbio became the first man to stop Nelson and he did it in only 82 seconds giving him easily the best win of his career in the process. He also won Performance of the Night and a $50,000 bonus for his effort.
Despite the claims and displeasure of the eye pokes by both Nelson and his coach John Kavanaugh, and the subsequent appeal that Nelson has filed, this was an impressive win for Ponzinibbio. This now gives him 15 1st round finishes and 20 finishes overall in 28-career fights. Doesn’t get much more exciting than that when a fighter clearly doesn’t want to let judges decide the outcome. He’s confident in both his hands and his ground game, having a black-belt in Brazilian jui-jitsu, and seems to be primed to make a run in the welterweight division. So, what’s next for him? If you ask our very own Keith Shillan what he would do, it would be a matchup with the Lawler-Cerrone winner, although he states the possibility of Lawler getting a title shot if he wins. Ponzinibbio immediately called out Carlos Condit or Neil Magny after his win, however. Condit doesn’t seem like an option as he hasn’t fought since his loss to Demian Maia and has hinted at retirement. Magny could be an option. He hasn’t fought since December, getting a win over Johny Hendricks, and he too lost to Larkin by TKO in his fight before that. Seems like a reasonable matchup. Whoever or whatever is next for Ponzinibbio, look for fireworks because the division could have a new star in the making.