Middleweight ready to show what he can do against Demian Maia
After experiencing a great deal of success outside of the UFC, Jorge Santiago was given the chance to return to the Octagon back in May.
It couldn’t have gone worse.
The former Sengoku middleweight champion was dominated by Brian Stann at UFC 130 and knocked out in the second round. He was forced to listen to fans and critics who said he wasn’t any better than the first time he passed through the organization, that the 11-1 record he accumulated between his last two UFC appearances was earned against lesser competition.
“It’s not how I wanted to introduce myself to the fans again,” admitted Santiago when we spoke late last month. “It was a hard fight, but I like hard fights. I’m thankful to the UFC for giving me a good fight — like I have now with Demian Maia — it was something we all ave to go through. I didn’t do as well as I thought (I would); I didn’t have an excellent camp that I’m doing now, like I had back in the day. We have a lot of guys in the gym for me to train with. For Brian Stann, we didn’t have as much guys to prepare for the fight.
“I just had a split with my last gym, and had a different — my new gym — different camp, different teammates. I didn’t have as much partners to train as I used to. Not taking anything from Brian Stann — he was excellent in that fight.”
Listening to Santiago, he’s not making excuses for his performance as much as explaining the circumstances that surrounded his preparation, and being more candid than most fighters usually are about pressure and nerves.
“That first time, I think it affected my game — having all the pressure of coming back from Japan, being the middleweight champ in Japan, fighting UFC main card, and stuff like that. Not this time — I had more time to train, to prepare, to have a better camp.
“If you’re a fighter, you’re going into a fight, and you say you’re not nervous, you lie; you lie, we all lie. There was extra pressure a little bit. I didn’t realize I had all that pressure (on me) until I got inside the cage. My body was fighting, and my mind was somewhere else. Of course, it’s a different transition coming from Japan back to the United States, getting a shot in the UFC right away, against Brian Stann.
“It was a readjustment to fighting back in the UFC, fighting back in the United States. That happened, and I’m just working extra hard to not go the same way. I feel no pressure now.”
Saturday night, Santiago gets a second chance to make a second impression; an opportunity to erase the memories created during his first run in the UFC, and prove that his success in Japan wasn’t a function of facing lesser competition.
It might be his last chance, as a two fight losing streak upon his return to the Octagon could push the UFC to the same conclusions some fans have already jumped to: Santiago is good, but perhaps not quite good enough.
“Now I feel much more prepared than before. Now is the right time,” Santiago said confidently. “Now is the time to go inside and let go of everything. Now is the time to show what I’ve learned in those days, those months after I lost to Brian Stann.
“I took the loss, now I did everything right. I’m very confident. Now I’ve trained the way I’m supposed to train, I have the partners to train with. I have the support from my team, my manager — Authentic Sports Management — my coaches. It’s different now.
“I’m not nervous, I have no pressure, that’s why,” explained Santiago, who will celebrate his 31st birthday the day after facing Maia in Houston. “Now, I’m 100-percent prepared. Now I’ve done everything in the gym; I’ve passed through everything that I have to do, I’ve already passed through in the gym.
“I had the opportunity to have everybody together; world class striking, world class wrestling, world class jiu-jitsu guys. I had a chance to train with great guys in jiu-jitsu, great guys in stand-up, great guys in wrestling; that’s how I build my confidence. That’s why I have no pressure — I know I’m going to win.
“I don’t have to prove to anybody else that I don’t have pressure to go out there, perform well, and keep my job. I know myself I did everything as good as possible to go October 8, let go, and let things shine.”
Feeling confident and well-prepared is one thing, but executing is something entirely different, and Santiago has a stern test in front of him.
Though he too is coming off a loss in his most recent fight, Maia dropped a close decision to Mark Munoz, and has already fought for the UFC middleweight title. He’s earned his place in the divisional hierarchy, something Santiago is hoping to do with a win on Saturday night.
Maia has made great strides in his stand-up since debuting in the UFC with little more than his world-class jiu-jitsu game. That improved well-rounded approach suits Santiago just fine, as he too brings a complete arsenal built around his grappling prowess into the cage.
“(This is a) great match-up for me, and a guy who everybody in the UFC knows what he can do. He’s already fought for the title once. That’s great; I always thank UFC and Joe Silva because it’s going to be my second fight in the UFC, and it’s a great match-up for me.”
Santiago doesn’t offer any boastful prediction on how the fight will play out, saying instead that he expects that both he and Maia will battle everywhere on Saturday night, and that he wants to push himself to the limit this time out.
He better; it’s not often you get a second chance to make a second impression, and third opportunities are even more rare.