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UFC Vegas 13: Thiago Santos details return to the Octagon, nearly retiring after knee surgery

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UFC 239: Ultimate Media Day Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Thiago Santos is one of the best light heavyweight fighters in the world and he hasn’t fought in over 16 months. That streak will end later tonight (Sat., Nov. 7, 2020) at UFC Vegas 13 live on ESPN+ from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, as Santos takes on Glover Teixeira in the main event.

The extended layoff was a true travesty considering the last time “Marreta” stepped inside of the Octagon he nearly defeated Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title. Unfortunately for Santos, he tore the ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus in his left knee during the loss to Jones and needed extra time off. The Brazilian fighter had never experienced such an injury before and ended up serving the longest layoff of his career.

“I was sad that night, because I lost,” Santos told ESPN when asked about his defeat to Jones. “I gave it my best and was pretty confident I was going to take the belt from Jones.

“I didn’t go to the hospital that night. I went back to my hotel, and then the hospital the next day. But I knew my knee was completely torn, because every time I tried to get up and urinate the night after the fight, I couldn’t get up. I needed help to get to the bathroom.”

With his knee badly injured and the biggest fight of his career in the rearview, Santos was left to get surgery, rehab his knee, and plot his return to the 205-pound division. It wasn’t an easy journey to make. In fact, Santos even questioned his ability to continue fighting.

“Four-hour surgery. All I remember about the time immediately after it was pain. A lot of pain,” Santos recalled.

“I couldn’t do anything alone. I needed help for everything. I did wonder if I would ever be the same. Even when the doctor first told me he needed to operate, that was a thought that passed through my mind.

“And once I started to feel all the pain, and the difficulty of not being able to do anything alone, it popped into my mind now and then that I would never fight again.”

While Santos ended up making a full recovery the No. 1 ranked contender wasn’t able to immediately return to action. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide travel/social restrictions, Santos’ comeback campaign was essentially put on ice.

“I was healthy enough to resume fighting at the beginning of 2020, and in March, I could have started a fight camp. But then COVID-19 hit,” explained Santos.

“I was frustrated, but at the same time, I believe in God, and I think that was just a time I needed to be even better than I was before. I was in Brazil during that time and the gyms weren’t open to everybody, but Yana and I were able to go to my school in the projects and work out together.”

Santos’ return is one of the most anticipated of 2020. Many people believe “Marreta” did enough to edge out Jones when the two fought back at UFC 239, but Santos couldn’t sway two of the three judges. The fight was so close that fans started to call for a rematch between the two fighters. But with Santos sidelined, the COVID-19 pandemic running rampant, and Jones vacating his title to move to heavyweight, the rematch never culminated.

“In the beginning, I just wanted my rematch against Jones. But as time went on, all I really wanted to do was fight,” Santos said.

“I have nothing against Jon leaving the division, and I think some day I will still beat him, but my focus is to be the champion, and right now, that’s what I am focused on. It was an incredible moment signing a contract to fight Glover and announcing the fight, because I realized I could do something that, at one point, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do again.”

Luckily, Santos is ready to compete for another chance at UFC gold and it all starts with Teixeira later tonight at UFC Vegas 13. The matchup took some time to materialize due to two untimely positive COVID-19 tests, but the time has come for “Marreta” to step back inside of the Octagon and provide fight fans with the violence they crave,

“This fight was canceled twice. First Glover got COVID, then I got COVID. I was having symptoms and I got tested. It was frustrating, but I also believed it was part of life and I believed in God,” said Santos.

“Physically, I’m already feeling 100 percent,” he added. “I have done everything in training: sparring, kicking hard, knee ... everything normal. But I haven’t been fighting for a long time, I don’t know how my head, my adrenaline will be.

“But I have a feeling it’s going to be all right. I will be very happy, doing what I love and everything will be fine.”

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 13 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ and ESPN2 at 10 p.m. ET.