UFC Fight Island 7’s Santiago Ponzinibbio: From Fighting, to Fighting for His Life

Santiago Ponzinibbio UFC
Santiago Ponzinibbio Credit: UFC

After over two years out of action, Argentina’s Santiago Ponzinibbio returns this weekend at UFC Fight Island 7.

It has been a long, arduous journey back to this point. Ponzinibbio (27-3) rides a seven-fight win streak heading into his welterweight fight with Li Jingliang, but he last competed in November 2018. That was the night he finished Neil Magny at UFC Argentina. An avalanche of ailments then came crashing down on “Gente Boa.”

An infection. COVID-19. A broken toe. But here in 2021, things are finally looking up. “I feel great, my friend. I feel better than ever,” Ponzinibbio told media outlets including Cageside Press during a virtual media day promoting UFC Fight Island 7 this week. “My body, my mind are in their prime, in the right moment.”

In China’s Jingliang, he sees a “great opponent. Nothing can be better. I’m gonna finish this guy, knock him out this guy. I’ll show to the world I am the next champion.”

Things weren’t always so cheery. Ponzinibio’s time away from the octagon has been well-documented, but he summed it up succinctly: “crazy.”

His experience of battling to regain his health of the past two years wasn’t easy. “I feel the nastiness. I experienced a lot of feelings that are terrible,” he noted. “I started with a staph infection, infection in my blood.” That led to seven weeks with a PICC line feeding him medication. A week in hospital followed. The antibiotics killed off his white blood cells; even after his course of medication finished, he was running a fever. Weight loss followed. “I lost maybe 30 pounds and the doctor was very scary, [trying to] understand what was happening.”

By the end of 2019, Ponzinibbio’s body simply wasn’t cooperating. But things began to turn around the following year. In 2020, “I worked so hard, a lot of focus on recovery,” he proclaimed. But by the time he had worked his way back to full strength, the Argentinian contracted COVID-19. Training came to a halt. When he got past that, and back in the gym, he broke his toe. Training ground to a halt again.

“Thank God now I’m healthy, now everything is about to pass, and [I’ll put on] a great performance back in the octagon,” he said ahead of his fight this Saturday.

After everything he’s gone through, his return, said Santiago Ponzinibbio, is “the most happy moment in my life. After everything I’ve passed — one day, I think I’m going to fight, the other, I’m fighting for my life. You see how quick you can change everything in this life.” Which has left him “more grateful for my health, more grateful for the opportunities.”

Opportunities that include showing his abilities on the first UFC card of 2021, in Abu Dhabi. “There’s nothing better. I’m so happy.”

Santiago Ponzinibbio takes on Li Jingliang on the main card of UFC Fight Island 7 (UFC on ABC 1) this Saturday, January 16 in Abu Dhabi. The event airs live on ABC (TSN in Canada).