TNT Sports Reload - Episode 11Sep 26
The 205lb division is alive and thriving right now and we’ve got even more action to bring you from one of the UFC’s most unpredictable divisions as UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Hill comes to BT Sport this Saturday night.
It looks set to be a cracker, with two hard hitters facing off in a crossroads fight with ambitions of reaching the summit of the light heavyweight mountain one day soon.
Santos, meanwhile, has lost four of his last five – a run that began with a split decision loss to one of the greatest of all time, Jon Jones, for the title back in July 2019.
The Ultimate Fighter season 30 comes to a climax too with Mohammed Usman and Zac Pauga slugging it out for heavyweight glory with Brogan Walker and Juliana Miller also trading leather for that prized UFC contract.
Here are three reasons you don’t want to miss the action.
Big digs from the big dogs
The main event looks like one you won’t want to miss this Saturday evening as arguably the two hardest hitters in the light heavyweight top 10 clash with much on the line at the UFC APEX.
Thiago Santos needs no introduction at this stage in his career as he prepares to make his 24th Octagon walk but the veteran combat campaigner still believes he has plenty left to give at the highest level.
The former middleweight man made a lightning start to life at 205lb when he first made the move north in 2018, going on a three-fight win streak with such destructive intent that the UFC fast-tracked him into a shot at the light heavyweight title.
And it was almost a fairytale ending to the story for the Brazilian as he took Jones into deeper waters than anyone had ever managed before, ending up on the wrong side of a split decision that many feel he was unlucky to lose.
In the end, the result was not as damaging to Santos’ career as the injuries he ended up sustaining in battle, tearing the ACL, PCL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee, cracking the tibia in the same leg and suffering a partial tear of his right meniscus.
The severity of those injuries may have jeopardised any other fighter’s career entirely but after almost a year and a half out, Santos returned to action in a tough scrap against the man who would go on to become champion, Glover Teixeira.
As it stands today, the 38-year-old is on a run of 1-3 since sustaining those serious injuries and perhaps running out of time to prove he can keep up with the beasts coming through in the 205lb division.
In fairness, Santos has arguably faced one of the meanest runs in recent light heavyweight memory, taking on Magomed Ankalaev, Johnny Walker, Aleksandar Rakic, Glover Teixeira, Jon Jones and Jan Blachowicz over the course of his last six fights.
On his day, Santos remains as dangerous as anyone, combining supernatural power with a fearless mindset that has helped him win 15 of his 22 career wins by KO.
It may be premature to suggest another defeat on Saturday night would spell the end of his storied career – but it’s tough to see where the big man goes next should Jamahal Hill get his hand raised.
Two successive victories and two performance bonuses to boot have proven just the tonic for Hill to bounce back from defeat to Paul Craig last summer and climb into the light heavyweight top 10.
This fight with Thiago Santos is going to be fireworks
- Jamahal Hill
The 31-year-old, who rose to notoriety through Dana White’s Contender Series, lived up to his nickname “Sweet Dreams” last time out with a highlight reel stoppage of Johnny Walker that will have sent a warning to the rest of the division.
The decisive strike seemed to catch Walker directly in his forehead but still sent a bolt through the Brazilian that stiffened the legs and had him out cold before he hit the canvas.
Such power will take you a long way in the UFC and with the light heavyweight division currently one of the most fluid of any in the promotion, there’s every opportunity to make a charge up the rankings with a few solid wins.
Hill’s defeat to Craig remains the only blemish on his 10-1-1 ledger and the Michigan native credits his Scottish rival for teaching him a tough lesson about the fight game that night.
“Staying within myself, check myself, make sure I’m approaching the game, the fight the right way,” Hill said, identifying the main takeaways from that night in June last year.
“The Paul Craig fight was just arrogance man. I felt like I could just go in there with one of the best dudes in the world and beat him however I saw fit with no true gameplan on really how to even do that.
“I just thought ‘I’m better, I’m better, I’m just going to be better, period’. You can’t be that way in this game, you got to respect the game. That’s what I’ve done.”
Two wins since have restored confidence and put Hill back on track to where he wants to be in the division as he looks ahead to a thriller against Santos this weekend.
“I want the people to know who I am, I want people to be interested and wonder how good I am. I want people to see how truly great my mind is,” he continued.
“This fight with Thiago Santos is going to be fireworks. ‘Marreta’ comes forward, he wants to be the hammer and he wants to put a pounding on you. But that’s what I want to do. ‘Sweet Dreams’ wants to get up in your face. I want action, I want intensity, and I want it non-stop.
“Let’s get in there. I want to get in close I want to get in that phone booth, and I want that action. I think that’s what it’s going to be.”
The going gets TUF
It’s crunch time as season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter concludes this weekend with a pair of heavyweights and two female flyweights competing for a big money UFC contract and the prestige that comes with being crowned a TUF winner.
In the battle of the big men, Zac Pauga (above left) faces Mohammed Usman, pitting two of Julianna Pena’s charges against one another in the showpiece finale.
Pauga is yet to taste defeat in his professional career, racing to a 5-0 start before joining the TUF ranks.
However, the 34-year-old, who ordinarily competes at light heavyweight, is now fighting north of his native weight class and, despite going 2-0 on the show so far, is likely to face the most physical test of his readiness for heavyweight against the giant Usman.
Brother of welterweight supremo and pound-for-pound contender Kamaru, Mohammed Usman can be a handful for anyone on his day and will be looking to secure the win that secures his passage through to the top table of MMA.
The 33-year-old is still a work in progress in truth but with a decent 7-2 record before he stepped on the show, the Fortis MMA man has the potential to be a decent addition to the UFC’s heavyweight roster.
The women’s flyweight final could be a thoroughly entertaining affair too as Brogan Walker takes on Juliana Miller for the TUF season 30 125lb title.
Walker, 34, is the more experienced of the duo having mixed it with decent opposition under the Invicta promotion before entering the show.
She’s 7-2 in her pro career and battled through injury to defeat Hannah Guy and Laura Gallardo on her way to Saturday night’s final.
Juliana Miller is the woman who will be waiting in the opposite corner with the Team Pena prospect looking to overcome a significant disparity in experience on her way to that UFC contract.
Prior to joining TUF 30, Miller fought only three times to a record of 2-1 but having fought impressively to secure her place in the final, you’d be a fool to write the 26-year-old grappler off.
A piece of chef’s kiss matchmaking this weekend sees Vicente Luque take on Geoff Neal in what promises to be a welterweight war – while it lasts.
Luque – who is somehow still only 30 years old – returns to action looking to rebound from defeat to the surging Belal Muhammad last time out in a speedbump that put the brakes on what was an eye-catching four-fight win streak.
Stopping all four of his opponents leading into the bout, the ever-entertaining Sanford MMA charge also took home the bonus on three of those occasions and always puts on a show when he steps foot in the Octagon.
Since joining the UFC, Luque has never been stopped, taking each hard-fought defeat to the scorecards while racking up an impressive 14-4 record in the promotion.
His 92% finish rate from those 14 wins put him second behind only Vitor Belfort (93%) for the highest finishes per win rate in UFC history.
He’s perhaps unlucky he’s never quite had the backing his successes have deserved – but that could all change with another viral stoppage victory against a man capable of matching Luque’s fight-ending intent.
Now back in the win column after a rough skid of two defeats, Geoff Neal goes in search of successive victories that could see him return to the 170lb top 10 this Saturday night.
The Texan, who trains out of the well-regarded Fortis MMA gym in his home state, came through the Contender Series to reach the top table and has picked up wins over the likes of Belal Muhammad and Santiago Ponzinibbio in UFC colours.
At 31, his best years remain ahead of him and there’s no doubt the game contender will want to live up to his his “Handz of Steel” moniker as he seeks to become the first man to stop Luque in the Octagon.