Argentinian bruiser, Santiago Ponzinibbio, will square off with Icelandic BJJ black belt, Gunnar Nelson, this Sunday night (July 16, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 113 inside The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland.
Ponzinibbio got his start on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Brazil, where he made it to the finals before being forced out with an injury. His experience did little to serve him in his UFC debut, when Ryan LaFlare out-wrestled and generally out-classed him en route to a dominant decision win.
Few expected Ponzinibbio to do much after that fight, but “Gente Boa” persevered and improved. Since then, he’s won six of seven bouts, including a trio of knockout wins. While this is the toughest test of Ponzinibbio’s career, it’s also been well-earned.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Ponzinibbio is not the least bit intimidated in the Octagon. He’s the aggressor, the man who walks his foe down and slings heavy leather. It doesn’t matter whether Ponzinibbio is facing a hyped up young prospect or fellow knockout artist, as Ponzinibbio still intends to get in his face and box him up.
Because of that aggression, Ponzinibbio has something of an undeserved reputation as a brawler. He may be willing to take a punch in order to land one, but that’s not at all his general strategy or approach.
Instead, Ponzinibbio is simply a sharp pocket boxer. When he’s able to move past the kicking range, Ponzinibbio’s hand speed, compact combinations, and natural power make him a very dangerous man. For his technique highlight, we looked at how Ponzinibbio utilized the jab effectively opposite a far larger man in Nordine Taleb. If thrown with some smarts, the jab can allow a shorter boxer to get inside just a effectively as it can help a long striker maintain distance.
Very often, Ponzinibbio’s jab is quickly followed by his cross. The basic 1-2 has resulted in quite a few of Ponzinibbio’s successful knockdowns, as his right hand packs plenty of power. Once the jab is established, it doesn’t take long for Ponzinibbio to begin cracking his opponent with the right as well (GIF).
Once in his range, Ponzinibbio will let loose with hooks and crosses (GIF). He does a reasonably good job of getting his head off the center line and generally being tough to hit while exchanging, as only Lorenz Larkin and his massive speed advantage were able to capitalize with counters consistently.
While working to close in on his opponent, Ponzinibbio will kick actively. He most frequently digs to the lead leg, setting up the kick well by getting his opponent to lean away from his power punches. Additionally, as Ponzinibbio traps his opponent along the fence, he’ll look to take advantage with a big power kick to the body or head.
As Ponzinibbio’s takedown defense has improved, he’s become more comfortable striking from the clinch. Notably, opposite Court McGee, Ponzinibbio repeatedly denied takedown and clinch attempts then took advantage of the close distance. Eventually, one such right hand helped bring an end to the bout (GIF).
Offensive wrestling is not really Ponzinibbio’s approach. The official takedowns on his record generally come from muscling his foe to the mat after punching him into the fence more than a real shot, but important part is his defensive improvement.
In his debut, Ponzinibbio was all around sloppy. He chased after a skilled wrestling and swung too wildly, giving up easy shots. He had a strong sprawl even then, but when that’s the only layer of takedown defense in use, a talented grappler like LaFlare can navigate around it without much trouble.
In modern times, Ponzinibbio does a better job of framing away from shots with his hands. He keeps his hands high, but he fights fairly low to the ground in general; it doesn’t get much for him to interrupt his opponent’s shot by dropping his hands in front of their face. If they get past his hands, that strong sprawl is still waiting to shut down takedown attempts.
Even with the technical wrestling and balance improvements, Ponzinibbio is not impossible to put on his butt... briefly. Ponzinibbio does a much better job of springing to his feet or wall-walking back up to the clinch, where his size and strength give him a solid chance to deny any follow up shots.
I likely would not have guessed this based on his actual fights, but Ponzinibbio holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Admittedly, he’s never been stuck in any submissions or attempted one of his own inside the Octagon, but he does have six stoppages via tapout from earlier in his career.
For the most part, I was not able to find any relevant grappling footage from his pre-UFC days. In the video I saw of his quick guillotine over Cleiton Duarte, Ponzinibbio pretty much grabbed his neck, sat full guard, and tried to yank his damn head off.
On the bright side, there’s a fair chance Ponzinibbio will be forced to show off his defensive jiu-jitsu opposite Gunnar Nelson.
This is a major opportunity for Ponzinibbio. He’s facing a top 10 opponent and has a clear path to victory, which is pretty much the best an up-and-coming fighter can hope for. If Ponzinibbio can keep it standing, punish the leg, and drag this fight out, there’s a real chance he can announce himself as a top-tier Welterweight on Sunday night.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.