It's hard to believe that a fighter in the landscape of welterweight prospects has amassed a record of over 50 fights by the age of 30, but our #5 ranked welterweight prospect on our 2011 World MMA Welterweight Scouting Report, Luis "Sapo" Santos (46-6), has achieved that milestone. Even more intriguing is the way in which he's destroyed the opposition. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu during his days with Team Nogueira would suggest he's a grappler, but Santos is far from the type to grind out decisions. No, "Sapo" prefers to devastate his opponents with over 15 years of boxing and Muay Thai experience, and he's produced impressive highlight reel knockouts in 2010. A move to the U.S. almost assures we will see him in a major promotion in 2011.
Offensive Skills: Sapo is one of the most exciting prospects in the world right now at welterweight. His distance striking skills have produced amazing highlight reel knockouts, and the tenacity in which Sapo finishes fights is something that casual fans would eat up in a heartbeat. His base skill-set relies heavily on kickboxing and Muay Thai, but he does possess excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills as well. We just don't see those skills in use all that often due to his power.
Crisp straight punch/hook combinations, heavy leg and head kicks, and destructive knees from both the clinch and range are just some of the skills Sapo uses to defeat his opponents. He's very tough to take down, and it's almost a guarantee that he'll catch his opponent with a knee while he backpedals to avoid a ground battle. He also possesses deceptive kicks from range, and it's very hard for opponents to see exactly where his kicks are going to land. If you watch some of the footage below, keep in mind that Sapo seems to land head kicks in almost every single fight, and that's a testament to how hard it is for opponents to see where kicks are coming from off his hips.
On the ground, Sapo has some brutal ground and pound abilities, but he isn't a whiz at taking advantage of top control. He has problems posturing up against opponents trying to implement a guard game. If he can posture up and stay out of guard, Sapo's hands are some of the most accurate I've seen. He bombs opponents relentlessly when the opportunity presents itself, and it's an almost guaranteed finish if he's already rung the bell of his opponent.
Defensive Skills: Sapo's patience in the stand-up department is probably his best defense to counters, and the fact that he stands at 6'1" with an exceptional range fighting game deters his opponents from stepping in with power. Furthermore, his scrambling and footwork when he backpedals is impressive. While he does tend to stand in front of his opponents, he moves quickly when the pressure is on.
You wouldn't know it from watching him fight, but Sapo is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, training extensively under Team Nogueira in Brazil for most of his career. He uses those skills to regain his feet or attack from guard when in a dominant position, which is usually what Nogueira black belts train to do in order to impose their boxing skills on their opponents. Defensive grappling is his specialty in those situations, and he can be out grappled by a more offensive submission fighter.
Progression & Learning Ability: It's tough to gauge exactly where Sapo is improving. He's on his back rarely, and his strengths are almost always the primary focus of a fight. One area that Sapo has improved, however, is his patience on the feet. He doesn't aggressive headhunt for opponents anymore, and he's content with using his range and effective kicking ability to batter opposition.
His timing of the feet has always been good, but he seems to be progressing to a level that is scary for anyone standing in front of him. He has an uncanny ability to throw knee strikes from distance, and most of his opponents are coming forward when he lands those brutal strikes. Ivan "Batman" Jorge paid the price in jaw-dropping fashion.
Environment: Santos has made his way to the U.S. and currently teaches No-Gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Finney's MMA in the St. Louis area. The move was primarily made to give Sapo more opportunities to fight in the U.S., and as expected -- there were rumors that Strikeforce was going to sign him for the December 4th event. Unfortunately, those ended up being untrue.
Finney's is far from a premier North American camp, but in the Midwest -- they are high on the food chain. I'd be interested to see him work his way over the Columbia, Missouri and work with Ben Askren, but Finney's MMA will give him the sparring partners who will push his jiu-jitsu and help him get a grasp of what wrestlers are going to bring to the table.
Potential: Sapo has had his opportunities to shine on the big stage and failed, but it's tough to accept that when his loss to Alex Serdyukov was based entirely on the fact that he slipped on the canvas as he attacked Serdyukov in the closing minutes of the round. Before that, he was crushing Serdyukov in typical Sapo fashion.
Sapo deserves another shot at the major leagues, and he's stomped some credible competition in his last three bouts in Brazil with his biggest win coming against Ivan Jorge. He's one of the most exciting prospects on our list, and it baffles me that Strikeforce hasn't signed a 46-6 fighter who is sitting on a camp that has helped them mold undercards for major events in St. Louis. Rumors were that he had a deal to fight on December 4th, but those were denied by Coker.
Despite the snub, any major promotion should want this guy, the UFC included. He has devastating power, impressive skills on the feet, and he brings a fan-friendly style to the cage. We should rank him higher purely based on how epic that knee is on Ivan Jorge, but we won't. Hopefully, some of the regional promotions in the Midwest take notice because I will buy tickets to see Santos fight.
Luis "Sapo" Highlight
Luis "Sapo" Santos Highlight
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Ivan "Batman" Jorge
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Pedro Irie
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Yuri "Terrorista" Fraga
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Pedro Paulo
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Predador do Maranhao
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Celio "Parana" Santos
Luis "Sapo" Santos vs. Xareu Marajo