LAS VEGAS — Coming into the biggest fight of his life and with the odds stacked against him, Thiago Santos knows that without this one thing he likely wouldn’t be in this position.
“I’ve always had a strong mind,” said Santos, to reporters during his UFC 239 pre-fight media availability here on Thursday. “Throughout the hard times in my life I’ve kept a strong mentality that perhaps someone without one would not be able to get through.
“My mind is strong for this moment.”
In UFC 239’s main event Santos challenges arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Jon Jones, for the light-heavyweight (205 pound) title.
The man they call “Marreta” (Sledgehammer in Portuguese), moved up to the 205-pound division toward the end of 2018 and the switch immediately paid off. Santos has won all three of his bouts since, with the last two coming by way of knockout.
“I can’t take anything away from my previous opponents but I was having issues with the weight cut, so I had to make a change,” said the 35-year-old.
He’s no stranger to adapting as before becoming a mixed martial artist the Rio de Janeiro native was an army paratrooper, an experience he’s been using as Saturday approaches.
“It’s helped me so much, it gives me a mission-like attitude, I’m focused on my mission [at UFC 239],” said Santos. “To win this belt would be culmination of a lot of hard work and for everyone who has helped me along the way.”
Not only has Las Vegas not given Santos a shot, listed as a +450 underdog, Santos faces an 8.5 inch reach disadvantage, something that he focused on in the gym.
“I trained for that, I worked very hard on that aspect — it’s not going to discourage me,” said Santos. “How many times have you seen a fight with a huge reach discrepancy and the shorter fighter come out on top?
“It has happened, so I’m not going to worry too much about that.”
Jones has been vocal about the way he sees the fight playing out, predicting the challenger will fade once the fight enters the third round. Santos would prefer to do his talking inside the octagon.
“My fights in the past I’ve knocked guys out in the third round so I don’t know why he is thinking that. I’m not going to tell people what I’m going to do Saturday, I’m going to just show it.”