Hard-hitting Welterweight contender, Santiago Ponzinibbio, will throw down with grinding clinch specialist, Neil Magny, this Saturday (Nov. 17, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 140 inside Parque Roca Arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A 2-2 start to his UFC career seemed to confirm Ponzinibbio as an action fighter rather than true contender. However, Ponzinibbio shored up the holes in his defensive wrestling, allowing him to go on his current tear, a six-fight win streak opposite some very tough customers. Ponzinibbio is looking to match with a top-ranked title contender, which nearly happened in a scrapped match up with Kamaru Usman. Instead, he’ll face a top 10 mainstay, the last win necessary before a possible title eliminator.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Ponzinibbio has a background in kickboxing, but in truth he usually fights more like a boxer. An aggressive one at that: Ponzinibbio generally fights by forcing his way into the pocket and battering opponents with sharp combinations. 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.
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. Check out this GIF for example, as Ponzinibbio goes after Mike Perry but does so while keeping his chin tucked and at least trying to slip his head off the center line (GIF).
More than the vast majority of MMA fighters, Ponzinibbio has a great jab. Generally, Ponzinibbio is not in the business of using the jab to maintain range. Instead, it’s a spearing strike, one intended to do damage as well as set up his other punches. Often, Ponzinibbio will end his combinations with the jab, a great way to reestablish some distance or catch an opponent trying to circle away from the action (GIF).
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 his foe is backed into the fence, Ponzinibbio will really let loose with combinations (GIF).
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. In addition, 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). Opposite Perry, Ponzinibbio played the matador rather than the bull for the first time in his UFC career. It was a close fight throughout, but ultimately Ponzinibbio’s experience and game plan won him the battle.
For Ponzinibbio, it started with footwork. Rather than walk into the pocket with “Platinum,” Perry circled very actively, forcing Perry to come to him under a hail of jabs. In addition, Perry’s stance is very boxing influenced, a stylistic approach that leaves him vulnerable to low kicks. Ponzinibbio took advantage, slamming the lead leg until Perry was less dangerous.
The Argentinian took over the second half of the fight as a result of his strategy, and the spinning back fist in the third didn’t hurt his cause either (GIF).
General, Ponzinibbio does not have much interest in offensive wrestling, but he did manage to time a couple reactive double legs underneath the punches of Perry to keep him honest.
Ponzinibbio’s defenisve wrestling has improved significantly. In his debut, Ponzinibbio was all-around sloppy. He chased after a skilled wrestler 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 Ryan 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 take 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. Nothing wrong with the classics!
Ponzinibbio dispatched the first Top 10 opponent he faced quickly, took a step back to battle with Perry, and is now back to top competition. Magny is the stiffest test to his defensive wrestling in a long time, but if Ponzinibbio can keep it standing, he’s in a great position to continue surging up the ranks.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.