UFC Vegas 59: Hill Looks to Enter Upper Echelon with Win Over Santos

Thiago Santos, UFC Vegas 59
Thiago Santos, UFC Vegas 59 Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

Thiago Santos looks to reaffirm his place in the rankings of the light heavyweight division while Jamahal Hill looks to take his place at UFC Vegas 59.

Going into his latest bout, it is clear that Thiago Santos has work to do.  Saturday will mark his fourth straight fight against one of the rising contenders of light-heavyweight division, and it feels as if he has entered the realm where he is the one being used to build the next batch of rising stars as opposed to building himself.  Furthermore, he is 1-2 in his last three bouts with a victory against Johnny Walker and a loss to top-ranked contenders Aleksandr Rakic and Magomed Ankalaev.

Considering this is the same man who cut a path of destruction at middleweight and light heavyweight, the latest results have raised their share of questions.  For one, there is question if his age (38) and the knee injuries suffered in the bout with Jon Jones in 2019 that required surgery and a year-long layoff have diminished his once fearsome abilities.  The other theory is that he simply encountered elite competition who has more tape than ever to study to prepare for him; remember that three of his last four opponents have either gone on to the title or are on the short list for a shot at the belt or title eliminator in their next outing.  “Maretta” still carries the formidable power that made him a breakout star, and he will need to display it to great effect on Saturday if he wishes to stay in the upper-echelon of the division.

Jamahal Hill has been poised to take Santos’ place in the upper echelon of the division should he get the victory on Saturday.  “Sweet Dreams” went 5-0 primarily in his native Grand Rapids, Michigan before getting a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019 where he earned a contract after scoring a second round knockout.  Since then, his rapid ascent has seen him shine as one of the most famous alumni from the program as he’s posted a 4-1 record in the promotion and is the only Contender Series veteran besides Giga Chikadze to have a victory in a UFC main event.  His only setbacks in that span was a positive test for marijuana that overturned one of his UFC victories to a No Contest and a loss to Paul Craig in 2019.

In his last two outings, Hill has looked every bit of the next exciting thing in the recently rejuvenated light heavyweight division.  He needed less than a minute to stop fellow Contender Series alum and veteran Jimmy Crute last December and in February he emphatically stopped fellow dynamo Johnny Walker in what was Hill’s first UFC main event.  Now paired with Santos, it is clear that the UFC sees the potential in the 31 year-old to be in the mix with Jan Blachowicz, Rakic, Ankalaev, and other contenders in the top five of weight class.

For Santos, the key will be to be the aggressor and work the body of the taller Hill.  The speed and stature of Hill will make a slugfest difficult for the former title challenger, and as such he should target the legs and body of Hill as he looks for his openings.  Shot-selection will be key as he must look to push the pace as to avoid falling into a deficit on the score cards as he has in recent bouts.  For Hill, working behind his movement and straight punches will be key as he gets in-and-out with shots on the shorter and more plodding Santos.  As the fight goes on, it is expected that Santos will slow down and thus Hill can open up with longer combinations.

The winner of the fight is likely to wait to see who emerges as the next title challenger for Jiri Prochazka and when the title fight will take place.  With several contenders having a strong case for the bout, it is a guarantee that one of the odd men out will take a fight as to secure the next title shot and the winner of Santos and Hill will be the perfect opponent for several of the contenders in the conversation.