Thiago Santos has a tricky mission ahead of him – attempt to dethrone Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 239 in Las Vegas, Nev., on Saturday night.
He’s well aware of what the light heavyweight king is capable of doing inside the cage, and got a few tips from Jones’ most recent opponent, Anthony Smith, during a media event in the United States.
”I don’t know if this will look bad for Smith,” Santos told reporters in Rio de Janeiro, “but Smith said Jones is dirty, a cheater, that he uses things that the referee can’t see. He puts his hand in your eyes, you know? He uses illegal things that sometimes the referee is in a position that he can’t see, and that hurts you. The referee can’t see, he doesn’t stop the fight, and you can’t stop either otherwise you lose. Be smart because he’s a bit dirty, he told me.”
Santos considers “Bones” a “phenomenal fighter”, the fourth best mixed martial artist of all times — ranked behind Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in that order —, but is very critical of his life outside the cage.
”That’s his karma,” Santos said of his controversial past. “He’ll be remembered as a doper, he’ll be remembered as someone who drives when he’s drunk. These are his things. I have to worry about not doing the same things. That’s his life. If he wants to live his life like that, it doesn’t bother me. Inside the Octagon, his talent is undeniable. Outside, unfortunately, he’s not a good example. That’s what I think.”
One of Jones’ most recent controversies is his drug tests results, which often shows trace amounts of M3 metabolite of steroid Turinabol. While Smith have criticized Jones but not appear to care to that much about his drug tests showing that metabolite over and over again going into their recent title fight, Santos has a different approach.
”It’s not like that, ‘you can come even if you’re doped.’ It has to be the same for everyone,” Santos said. “If the system works for me, who have been tested 26 times, it has to be equal for him. No picograms ever showed in me. Why is it showing in him? Is he from another planet? I don’t know. It’s weird, man. They should look more into that.”
”What I fear the most is him doing some sh*t before July 6 and this fight doesn’t happening,” he added. “That’s my biggest fear: he screws up and the fight doesn’t happen. What I want is this fight to happen. This picogram thing shows up all the time and nothing happens. Am I going to swim against the tide? I’ll fight, right? I’ll go there and beat him.”
According to “Marreta”, Smith told him he choked against Jones and couldn’t really show his true self inside the Octagon, and that’s something the Brazilian can relate to.
”I’ve had that feeling, too, against (Gegard) Mousasi,” said Santos, who lost a short-notice bout to Mousasi at UFC 200. “I froze, I choked in that fight. I wasn’t myself. I didn’t fight. It wasn’t because of fear, but he was someone I’ve watched even before I started fighting professionally. When the time came, I don’t know, I can’t explain the feeling, I choked. That has happened to me, but I’ve had that experience before and it won’t happen again.”
Three years later, the Brazilian can make history in Las Vegas. Santos knows Jones is “a very intelligent guy” who adapts perfectly to situations and dictates where the fight will take place. The secret to beat him, “Marreta” says, is to make him feel pain.
”I have to be ready for everything and make him suffer everywhere,” Santos said. “If it’s on the ground, he has to suffer. If we’re on the feet, he has to suffer. If we go to the fence, he will suffer. That’s how I think. I have to make him feel pain any way possible, get him to think, ‘Man, where am I going to go? I take him to the fence and he hits me, I take him down and he hits me, we’re on the feet and he hits me.’ That’s how I’ll beat him.”
Unbeaten since moving up to middleweight, scoring TKO wins over Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz, Santos believes he’s “faster and more explosive” than regular light heavyweights since he’s a natural 185-pounder, but vows to make Jones “feel my strikes” at UFC 239.
”We never got to see any weaknesses in his game yet, but we’ve never seen him on his back with a heavy hand going down on him. We’ll know then,” Santos said. “We haven’t seen how he reacts getting hit with a powerful ground and pound. But I have to be ready for anything. My strategy is to make him feel bad anywhere.”