Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill meet at the busy intersection of the UFC light heavyweight top 10 on Saturday night. Santos vs. Hill headlines UFC Fight Night as the promotion returns to its home base at the Apex in Las Vegas.
It was only three years ago that Santos (22-10) nearly dethroned the seemingly impervious Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship. Santos has struggled terribly since that night where he tore ligaments in both knees that required a long layoff and recovery. The split decision loss to Jones snapped a four-fight winning streak — that included a TKO win over Jan Blachowicz — and jumpstarted a paltry 1-4 run. Santos turns his nose up at opponents like Aleksandar Rakic and Magomed Ankalaev for taking measured approaches. He invites Hill to stand and trade with the sledgehammer.
“He’s a tough opponent,” Santos told reporters at Wednesday’s media day. “Aggressive. He has some KOs, but I have the most KOs in this division in the UFC. So let’s see what’s going to happen. Let’s punch each other. Let’s kick each other. Let’s see who is going to stay standing.
“We both are KO guys, but some fights before the guys are aggressive, but I don’t know what happened. When they fight against me they come different. They try to take me down, they try to fight a strategic fight. So I cannot say about himself. I can say about myself. I promise I go forward. I go to knock him out and this fight is going to be different than my last fight.”
Hill (10-1, 1 NC) suffered a quick submission loss to the wily Paul Craig in June 2021. Subsequent first-round knockouts of Johnny Walker and Jimmy Crute are supremely impressive, but questions remain about Hill’s ability to fight through adversity. Hill asserts that a more mature version of “Sweet Dreams” emerged from his nightmare loss to Craig.
“I feel like [Santos] is a dangerous guy,” Hill said on Wednesday. “I feel like he still possesses that danger and he’s still to be respected. People always talk about the Paul Craig thing. I learned to respect the game. He’s going to get that respect. Know that respect comes with a lot of f—ing pain and punishment.
“I train for him to be the best fighter in the world. It goes with that respect for the game. I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, he’s not the Thiago he used to be, the old Thiago.’ Even if he was still the Thiago Santos that stepped in front of Jon Jones, I’d still whoop his ass. Period. It’s not going to change what’s going to happen — at all.”
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Vicente Luque vs. Geoff Neal was promoted to the co-main event following the same-week cancellation of Alexa Grasso vs. Viviane Araujo. Luque and Neal are two of the most ferocious finishers in the UFC welterweight division. Nine of Luque’s last 10 victories have come via stoppage, including submissions over Tyron Woodley and Michael Chiesa. Neal has finished the majority of his UFC fights and holds TKO wins over Mike Perry, Price, Frank Camacho and Brian Camozzi.
Saturday night also marks the finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” where two champions are set to be crowned. Zac Pauga takes on Mohammed Usman in the heavyweight final while Juliana Miller battles Brogan Walker in the women’s flyweight final. Usman is the younger brother of welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. He’s 8-2 as a pro with a split decision win in the semifinals against Eduardo Perez. Pauga is undefeated at 6-0 and scored a TKO over Jordan Heiderman in his semifinal bout.
Here’s the fight card for UFC Fight Night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
Thiago Santos +250
Vicente Luque -170
Geoff Neal +145
Zac Pauga -260
Mohammed Usman +210
Juliana Miller -120
Brogan Walker +100
Serghei Spivac -270
Augusto Sakai +220
Date: Aug. 6 | Start time: 10 p.m. ETLocation: UFC Apex — Las Vegas, NevadaTV channel: UFC Fight Pass
Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill: A quick glance at their records would suggest that Hill is on the rise and Santos is on his way out. That is an oversimplification. Santos’ losses in the last three years are to two world champions (Jones and Glover Teixeira) and two future title challengers (Rakic and Ankalaev). The more troubling identifier is Santos’ inability to pull the trigger over his last three fights. The man who lost to Jones and Teixeira nearly beat them both. The latest version of Santos looked muted in losses to Ankalaev and Rakic, and even a decision win over Johnny Walker. Hill, by contrast, is brimming with explosiveness. Both light heavyweights wield fight-ending power, but Hill is the only one to display it in recent performances. This is a noticeable step up in competition for Hill but one he can conquer with a mindful approach. Hill via TKO3
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