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Leo Santos thinks his biggest challenge is dealing with ‘anxiety’ after long UFC layoff

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UFC Stockholm’s Leonardo Santos talks about how it feels to come back after three years away from the Octagon.

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Leonardo Santos
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The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 2 welterweight champion Leonardo Santos is finally back after almost three years away from the Octagon.

Paired up against Stevie Ray at UFC Stockholm, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt is still undefeated in his UFC career, where he has five wins and one draw, but hasn’t stepped into the Octagon since October 2016. In an interview with Combate, Santos explained how it felt to finally be able to come back after all this time and the challenges of a long layoff.

“I think my biggest challenge is against myself. It’s the returning. To hold the anxiety, my will to win, that absurd stuff, I can’t let all that get in the way. The thrill of being back. That’s my biggest challenge, not my opponent. With all due respect, I know he’s an experienced guy, he has faced some tough guys, but I think that’s what my biggest challenge is. If I’m able to get in there focused on what I trained, I think it will be all right. I evolved a lot in these past three years, my striking, how to be a dad, how to be a coach, lots of things. It was bad to be away, but I could see things in a different way, a way that you can’t escape from. I think he’s (Ray) a striker, but I watched some old fights of his, he takes everyone down. I don’t think he will try to take me down, but I need to be on the lookout for that. I think he will try to keep the fight standing.”

Currently on a four-fight winning streak, the 39-year-old edged out Adriano Martins in his last outing, back in October 2016, however, that was not the last time time Santos was booked to fight in the UFC. In fact, Leonardo was officially scheduled twice more, against Olivier Aubin-Mercier in June 2017 and Nik Lentz 2018, but injuries prevented the bouts from coming to fruition. All the frustration from those cancelled bouts even made the Brazilian question his future in the sport.

“My first thought was, when you’re about to fight, get hurt, get another fight and get hurt again, my first wish is to quit. That’s the instant thought. But how can I stop? I can still train very well, I love what I do, I gladly go to training, it’s a momentary thing, then you move on. It wasn’t just injuries. I was injured twice, one really bad that really got me stuck, but my opponents got hurt, too. Those impaired me, too. Nobody is always right, though, so you start to work, you see what you are doing wrong in the way you train. You start to worry more about how you heal from a training session, you give your body more time to heal. Those are the things you learn with experience.”

Before his win over Adriano Martins, Leonardo Santos (16-3-1) also picked up victories over Kevin Lee, Anthony Rocco Martin and Efrain Escudero. Now, he is expected to take on Stevie Ray at UFC Fight Night 153, in Stockholm, Sweden, on June 1. The card will be headlined by a light heavyweight fight between Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith.