Fighters often have to make big sacrifices in order to achieve their dreams, but many fighters can say they’ve made them as much as Santiago Ponzinibbio.
The Argentine is currently ranked #9 in the UFC’s welterweight division and is riding a five fight win streak with wins over the likes of Zak Cummings, Nordine Taleb and Gunnar Nelson. Ponzinibbio caught up with MMAUNO.com this past week and gave us an update on his current situation and his difficult path to the UFC.
“I’m living here now, at ATT in Coconut Creek, Florida,” Ponzinibbio said. “I live here all year and I live in the gym. I train every day whether I have a fight booked or not. I like it here, it’s hot, the gym is a good place, I get on with everyone and the support for the fighters is very good. The coaches and the training partners are amazing.
“I train really hard every day. Some of the guys, they just come here because they have a fight coming up.
“I’m here every day of the year. Fight or no fight. I’ve been doing this for three and a half years now.”
All for reason: to be the champion
Ponzinibbio has made big sacrifices in order to chase his dreams. In America, the Argentine is away from his friends and family back home, but he done it for one reason and one reason only
“I don’t fight in the UFC for money,” Ponzinibbio said. “I don’t fight in the UFC for big fights. I only fight in the UFC because I have the dream of being number one and being the champion. People don’t understand that I haven’t been home to my home country in ten years. I had no money, I lived on the street. Now I’ve moved to America and I live at the gym and all I do is train.
“I don’t see my family and it’s very difficult. All of them are in Argentina and I just live on my own here. I don’t speak the language that well, the culture is difficult for me. It’s tough brother, but I just get my head down and I work hard because I have my dream. I want to be the champion of the world. Everything I have in the life is just for one reason and that’s to be the champion.
“I’m making these sacrifices to achieve my dream.”
“I dream of going home with the belt and showing my family,” Ponzinibbio added. “This is really hard for me to think about. Sometimes I think I’m spending too much time away from them. It’s hard, but I can only do it this way. I can only get the training I need here. I can’t go home to Argentina because of the level of training.”
Living on the streets of Brazil
Ponzinibbio went on to explain how he went to Brazil in order to find a higher level of coaching and training, but it of course wasn’t easy.
“I was living in Brazil before I came here [US] and I was there for seven years,” Ponzinibbio said. When I was 21, I went to Brazil for training and a new experience. I’d started my own academy in Argentina and had my first seven professional fights there. The level wasn’t good enough though so I went to Brazil looking to get better training and to improve myself.
“I travelled there and it wasn’t easy. I had no money, I had no contacts and life was very difficult.
“I used to sleep in a tent and work in the streets.”
“It was very tough times and I didn’t speak to my family for over a year because I had no money. I worked there for many years and I managed to build up a good fighting record. I had 18 wins and only one loss.”
His big opportunity
Having lived and worked in the streets of Brazil, Ponzinibbio saw his opportunity to change his life forever when the UFC advertised they were having a second season of The Ultimate Fighter in Brazil. This time around, the series was going to be for welterweights, so Ponzinibbio went to the try-outs to see if he could get a spot.
“At that point I had nothing to lose and I went to the auditions for The Ultimate Fighter season 2 in Brazil,” Ponzinibbio said. “It was for welterweight, but when I went there, the people said I couldn’t be a part of it because I was from Argentina.
“I then explained I’d be living in Brazil for a long time and they eventually allowed me to be a part of it.”
Rising to the top
The Argentine proceeded to win his qualifying match up against Thiago Silva via a first round TKO and qualified for the main series. From there, he went on to defeat Marcio Santos and Leonardo Santos in the semi finals, but sustained an injury and had to be replaced in the finals.
Luckily, the UFC gave him a shot and he’s since gone on to record a 7-2 UFC record. Ponzinibbio’s last fight came against Gunnar Nelson this past July in the main event of UFC Fight Night Glasgow. The Argentine picked up the win via a first round knockout and he believes that it was a game changing win for him.
“My fight against Nelson was my best fight so far,” Ponzinibbio said. “It was a big knockout against a big name. Gunnar Nelson is a very good guy and I got a very quick victory over him and it looked very good.
“It’s definitely my best performance in the UFC and it was great that it was in the main event as well. I was very happy with that fight and I think it will take me on to big things.”
The next one has to be a big one
That win against Nelson has put Ponzinibbio into the top ten fighters at 170-pounds. The rest of the top ten looks congested at the moment with most of them having fights booked, but he’s willing to bide his time to get the big fight he thinks he deserves.
“I’m waiting for the UFC to offer me my next fight,” Ponzinibbio said. “I’ve fought nine times in the UFC and four times in TUF—13 fights for Zuffa, 11 wins and 6 knockouts. I’ve won four bonuses and I think my work is very good. I have five wins in a row now and I’ve been always going overseas to fight my opponents—Europe to fight Nelson, Canada for Taleb.
“Now I’d like to get a big opportunity.”
“I want a top five guy but all of those guys have fights right now. I thought a good option for me was Carlos Condit, but now he’s fighting Neil Magny. The only guys without a fight is Robbie Lawler and he’s number one so he won’t want to fight me. I think it’s a good option, but I’m not sure they will book the fight.
“I will wait and see, but my next fight has to be a big one. I think deserve it”