Middleweights Thiago Santos and Eryk Anders will be moving up to light heavyweight on Saturday for a fight with major ranking implications moving forward from UFC São Paulo.
While the main event for UFC Sao Paulo suffered an incredible amount of bad luck, fans are being treated to an exciting light heavyweight clash between knockout artist Thiago Santos and football player turned mixed martial artist Eryk Anders. Both men are hoping to use the fight to springboard into a marquee bout in the middleweight division and could set up a big 2019 for either man.
Thiago “Marreta” Santos has amazingly already spent five years in the UFC, but has flown under the radar until recently as the middleweight division has experienced turnover at the top. Santos, 34, has had 15 fights in the UFC since 2013 with eight finishes in his 10 victories in the promotion. After entering the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, Santos has become a perennial contender at 185 lbs as he’s recorded two four fight win-streaks since entering the Octagon.
If anything, the one knock on Santos is that he has come up short in critical fights that would have launched him into title contention. He had his first win-streak snapped in 2016 when he lost a bout to top ranked middleweight Gegard Mousasi at UFC 200. More recently, he put together four straight knockout victories to propel himself in the rankings but was stopped in the first round by David Branch in April.
Santos is coming off a victory over Kevin Holland in August in a fight that was put together quickly to help bolster UFC 227. Now, is pegged to replace Glover Teixeira in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday. While his original opponent Jimi Manuwa suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday, he remains on the card to face up-and-coming Eryk Anders.
Anders, 31, has had only four fights in the UFC but is building his reputation as one of the top up-and-comers in the middleweight division. A former linebacker for the University of Alabama, Anders’ MMA career has been impressive as he has finished eight of his twelve opponents. Earlier this year, he gained wider recognition after engaging in a five round battle with former champion Lyoto Machida in what was his first main event in the UFC despite having only two fights in the promotion up to that point.
While the fight was closely contested, Anders lost a split-decision but did enough to gain more attention from the promotion. He bounced back with an impressive performance over Tim Williams less than a month ago and now steps into Saturday’s contest on just six days notice with the benefit that he does not have to make the cut all the way down to 185. As his last bout in Brazil led to the first loss of his professional career, Anders is hoping to erase that memory with a performance that gets him into the rankings.
Stylistically, Santos tends to use his physicality at 185 where his size allows him to bully opponents around the cage. His tendency to load up on power shots is usually a nightmare for those in the cage with him as his strength and aggression is frequently overwhelming. While he is moving up in weight, he should still carry some of the same physical advantages as Anders is a stockier middleweight moving up also. Santos should look to punish Anders early with kicks to chop away at his explosiveness and movement. From there, Anders should be a more stationary target for Santos to attack with longer combinations.
On six days notice, the big question will be how Anders gas tank holds up for possibly five rounds against an opponent who has had more time to prepare. He should look to get the fight to the ground early as to eliminate the threat of Santos’ formidable weapons on the feet and conserve energy by staying on top and using ground-and-pound. Anders has shown great strides in his striking and should look to use movement to get in-and-out, taking care not to remain still in front of Santos.
For Santos, a victory would set him up for one of the outliers coming up in November’s marquee middleweight bouts. Should he emerge from the bout unscathed, it’s also not out of the question that he remain in shape and prepared should one of the middleweights fall out of a fight at Madison Square Garden. For Anders, the victory likely gets him into the top fifteen with a guarantee at another ranked opponent in his next outing.