Jorge Santiago discusses dropping down to welterweight and recent TFC 23 heel hook victory (MMAmania exclusive)

Pictures: Jorge Santiago via Gerry Images

Jorge Santiago understands that he didn't up to his own standards during his 2011 UFC stint.

He followed up a tremendous campaign in Japan, where he was Sengoku's middleweight champion, by losing a pair of bouts to Brian Stann and Demian Maia before being released.

"The Sandman" has stepped up his game since receiving his walking papers, main-eventing two Titan Fighting Championships events and scoring a pair of first round stoppages.

This past Friday night, Santiago not only scored a very impressive inverted heel hook in just 94 seconds, he surprised many viewers and fans by announcing that he had just fought his last career fight at middleweight.

The Imperial Athletics fighter spoke with MMAmania.com last night during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission where he talked making the cut to 170 pounds, the set-up to his heel hook submission and even a potential rematch against Demian Maia now that both Brazilians are at welterweight.

Check it out:

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well let's start with the big news. You go out and win this past Friday night via first round inverted heel hook and then in your post-fight speech, you mention this is your last fight ever at middleweight. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Jorge Santiago: Yeah, man. I used to fight 185 for a long time. Everybody knows that already. back in Japan, I used to make 182 so I always made easy weight. I never felt like the biggest guy at 185. I considered going to 170 because I'm dropping less than 10 pounds so why not? If I can get a finish over one of the strongest guys at 170 pounds, I think my window is getting closed. I'm 31 years old and now is the time to take this new opportunity, this new challenge for myself and see what happens.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How long have you been thinking about potentially dropping down to 170 pounds?

Jorge Santiago: Man, since 2010 when I had my last fight against Misaki. We fought five rounds and I like to stay healthy, don't lose too much weight. I used to fight for five rounds and defend the belt back in Japan so I didn't like to lose too much weight and it's getting easier and easier to get to 185 so this year, I just noticed that I can do it. I sit down with my teammates and the doctors and they said it wouldn't be a big problem. I think it's the best decision made.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that it was getting easier and easier, so how much weight were you cutting to get down to 185 pounds?

Jorge Santiago: This last show, I was cutting eight pounds. I stopped eating 24 hours before the weigh-ins. Stopped eating, stopped drinking and just jogged for 30 minutes with the sauna suit and that was it. It's nothing. Going to 170, I'll just get down to 190 pounds, walk around at 190 and it will not be a big problem.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That sounds terrific. Do you think that this is the move that can get you back to the really big stage?

Jorge Santiago: I think so. In the UFC, I learned a lot of things. I changed my training. I train way harder than before. My camp has gotten even better. In the gym, I started having different fighters all the time. I think going to this weight, I'm gonna be way stronger and I think it will have me very fast until I'm top contender again, but now 170 pounds as a welterweight.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk quick about your last fight this past Friday night, Jorge. You looked terrific early and it looked like you were starting to establish your jab. Was that the gameplan early?

Jorge Santiago: The part of the game was to make the guy crazy. (laughs) I tried to stay on him all the time, move up and down and honestly, I thought he would stay up and try to bang. I was waiting and I noticed he was there and I tried to land a big right hand. I didn't expect him to take me down, but one thing I know is my ground is not bad at all. It's my home. The first chance I saw was the leg and I'm glad I went for it and I'm glad I got it.

Gerry Rodriguez: It's Father's Day so I've got a Father's Day-related question. Quickly, what's the best and worst Father's day present you've gotten in your years of fatherhood?

Jorge Santiago: I've been a father for four years and nothing bad. Every day is a learning process and I'm enjoying it 100 percent every day. I'm enjoying my Father's Day and everything that comes in my life. I try to look at the good side. I have nothing to complain about.

Ben Thapa: When you were on your back and you started grappling in your last fight, I noticed you grabbed wrist control and you were trying for a triangle and then, all of a sudden, you went for an inverted or half x-guard. What was going through your mind when you set up that heel hook?

Jorge Santiago: Man, honestly, this last fight, I was just trying to not think about anything. I knew he would come and he tried ground and pound so first thing that came to my mind was "control his wrists." When he started to get up, I switched to half guard because I know wrestlers have a hard time understanding the half guard game. As soon as I went to the half guard, he got up because he don't know what's going on and I just changed for heel hook. That's a move I always do in the practice, you know?

Ben Thapa: You kind of went upside-down for a moment and that's rarely seen with MMA people because they're worried about getting punched. How did you build the confidence and the killer instinct to know you could definitely do this?

Jorge Santiago: There's a lot of ways to do. I never know how we gonna end but always, one side or the other, you're gonna have the guy's feet and you just have to look at the reaction and what it's gonna show to you first. I thought about a leg lock and other submissions but I thought, "You know what? Heel hook. That's what's gonna work right now."

Ben Thapa: Your fights with Misaki are some of the best mixed martial arts fights ever. What I'm wondering is, where do you feel you've come from the Misaki fights until now in terms of your love for the sport and your intensity of your fights?

Jorge Santiago: Man, I think now after Misaki, I kind of slowed down a bit. The pace, I go down I think in the UFC. It was a bad year for me, 2011. Moving to 170, I think it's gonna bring a lot of excitement to my fights again. I noticed that I've been moving very fast like my last fight. I was moving so fast and so easy and I think I'm gonna train more and I think I'm gonna bring everything again. Not exactly the same, but a different style will come out for sure and I can feel it.

Ben Thapa: If you ever get a rematch with Maia at welterweight, do you feel you can get him back this time, do to him what he did to you?

Jorge Santiago: Yeah man. Definitely. That was the worst gameplan I ever had. Stand and try to bang with him and it's fucked up because he was just trying to put me down and hold me. He wasn't trying to do jiu-jitsu. He scored a takedown and laid on top of me and not doing anything. He just tried to get up and if we fight again, I think a different thing would happen today.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now that you're dropping down to welterweight, how far away do you think you are from getting a shot in the big promotions? Do you think you need another fight or do you think they could call you tomorow?

Jorge Santiago: Man, knowing the big shows, they always need somebody ready to go. I got out, got two good wins and that's what all the big promoters want out of fighters. I had two good fights, finished fights and bring the excitement. I just did it. I'm going to keep doing the same thing. I know it's gonna pop open my door one day and I just try to stay sharp and I know it will happen. There's no way it's not gonna happen. I'm gonna make this move to 170, maybe take one fight, do a good fight with a top guy if I can and that's it. Maybe before that, you never know.

Jorge would like to thank all the Father's out there, his sponsors and the fans who support him. You can follow him on Twitter @SantiagoMMA.

So what do you think, Maniacs?

Will the drop down to 170 pounds be just the spark Santiago needs to get back to the big show? Have you been impressed by his recent two-fight run in Titan Fighting Championships?

Sound off!

To listen to the audio of our chat with Jorge Santiago, click here (interview begins at 6:30 mark).

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