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Ponzinibbio relieved to be back after staph infection: ‘My doctor said I could never fight again’

Welterweight contender Santiago Ponzinibbio is glad to return to the Octagon after a two-year hiatus.

UFC Fight Night: Magny v Ponzinibbio Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It has been over two years since the last time Santiago Ponzinibbio stepped into the Octagon, but the wait seems to be over. After dealing with a serious case of staph infection, which forced him out a bout against Robbie Lawler in October 2019, the Argentinian finally has a date and a opponent booked again: Li Jingliang on January 16 at UFC Fight Island 7.

In an interview with Combate, Santiago explained just how grave his infection was. When explaining the whole healing process he went through in 2020, Ponzinibbio even thought he would not be able to ever fight again. However, the treatment proved successful and now the 34-year-old wants to make up for the time he lost.

“In 2020 I worked really hard to become the athlete I used to be again,” Ponzinibbio said. “The infection left me with many side effects. At one point, my doctor said I could never fight again in my life. Then he said my knee could have been ruined forever, because I was in so much pain. I had to deal with all of that mentally.”

It was a lot of work to become the athlete I used to be, in 2020,” Santiago continued. “It was really complicated, but I’ve turned the page now. I’m better than ever, physically and mentally. It was a great learning process. I had to deal with many demons, but I had a faith inside of me that told me everything would be all right and I would still be a world champion.”

Now paired up against fellow knockout artist Li Jingliang, Santiago only has one desire: to get into another brawl and feel the thrill of fighting again. Although Ponzinibbio was originally scheduled to take on Muslim Salikhov - who pulled out due to lingering COVID-19 health problems - he says the change did not bother him. In fact, the 34-year-old does not care about any of his upcoming opponents, as long as he gets a chance to knock them out.

“I want to throw down, it doesn’t matter who is it going to be against. Just put a body in front of me. Let’s make weight and brawl. The change was no problem, I just want to show my work. No matter the fighter, I’ll win. I’ll knock him out and show the world and I’m the next champion in my division. My gameplan is to punch him in the face, make him feel a lot of pain, until he cannot take it anymore. I hope God allows me to stay healthy and fight as many times as I can this year. I want to fight every two months and make up for the time I lost. All I want to do in 2021 is fight.”

Currently on a seven-fight winning streak, Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3) scored wins over some notable names in the division during this run, namely Gunnar Nelson, Mike Perry and Neil Magny. The 34-year-old’s last loss happened in June 2015, when he got knocked out by Lorenz Larkin.

Now, Santiago Ponzinibbio is expected to meet Li Jingliang at UFC Fight Island 7, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The card is scheduled to be headlined by a featherweight bout between former champion Max Holloway and top contender Calvin Kattar.