Thiago Santos appeared to have been set opposite Magomed Ankalaev at UFC Vegas 50 as a test to see whether the Dagestani fighter was ready to jump into the light heavyweight title picture.
The former title challenger himself also had something to prove, with just one win since his title fight against Jon Jones in 2019.
The first round was a full five minutes of feeling out process as both men were very wary of each other’s power. Ankalaev was content to land front kicks for most of the round and Santos attacked the lead leg while trying to gauge how Ankalaev would respond. A counter right hand landed for Magomed that wobbled Santos for a second, but that was the extent of the action in the round.
For four minutes and 30 seconds of the second round we had more of the feeling out process for both men as Ankalaev was happy to keep backing Santos onto the fence and going to the body, while Santos landed to the legs. Then a big overhand left landed for Santos during an exchange that dropped Ankalaev and the round ended with Santos landing elbows on him.
Entering the third round it was clear this was not a feeling out process but both men being very aware of each other’s power. Santos continued to attack the legs and Ankalaev continued to go to the body waiting for Santos to fly in with a flurry to counter on him.
3 rounds down – how do you have it scored? 📝
— UFC (@ufc) March 13, 2022
The fourth round started off quick with Santos going in for a flying knee and a flurry of strikes but then backing up and taking a deep breath. At one point in the round Santos looked at Magomed, took a deep breath and shook his head. It was clear that the Brazilian was running out of gas and quickly.
After more leg kick traded and body shots Ankalaev finally went in for the clinch and the takedown and finished the round on top of Santos landing elbows and right hands as the horn sounded.
The fifth and final round was all Magomed Ankalaev going after a tired Santos with body shots and pressure. Finally he clinched with the Brazilian and kept him on the fence, happy to land to the legs and body with short shots.
In his post-fight interview Ankalaev said he wanted to see if he could go a full five rounds, so the game plan made sense once that was made clear. He called for a title shot for his next bout but knows that it is up to the UFC. An eight-fight win streak might just be the thing that pushes him into a fight for gold.
Official result: Magomed Ankalaev def. Thiago Santos by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47)