Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight sluggers Santiago Ponzinibbio and Michel Pereira will collide this weekend (Sat., May 21, 2022) at UFC Vegas 55 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Is there any context where this isn’t a great fight? Ponzinibbio is a proven slugger, a hard-nosed veteran who has fought tooth-and-nail since returning from a long layoff in 2021. He’s no longer a top contender, but “Gente Boa” is still one of the most fun strikers in the division. On the flip side, Pereira is trying to make his run up the Welterweight ladder. He’s sacrificed a bit of his wildness in the process, but the Brazilian has still won four in a row in largely entertaining fashion.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
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), Geoff Neal (UFC 269), Lorenz Larkin (UFC Fight Night 70), Ryan LaFlare (UFC Fight Night 32)
Keys to Victory: Unfortunately, it’s become fairly clear that the injuries and healthy issues Ponzinibbio suffered between 2019-2021 largely stole his chances of becoming champion. That’s not to say Ponzinibbio is helpless now, but the aggressive striker has lost a bit of speed and durability.
This is a clear puncher vs. kicker bout. That’s not to say Ponzinibbio cannot kick hard — he absolutely can and should — but he prefers to exchange in the pocket. Pereira, alternatively, likes to use his typical range advantage to pulverize his opponents at a distance, where they have to cover huge gaps in order to land.
Ponzinibbio has to march down Pereira and make him uncomfortable. He’ll have to keep his head moving to avoid Pereira’s lancing jab and plant cross as he does so, but pressuring Pereira will pay off. It’s exhausting to fight from the back foot, and Pereira cuts a good amount of weight.
Likely, Ponzinibbio can take over late if he maintains consistent pressure. He’d also be wise to cut off the cage with kicks, which will help slow Pereira’s footwork and do attritional damage.
Record: 27-11 (2)
Key Wins: Niko Price (UFC 264), Andre Fialho (UFC 270) Danny Roberts (UFC Fight Night 152), Khaos Williams (UFC Vegas 17), Zelim Imadaev (UFC Vegas 9)
Key Losses: Tristan Connelly (UFC Fight Night 158), Dusko Todorovic (Serbian Battle Championship 19)
Keys to Victory: Pereira is one of the largest Welterweights on the roster. Behind all the flips and chaos is a committed distance striking game, one who really punishes opponents with long shots straight down the pipe.
All of Pereira’s interrupting blows will be important here. He has to make Pereira hesitate, give him a reason to stay at distance. Whether it’s the jab, front snap kick or cross doesn’t really matter, but one of those weapons has to land early to keep Ponzinibbio off him.
If he can earn Ponzinibbio’s respect a bit, Pereira can open up more. He’s a creative striker when given room to breathe, but he could also take notes from recent Ponzinibbio fights by attacking the calf. Either way, it’s pretty essential that the Brazilian sticks Ponzinibbio with some hard shots early then feints those strikes to freeze him up.
This is going to be a great scrap.
Ponzinibbio has lost two of his last three. However, they’ve all been great fights versus tough opponents, so he shouldn’t be in danger of being released or anything, but the pressure is still on. If “Gente Boa” is to continue throwing down on main cards vs. top competition, he has to even up that recent record and get back in the win column.
The stakes are high for Ponzinibbio as well. He’s on the cusp of breaking into the Top 15 or at least scoring a ranked opponent next. That’s quite a rebound from his embarrassing Tristan Connelly loss, and proof that Pereira is a real threat at 170 pounds. Despite his experience, Pereira is just 28 years old, so it may be that he’s fully coming into his prime right now.
At UFC Vegas 55, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Michel Pereira will go to war in the co-main event. Which man will earn the victory?
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