Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight sluggers Geoff Neal and Santiago Ponzinibbio will square off this weekend (Sat., Dec. 11, 2021) at UFC Vegas 44 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s an odd time for “Handz of Steel” at the moment. After a 5-0 start to his UFC career, Neal has now lost two in a row, quelling the would-be contender’s momentum in a big way. Worse yet, Neal is in a bit of legal hot water, though it’s not intense enough to pull him out of this match up. The whole mess is not quite a Jeremy Stephens situation, but it’s far from ideal. Meanwhile, Ponzinibbio enters following a “Fight of the Year” contender. Opposite Miguel Baeza, Ponzinibbio fought like a caged animal. It wasn’t easy, but the Argentinian forced his way back into the win column, preserving his status as a contender in the process.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Belal Muhammad (UFC Fight Night 143), Niko Price (UFC 240), Mike Perry (UFC 245), Frank Camacho (UFC 228)
Key Losses: Stephen Thompson (UFC Vegas 17), Neil Magny (UFC Vegas 26), Kevin Holland (Xtreme Knockout 34)
Keys to Victory: Neal is a tremendous example of the fundamentals applied at the highest level by an excellent athlete. As a Southpaw, Neal doesn’t have to do much more than stick his opponents with the hard left cross and blast them with left round kicks to pick up wins, and he’s got a real knack for creating huge connections.
Distance will be key here. Between the two, Ponzinibbio is the more fluid combination puncher, even if both are comfortable in the pocket. Extended exchanges likely benefit “Gente Boa,” so Neal should be looking to play sharpshooter from the outside.
The most important step to do so is to occupy the jab hand. As a Southpaw, Neal doesn’t have to out-jab the sharp boxer. Instead, he can cover and interrupt that punch by covering up Ponzinibbio’s lead hand with his own. From this game of pattycake, Neal can look to pitch out his cross or slam heavy left kicks to all targets.
If Ponzinibbio starts getting frustrated and charging forward, Neal has the left hand counter necessary to sit him down. Alternatively, Neal would be wise to occasionally look to clinch to stall Ponzinibbio’s offense if the Argentinian is too close for comfort.
Key Wins: Neil Magny (UFC Fight Night 140), Gunnar Nelson (UFC Fight Night 113), Miguel Baeza (UFC Vegas 28), Mike Perry (UFC on FOX 26), Sean Strickland (UFC Fight Night 61), Nordine Taleb (UFC Fight Night 105)
Key Losses: Li Jingliang (UFC Fight Island 7), Lorenz Larkin (UFC Fight Night 70), Ryan LaFlare (UFC Fight Night 32)
Keys to Victory: At 35 years of age, Ponzinibbio is still pursuing UFC gold. Beginning his martial arts journey with kickboxing, Ponzinibbio has developed into one of the most powerful and dangerous punchers in his division.
Fifteen of his wins come via knockout.
Ponzinibbio wants to gain the pocket, not trade kicks with the Southpaw. However, he cannot press forward recklessly; that’s how fighters get blasted by Neal’s cross or run into a high kick. He has to feint and work the outside angle, which will make it easier to press Neal backward.
From a more technical standpoint, there are a few things Ponzinibbio should look to do. For one, he can still land effective jabs if he wins the hand fight, so that should be a priority. Next, Ponzinibbio’s cross will be doing more work than usual, so taking that weapon to the torso will help his land percentage. Finally, Ponzinibbio should be looking to close the door with his left hook in longer exchanges, as the strike tends to sneak over the shoulder of Southpaws well.
High-level Welterweight action!
After his recent struggles, Neal has fallen out of the Top 10. While defeating Ponzinibbio won’t necessarily regain his prior position, returning to the win column will allow the prospect to start looking up the ladder once more. Alternatively, another defeat will remove Neal from the Top 15, a disappointing turn to such a promising start.
At the height of his powers, Ponzinibbio was sidelined for over two years from injuries and staph. He lost valuable years of his prime, and perhaps his chance at a world title in the process. However, as his last victory showed, Ponzinibbio is not going to give up on himself without one hell of a fight.
There is no room for error. Ponzinibbio either continues his winning ways and takes another step closer to the title, or that dream is over.
At UFC 269, Geoff Neal and Santiago Ponzinibbio will throw down in a Welterweight war. Which man will earn the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 269 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 269: “Oliveira vs. Poirier” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.