Welterweight contenders collided at UFC 269 tonight (Sat., Dec. 11, 2021) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, when Geoff Neal (No. 10) locked horns with Santiago Ponzinibbio (No. 12) on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card. Neal was arrested on suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) just a few weeks ago, but “Handz of Steel” brushed any possible concerns aside this week, explaining that it was much ado about nothing.
And it was hard to argue after his performance this evening, with Neal eking out a close split decision win over a very game “Genta Boa.”
Ponzinibbio came out of the corner with a mission: Getting Neal on his backfoot early and applying the pressure. Neal circled well and scored with an inside leg kick, then missing with a high kick moments later. Ponzinibbio fired off a nice combination, but Neal’s defense was on point. Nice left hand from Neal, with Ponzinibbio countering with a hard inside leg kick. The referee warning Ponzinibbio about his fingers numerous times early, with Ponzinibbio scoring with a hard straight right and missing with a spinning backfist. Neal began to warm up down the stretch, landing some shots inside and mounting a solid defense. Neal backed him up against the cage with a high kick, with Ponzinibbio firing back with some hard shots on the next exchange. With less than one minute in the round, Neal landed a low blow that momentarily halted the action. Ponzinibbio came out guns blazing on the restart, but nothing really significant came to fruition.
Ponzinibbio feeling some momentum, scoring with some inside leg kicks and shots upstairs to begin the second stanza. Neal continued to bounce around the cage, using the low kicks to set up his combinations upstairs. Nice hard body kick from Neal, with Ponzinibbio countering with a looping left hook that missed. Ponzinibbio shot a single-leg takedowmn moments later and was able to secure it with Neal able to return to his feet quickly. On the restart, Neal put together a nice combination, which Ponzinibbio was more than willing to return in-kind. With 90 seconds remaining, the two began to open up, exchanging short shots inside the pocket. Ponzinibbio with a hard straight hand down the middle, with Neal a little less bounce in his step. Ponzinibbio stung him with a nice hard jab down the stretch, then a low kick at the buzzer.
It was a close fight heading into the third and final frame, with Neal’s coach imploring him to pick up the pace in the final five minutes. It was Ponzinibbio, though, who came out on fire; however, Neal clipped him with a shot behind the ear and he was momentarily wobbled. Ponzinibbio recovered real quick, but Neal went right back to the same punch moments later. Great combination from Ponzinibbio around the three-minute mark, but Neal continued to press forward, drilling him with another right hand behind the ear. Nice right hand, then a hook, from Ponzinibbio found great landing spots, with Neal countering with a hard left hand. More low kicks from Ponzinibbio, with Neal scoring with a hard left jab upstairs. One minute to go and Neal started to put together his punches real well, wobbling Ponzinibbio a bit down the stretch with a heavy does of straight left hands. Ponzinibbio’s face was a mess — a culmination of steady left hands from Neal. Ponzinibbio whipped a low kick at the bell in what was a fun, but far from spectacular Welterweight showdown.
In the end, the judges awarded Neal a super close split decision win. It honestly could have gone either way — both guys are so well-matched. “Handz of Steel” just got the edge despite his recent troubles outside the Octagon.
No harm, no foul, apparently.
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