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After close call in 2018, Thiago Santos eyes Israel Adesanya: ‘I can do better than Paulo Costa’

Thiago Santos nearly crossed paths with Israel Adesanya once before. The fight never materialized, but Santos hopes that changes in the future.

Following Adesanya’s masterful middleweight title defense against Paulo Costa at UFC 253 this past weekend, Santos, the top-ranked light heavyweight contender, praised “The Last Stylebender” and expressed interest in a future showdown.

In explaining the callout, Santos said his interest stems back to his alternate role for Adesanya’s fight with Brad Tavares at The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale in July 2018. Both men made weight, and Santos’ services weren’t needed, but it’s remained on his mind ever since.

“I have a lot of things to do at light heavyweight, but in the future I want to fight against him,” Santos told MMA Junkie. “He’s a great fighter, and we were supposed to fight before. I was an alternate when he fought against Brad Tavares. I was there. It didn’t happen, and I hope to face him. It would be a great fight. He’s a tough guy, a great fighter.”

Santos (21-7 MMA, 13-6 UFC) spent his first 15 UFC fights in the 185-pound division currently ruled by Adesanya (20-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC). He jumped up a division two years ago when the weight cut became too much and has since gone 3-1 at 205 pounds, with his only defeat being a title-fight loss to Jon Jones in July 2019 at UFC 239.

“Marreta” has been out of action since that bout because of double knee surgery but returns Nov. 7 against Glover Teixeira in a 205-pound title eliminator. A win would set him up for a shot at newly minted champ Jan Blachowicz, whom Santos defeated by TKO in February 2019 at UFC on ESPN+ 3.

If Santos can get through those two fights, and Adesanya still holds the belt, there could be some steam behind a champion-vs.-champion affair. Santos likes that idea, but as far as weight class, he suggested meeting in the middle.

“Catchweight would be perfect,” Santos said. “Sure, I can make 185 again, but it’s so hard for me. I need a lot of time to make diet and change my body again, because now I’m used to light heavyweight. … A catchweight would be perfect. No excuses.”

Adesanya has been largely untouchable during his UFC run. The fight with Costa was expected to be competitive, but in reality it was a blowout.

Santos said he was not surprised by the outcome and predicted Adesanya to win. Santos believes his own attributes are much more problematic than what Costa presented, though, and would love to back up that claim inside the octagon.

“I told my friends here that (Adesanya) would win that fight,” Santos said. “I’m sure I can do better than Paulo Costa, because I’m not going to let him kick my leg a lot, and I know how to kick him back. I’m sure I can do different. I can do better.”

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