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Santiago Ponzinibbio discusses overcoming career-threatening blood and bone infections

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Top UFC welterweight contender Santiago Ponzinibbio has been out of action for 18 months.

UFC Fight Night: Magny v Ponzinibbio Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Two years ago Santiago Ponzinibbio was surging in the crowded UFC welterweight division. The Argentinian KO’d Neil Magny in the main event of UFC Fight Night 140 in Buenos Aires to stretch his winning streak to seven fights (which included wins over Mike Perry and Gunnar Nelson).

With his name rising on the rankings it seemed as though the TUF Brazil alum was destined for fights with the UFC’s elite 170 lbers (including former champion Robbie Lawler). Then disaster struck.

Recently Ponzinibbio spoke to MMA Junkie’s Farah Hannoun about what has had him sidelined for nearly 20 months.

“I have a lot of medical problems,” he said. “It started with a blood infection inside my body. The infection got to my blood, and I had two different kinds of bacteria. One is an epidemic staph and the other bacteria is pseudomonas. It’s a very dangerous bacteria. I stayed in the hospital (and) I started with a lot of swelling in my body in some parts, more in the knee. I stayed there for eight days. I started treatment and they put a peripherally inserted central catheter line in my arm and a lot of medication.”

Unfortunately Ponzinibbio then suffered adverse side-effects related to the medication. He rapidly lost weight and had a rising fever. This all resulted in a three month long hospital stay. After he was discharged Ponzninibbio traveled to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas for physical therapy.

At the UFC PI Ponzinibbio complained about pain in his leg. An MRI revealed he was suffering from both arthritis and another infection, this time in a bone.

“A couple of doctors saw the MRI and they said, ‘Listen, you have an infection in the bone. It’s very, very dangerous. Maybe you can’t fight again in your career.’” recalled Ponzinibbio.

Thankfully doctors were able to provide medication to Ponzinibbio that helped him overcome the new infection and manage his arthritis. After getting healthy, Ponzinibbio was still far from fighting shape. Months of rehab and therapy followed. Now he feels ready for a return to the Octagon.

“Now my body’s back to normal. I needed to do a lot of work after this. All these months, for sure my body felt that. A lot of condition training, PT and back, little-by-little, to training. But this is the reason why I stayed far from the Octagon for a year and a half.”

While he has been away Ponzinibbio has seen the welterweight division change dramatically. Tyron Woodley was the champ when Ponzinibbio last fought. Now Kamaru Usman is defending that belt on ‘Fight Island’ against an opponent TBD (after number one contender Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19).

When he beat Magny Ponzinibbio moved up to seventh in the welterweight rankings. Thanks to his long period on the sideline the 33-year-old is now unranked, with a dangerous field of opponents ahead of him.

“It’s very tough for me. Always looking at the division, the moves, everything,” said Ponzinibbio. “Before everything happened, they told me, ‘One more fight and you go for the belt.’ This is my dream, I’ve been working so hard (for) a lot of years. I’m so excited and, a couple of years after, I’m fighting for my life in the hospital. Ups and downs, (a) very crazy time.”