RIO DE JANEIRO — Jon Jones has had two rematches throughout his entire MMA career, and he excelled in both.
Thiago Santos got one shot at “Bones.” At UFC 239, he came closer than anyone to usurping the dominant champion. Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier never made it to the scorecards. “Marreta” convinced one judge he won.
Two months and two knee surgeries later, Santos is confident he won’t let the title slip through his fingers if he gets another chance. In a recent interview with MMA Fighting, he said he hopes to get an immediate rematch rather than take a tune-up fight. “Marreta’s” head coach “Tata” Duarte shares that plan.
“Our goal is to return against Jon Jones,” Duarte told MMA Fighting. “Thiago is fueled by challenges, he had that bitter taste in his mouth, and this rematch would be the fair thing to do.”
Duarte said Santos’ right knee is already fully recovered, but his left knee still needs some physical therapy in Brazil after spending a couple of months at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas. So the realistic scenario for the onetime title challenger’s next fight in the UFC is around late March or early April.
“Jon Jones will fight in the end of the year, and he will probably win,” Duarte said. “I don’t see anyone in the division giving Jon Jones any difficulties other than Thiago. (Jones) saw what happened (against Santos), and I think he won’t come so reckless. We’ll be back by March – that’s our goal – and we’ll be ready. Ready, motivated, happy, and with a different result this time.”
Both Gustafsson and Cormier went the distance in respective first fights against Jones, but they were finished in rematches. Duarte, who heads the Tata Fight Team, believes his protégé “has something different” at light heavyweight.
“It’s hard to map out what Thiago does,” Duarte said. “He has so many unorthodox strikes, (and) he moves too much. Thiago switches stances a lot, so it’s hard to take him down. We have to bring something different for a rematch, of course, but the main thing is to make Thiago 100 percent again. If he’s fully recovered, with a strong mind, he’ll put on a good fight.”
“I think Gustafsson felt the pressure (in the rematch),” he continued. “I don’t know if he wasn’t well-trained. He didn’t appear to be in a good shape (and) looked a little chubby in the rematch. For someone who moves a lot, if you gain weight, it pays against you. And Cormier, I think that was 100 percent psychological. It wasn’t his day, you know? It wasn’t his day.”
The UFC has yet to announce Jones’ next title defense.